Folic Acid Consumption During Pregnancy Reduces Autism Risk
The study by researchers at the UC Davis MIND Institute furthers the earlier investigations, which found that women who take prenatal vitamins around the time of conception have a reduced risk of having a child with autism.
The current study sought to determine whether the folic acid consumed in those supplements was the source of the protective effect. The finding suggests that, in addition to women who already have conceived, those who are attempting to become pregnant should consider consuming folic acid supplements, the researchers said.
The study found that women who each day consumed the recommended amount of folic acid (600 micrograms, or .6 milligrams) during the first month of pregnancy experienced a reduced risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder, specifically when the mother and/or her child had a specific genetic variant (MTHFR 677 C>T) associated with less efficient folate metabolism.
"This research is congruent with the findings of earlier studies that suggest that improved neurodevelopmental outcomes are associated with folic acid intake in early pregnancy," said lead study author Rebecca J. Schmidt, assistant professor of public health sciences in the UC Davis School of Medicine and a researcher with the UC Davis MIND Institute.
"It further supports recommendations that women with any chance of becoming pregnant should consider consuming folic acid at levels of 600 micrograms or greater per day," she noted.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impairments in social interaction, communication deficits and repetitive behaviors and often is accompanied by intellectual disability.
"What's reassuring here is knowing that, by taking specific action in terms of their intake of folic acid from food or supplements, women can reduce the risk of autism spectrum disorder in their future children," said study senior author Irva Hertz-Picciotto, chief of the division of environmental and occupational health in the Department of Public Health Sciences and a MIND Institute researcher.
The study authors said that folic acid might offer protection against problems in embryonic brain development by facilitating DNA methylation reactions that can lead to changes in the way that the genetic code is read. An ample supply of methyl donors such as folic acid could be especially important in the period around conception, when the DNA methylation road map is set forth.
The study will be published in the July issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.