A ‘provocative’ proposal

Fact: Diagnoses of autism spectrum disorders have jumped from one child in 10,000 to one child in 100 within the span of a generation.

I’m not here to debate the potential causes of this rise. Because the truth is, we just don’t know what’s behind it for sure.

But there are some things we do know–like how to decrease the risk of having a child with autism. And that’s exactly what I’d like to talk to you about today.

A new study appeared recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It investigated the link between maternal folic acid supplementation and later autism risk.

Researchers looked at data from over 85,000 Norwegian children born between 2002 and 2008. Follow-up lasted until March 2012, at which time the average age of the children was just over six years.

Obviously, this was no small undertaking. Which makes the results that much more compelling.

By study’s end, 270 of the children had received a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. But children of mothers who took folate in early pregnancy were diagnosed with autistic disorders at half the rate of children whose mothers didn’t supplement.

When all was said and done, pregnant mothers taking folic acid had a 39 percent lower chance of having an autistic child.

It’s not the first study of its kind to reveal this association, either. Recent research on more than 700 preschool-aged kids had equally promising results.

This study found that mothers can cut risk of Asperger syndrome or autism in their children by 38 percent. All they have to do is supplement with 600 mcg of folic acid daily during their first month of pregnancy.

Previous research has linked folic acid intake in early pregnancy with a lower risk of severe language delays, too. All of which points to the wisdom of getting plenty of folate–preferably before conception even happens.

Not that this suggestion is anything new, of course. Because it reduces the risk of other genetic defects, law already mandates fortification of flour with folic acid in several countries.

That’s not to say I agree with this strategy. (Obviously, I don’t think anyone should be eating flour-based products.) But I do think that it’s past time we raised a little more awareness of the current recommendations for folic acid supplementation.

If nothing else, this research should have health officials ramping up their efforts to get all women of childbearing age on folic acid–stat.

It’s cheap enough. And if there is plenty of education surrounding an initiative like this, I think it could make a big difference.

Let’s face it–most women now realize they shouldn’t be smoking or drinking during pregnancy. If we make prenatal vitamin supplementation a public health directive on par with these types of recommendations, the effect could be tremendous.

But here’s what gets me. Instead of reiterating this vitamin’s vital importance during pregnancy, a spokesperson for the CDC said that it’s “reassuring that the study…found no association between folic acid supplementation and an increased risk for autistic disorder or ASDs.”

Why do they always assume that nutritional supplementation is going to cause harm? These are the same people who say it’s A-OK to take antidepressants and other potentially harmful drugs during pregnancy.

But we should be wary of folic acid?

I will leave you with another statement from the authors, so you can see for yourself just how the medical industry works:

“The potential for a nutritional supplement to reduce the risk of autistic disorder is provocative and should be confirmed in other populations.”

The emphasis is mine. And it sums up what’s wrong with medicine in a nutshell. Let’s see… drugs with a million side effects or safe nutritional supplements?

You tell me which you think is more provocative.

More Evidence Prenatal Folic Acid May Lower Autism Risk. Medscape. Feb 13, 2013.
“Association Between Maternal Use of Folic Acid Supplements and Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders in Children.” JAMA. 2013;309:570-577, 611-613.