You already know that taking this supplement prevents spina bifida – now, new research shows pregnant women who take it also reduce their risk of having a child with autism.

Genetic risk factor

Specifically, the study, from the University of California at Davis MIND Institute, found that women who each day consumed the recommended amount of folic acid (600 micrograms, or .6 milligrams) during the first month of pregnancy experienced a reduced risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder, specifically when the mother and/or her child had a genetic variant (MTHFR 677 C>T) associated with less efficient folate metabolism.

"This research is congruent with the findings of earlier studies that suggest that improved neuro-developmental outcomes are associated with folic acid intake in early pregnancy," said lead study author Rebecca J. Schmidt. "It further supports recommendations that women with any chance of becoming pregnant should consider consuming folic acid at levels of 600 micrograms or greater per day."

The study authors add that folic acid might offer protection against problems in embryonic brain development by facilitating DNA methylation reactions that can lead to changes in the way that the genetic code is read. An ample supply of methyl donors such as folic acid could be especially important in the period around conception, when the DNA methylation ‘road map’ is set forth.

This Nature & Health natural health news item was sourced from materials provided by the University of California at Davis MIND Institute and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.