There’s some debate about the value of taking prenatal vitamins throughout pregnancy– especially is mom eats a full, nutritious diet. But supplementing with folate or folic acid pre-conception and early on in pregnancy has been pretty clearly associated with a reduced neural tube defects. Now there may be one more reason to consider take prenatal vitamins rich in folate around the time of conception.
The New York Times reports today about new research suggesting that taking prenatal vitamins early on may reduce the risk of autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) by up to forty percent.
Researchers from the California-based Childhood Autism Risks From Genetics and Environment Study (CHARGE) took 288 children with autism and 144 with ASD, and compared them with 278 children without autism or ASD. The mothers of these children were asked if and when they took prenatal vitamins. Blood of the moms and kids was also analyzed for genes that affect folate metabolism. They found a significantly reduced incidence of autism and ASD in the children of mothers who took prenatal vitamins for three months *before* conceiving and in the first month of pregnancy than in the moms who did not take vitamins during this time. In moms and children with a higher risk gene variant that affects folate metabolism there was up to seven times the risk of autism.
“The good news is that, if this finding is replicated, it will provide an inexpensive, relatively simple evidence-based action that women can take to reduce risks for their child, which is to take prenatal vitamins as early as possible in a pregnancy,” said epidemiologist Irva Hertz-Picciotto, the senior author of the study.
I’ll be curious to read more about how this research continues and develops.
Here’s the current folic acid recommendation from The March Of Dimes:
The best way to get enough folic acid is to take a multivitamin with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid in it and eat a healthy diet… You also can get folate (the natural form of folic acid) in your diet, but most women don’t get the recommended amount of folate or folic acid from diet alone… If all women took adequate folic acid before getting pregnant and during early pregnancy, up to 70 percent of neural tube defects could be prevented.
Folic acid is found in the following foods:
Fortified breakfast cereals (look on the label to see if the cereal has been fortified with folic acid)
Peanuts (only if you do not have a peanut allergy)
Orange juice (from concentrate is best)
Enriched breads and pasta
I must confess I skipped my prenatal vitamins once I became pregnant– or took them in patches when I could keep them down. My care-providers were not particularly worried, especially since I have long eaten a varied and healthy diet. Still, I’m compelled by the evidence in favor of early folate supplements.