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Folic Acid Intake and Autism Risk

New findings from the University of California, Davis suggests women who consume the recommended daily dosage of folic acid during the first month of pregnancy may have a reduced risk of having a child with autism.

Take Your Folic Acid Early

The study’s researchers previously found women who took prenatal vitamins around the time of conception had a reduced risk of having a child with autism. These findings are consistent with findings of other studies suggesting improved neurodevelopmental outcomes are associated with folic acid intake in early pregnancy. The current study sought to determine whether the folic acid consumed in those supplements was the actual source of the protective effect.

600 micrograms of Folic Acid Everyday

The study found women who consumed 600 micrograms of folic acid everyday 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.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impairments in social interaction, communication deficits and repetitive behaviors and often is accompanied by intellectual disability. 

Ideal Form of Folic Acid

L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate (L-5-MTHF) is the active form of folate and ensures more immediate effects on metabolism compared to folic acid, the form of folate commonly used in fortified foods and supplements. Folic acid is not recommended for those with certain types of MTHFR issues, due to the inability to convert folic acid to methylfolate. I recommend women supplement with L-5-MTHF and Folinic acid--- not folic acid.

The mechanism for these findings indicate folic acid might offer protection against problems in embryonic brain development by facilitating DNA methylation reactions that can lead to changes in the way 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. 

Women with any chance of becoming pregnant should consider taking 600 micrograms or greater of folic acid per day.

In Health and Happiness, 

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods


R. J. Schmidt, D. J. Tancredi, S. Ozonoff, R. L. Hansen, J. Hartiala, H. Allayee, L. C. Schmidt, F. Tassone, I. Hertz-Picciotto. Maternal periconceptional folic acid intake and risk of autism spectrum disorders and developmental delay in the CHARGE (CHildhood Autism Risks from Genetics and Environment) case-control study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2012 Jul;96(1):80-9.


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