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Does Folic Acid Help Prevent Autism?

Updated: Sep 20, 2021

Can Vitamins Prevent Autism?

In a stunning article published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry, researchers found that maternal prenatal vitamin use reduced the incidence of autism. Over 300 women were studied who had previously given birth to a child with autism. The chance of having a second child with autism is about 33%. When women used prenatal vitamins during the first month of pregnancy, that rate was reduced to 14%. Use of prenatal vitamins were also found to decrease the severity of autism. There was a statistically significant decrease in autism severity scores by 40% in affected children. The strongest correlation of ingredients in the prenatal vitamin appeared to be the use of folic acid. Most prenatal vitamins contain at least 400 mcg of folic acid – but the highest protective effect occurred when women used at least 600 mcg. Maternal folic acid supplementation is currently recommended before and during pregnancy to help prevent neural tube defects in the newborn. The iron content in the prenatal vitamin also appeared to correlate with the lower incidence of autism, but the authors believe this was due to similar high content of both vitamins in most prenatal supplements, and was not the cause of the benefit observed. Many prenatal vitamins today contain 1,000 mcg of folic acid. Of course, the label might read 1 mg, which is the same dose. Women who have previously given birth to a child with a neural tube defect are regularly prescribed larger doses of folic acid, 4 mg daily, to help prevent a recurrence. The take-home message: If you are attempting pregnancy, to prevent several serious problems, start using a prenatal vitamin with a minimum of 600 mcg of folic acid daily prior to becoming pregnant and continue it throughout pregnancy. Read the article summary here: JAMA Psychiatry

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