Taking folic acid before and during pregnancy reduces the risk of autism

Publié le : 19 February 2013

 A Norwegian study published on Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association and carried out by the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study "shows that taking folic acid 4 weeks before the conception and then during the 8 first weeks of pregnancy reduces the risk of autism by 40%." In concrete terms, the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study "monitored regularly over 3 to 10 years the eventual appearance of autistic symptoms among 85,176 babies born between 2002 and 2008." In parallel, the researchers analysed the prenatal eating habits of the mothers. Folic acid, also called folacin or vitamin B9, "is an essential element for the proper functioning of the organism, involved notably in the synthesis of DNA and cell renewal. A lack of it in pregnant women is known to increase the risk of a malformation of the nervous system of the foetus."  
The results of the study show that "taking folic acid divides by two the number of autistic children." In effect, "the proportion of autism was 0.21% in the group of mothers who had not taken folic acid, and only 0.10% in the group of women who had taken a supplement in the 4th week before the conception."        
Richard Delorme, a paedopsychiatric specialist in autism in Robert-Debré hospital in Paris, points out: "we have known for a long time that this vitamin is indispensable for the proper development of the brain of the foetus and hence we suspected that a lack of it might be linked to autism. This Norwegian study, owing to its scientific quality, is a landmark achievement and it gives us arguments for implementing a policy of public health." Already, the article points out, "the Ministry of Health has recommended since 2000 to future mothers to take 400 microgrammes per day of folic acid 4 weeks before the date of conception and during the first two months of pregnancy."         
A perinatal health survey by medical researchers "shows that in 2010 only 25% of future mothers had taken a folic acid supplement during this target period." Jacky Nizard, a gynaecologist-obstetrician, points out that "the real problem is the necessity to take folic acid already before the conception. But most women come for a consultation when they discover that they are pregnant." As a result, says Dr Delorme, "all health professionals must now be made aware of the importance of this supplement, from doctors to midwives. And women planning a pregnancy must have access to information.

Share this article

BIOETHICS PRESS SYNTHESIS