Vitamins and folic acid can prevent autism in pregnancy

By Sue Surkes

Expectant mothers who take folic acid and multivitamin supplements before and during pregnancy appear to be far less at risk of bearing children with autism, a new study led by the University of Haifa suggests.

Women who take the supplements prior to pregnancy are 61 percent less likely to have an autistic child and those who do so during pregnancy are 73%  less at risk, an international research team found.

The results cast new light on a vitamin cocktail that is regularly recommended for pregnant women because of the connection between deficiencies, particularly of folic acid, and neural tube defects in children that can cause spine and brain problems such as spina bifida and anencephaly.

Those defects occur three to four weeks after conception, before many women even know that they are pregnant.

Previous studies on the specific link between vitamins, folic acid and autism have had inconsistent results.

The University of Haifa researchers, led by Dr. Stephen Levine of the community mental health department, focused on 45,300 Israeli children born between January 1, 2003, and December 31, 2007, and subsequently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

They compared them with a random sample of children and collected data on prescriptions to assess whether mothers had been prescribed folic acid or multivitamin supplements before or during pregnancy.

“Reduced risk of ASD in offspring is a consideration for public health policy that may be realized by extended use of folic acid and multivitamin supplements during pregnancy,” the study concluded.

But the study team cautioned that it could not rule out that other factors were responsible for the reduced risk, and said that further research was needed.

Autism is a lifelong neuro-developmental disorder that typically appears during the first three years of a child’s life. It occurs in approximately 1 out of every 100 births and is four times more prevalent in males than females.