A study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that starting to take folic acid (Vitamin B9) supplements at least four to eight weeks prior to becoming pregnant will reduce the risk of spina bifida, other nervous system (neural tube) defects, and somewhat surprisingly, autism spectrum disorder.
We’ve known for the past 20 years or so that women who take prenatal vitamins containing 400 micrograms/day of folic acid prior to conceiving have a 70% lower risk of having a child with spina bifida. Why is it so important to take the vitamins BEFORE becoming pregnant? Well, let’s face it, 50% of pregnancies are unplanned. And, the brain and spinal cord of the fetus develop very early on–usually before a woman even knows or confirms that she is pregnant.
So, it’s not a crazy stretch to think that a deficiency of folic acid, which clearly is needed for development of the brain and nervous system, could lead to other nervous system abnormalities.
The new study from Norway found that women who took folic acid supplements at least four weeks prior to pregnancy had a 40% reduction in having a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Wow. If that holds true in further research, what a simple solution to lower the odds of ASD.
American women get about 150 micrograms/day of folic acid through their diets (green leafy veggies, fortified flour/grains, liver, beans, avocados, peas, asparagus)—and that is not enough.
Take home tip: If you are a woman of childbearing age, and there is even a remote possibility that you could become pregnant (and I think you know how that can happen…), just take prenatal vitamins!! It may do your future baby the world of good.