These findings are the result of a new study carried out at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. In the study, women who took folic acid supplements from four weeks before conception to eight weeks into pregnancy had a 40 per cent lower risk of giving birth to children with childhood autism (classic autism).
"It appears that the crucial time interval is from four weeks before conception to eight weeks into pregnancy," states Pl Surn, MD and doctoral fellow at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
The study is based on the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa) and the Norway Autism Birth Cohort Study (ABC). It covered a total of 85 176 children born in the period 2002.
Inexpensive, simple prevention
Folic acid is a B vitamin that is essential for the construction and repair of DNA molecules, which control all body cells. Folate is the naturally occurring form of folic acid found in food and in the body.
Most pregnant women need folic acid supplements to reach the daily recommended levels. The Norwegian Directorate of Health recommends that women who are planning to become pregnant start to take folic acid supplements one month before conception and during the first three months of pregnancy.
The results of the study of the correlation between intake of folic acid supplements and childhood autism indicate that the lower risk is only associated with this specific supplement and not with the consumption of food or other supplements.
"Thus, the findings show that a measure already used here in Norway, one which is simple, inexpensive and without any known side effects among pregnant women, can prevent autism. Previous studies we have carried out have shown that folic acid may have a similar effect on other developmental disorders as well," Dr Surn says.
Important in other areas as well
The Directorate of Health's recommendations regarding pre-natal foli
|Contact: Thomas Keilman|
The Research Council of Norway