Author Insights: Maternal Use of Folic Acid May Reduce Risk of Autistic Disorder in Children

Pål Surén, MD, MPH, of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo, and colleagues found an association between reduced risk of developing autistic disorder in children born to mothers who took folic acid just prior to and after conception. (Image: Torunn Gjerustad)

Pål Surén, MD, MPH, of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo, and colleagues found an association between reduced risk of developing autistic disorder in children born to mothers who took folic acid just prior to and after conception. (Image: Torunn Gjerustad)

A child’s risk of developing autistic disorder appears to be reduced when women take folic acid around the time of conception through early pregnancy. The findings appear today in JAMA.

Supplementation with folic acid around the time of conception has been found to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in children, such as spina bifida, and emerging evidence also suggests that such supplementation is associated with reduced risk of other disorders related to impaired development of the nervous system, including autism spectrum disorders.

To test the association, researchers sampled data for 85 176 children born in 2002 to 2008 who were enrolled in the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study and followed up through March 31, 2012. Mothers were asked about folic acid intake from 4 weeks before to 8 weeks after the start of pregnancy, defined as the first day of the last menstrual period before conception. By the end of the follow-up period, 270 of the children had been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, which includes autistic disorder (114 children), Asperger syndrome (56 children), and pervasive developmental disorder–not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) (100 children). Among children whose mothers took folic acid, 0.10% (64/61 042) had autistic disorder compared with 0.21% (50/24 134) of children whose mothers did not. Continue reading