Study Links Folic Acid Supplements During Pregnancy with Reduced Chance of Autism

Health Care

Taking folic acid — a common, inexpensive vitamin supplement — before and during the early stages of pregnancy may help dramatically reduce your child’s risk of autism.

Results of American Medical Association Study

pregnant woman holding supplements in her hand

Taking folic acid before and during the early stages of pregnancy may help dramatically reduce your child’s risk of autism.

A recent study published in the Journal of American Medical Association shows that women who took folic acid supplements before and during pregnancy were about 40% less likely to have a baby later diagnosed with autism.

The results of the study confirm the findings of other studies that link folic acid supplements with a reduced rate of autism. These studies are generating a great amount of interest due to the dramatic increase in autism over the past several years. Autism spectrum disorders now affect 1 in 88 children.

Folic Acid is an Essential Nutrient

Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, plays a key role in the first few days and weeks after conception, before women even know they’re pregnant. Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin that’s vital to the proper functioning of every cell in the human body. B9 is an essential nutrient needed for the proper cellular growth and development, including the creation and maintenance of DNA.

“We know that folic acid taken during that time period prevents serious birth defects of the brain and spine, because that’s when a lot of development of the brain and spine occurs,” said Dr. Robert Berry, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

“In the first 28 days after conception, the brain and neural tube structure is formed. So that happens very early, before most women know that they’re pregnant. And that’s a time when you’d expect other neurodevelopmental processes would benefit from folic acid,” said Dr. Berry in a recent interview with PBS Newshour.

How Much Folic Acid Should You Take?

The natural form of folic acid, folate, is found in lentils, spinach, black beans, peanuts, black-eyed peas, orange juice, romaine lettuce and broccoli. In the U.S., grain products such as flour, rice and cereal have been fortified since 1998 with folic acid. Still, most people — pregnant or not — do not get enough folic acid from food alone.

bottle with folic acid written on front

The USDA recommends that women who are able to get pregnant need between 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid every day – even if they are not planning to get pregnant.

The USDA recommends that women who are able to get pregnant need between 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid every day — even if they are not planning to get pregnant. The USDA also recommends that women keep taking folic acid throughout their pregnancy.

For years, doctors have encouraged women to take folic acid to reduce birth defects. Additional studies showed that children whose mothers took folic acid were less likely to have language delays. Folic acid is also critical for reducing the risk of spinal bifida and other neural tube defects.

To help reduce the risk of autism and to help ensure your baby is as healthy as possible, women wanting to get pregnant should eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, decrease their stress — and take daily vitamin supplements containing 400-800 micrograms of folic acid.

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