Could folic acid supplements help prevent autism?

When it comes to your future baby, one statement you've surely said out loud or at least to yourself is "I just want him or her to be healthy." That's because at the end of the day, all that's important is that you give birth to a healthy child. This is why scientists are constantly trying to discover things that women can do to help prevent birth defects during their pregnancy. One complication, in particular, that women may be concerned about is autism, which has been growing in prevalence in the past few decades. Autism is a neurological disorder that can can cause behavioral problems in children and adults. However, folic acid may offer some hope for women concerned about autism. 

WebMD states that folic acid is a "pregnancy superhero" that can help prevent birth defects in the spinal cord. Now, scientists find that folic acid may also help prevent autism. 

Dramatic difference 
Researchers have been searching for the cause of autism for years, yet this complicated neurological disorder remains a mystery. While the cause of autism is still unknown, scientists from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health have found that women who take folic acid supplements during their pregnancy have almost half the risk of giving birth to a child with autism than those who did not take this B vitamin. 

Scientists had one group of women take folic acid supplements from four weeks before conception to eight weeks into pregnancy, while others did not. The women who tool folic acid were found to have a 40 percent lower risk of giving birth to children with childhood autism, also known as classic autism, the most severe form of the condition. 

The researchers also checked to see if maternal intake of folate through food made any difference in autism rates. They discovered that only folic acid supplements seemed to make an impact, not food or any other types of vitamins. Folate, the natural occurring form of folic acid, is present in peas, lentils, beans, eggs, yeast, leafy vegetables and liver. Furthermore, the scientists stressed that taking folic acid supplements doesn't necessarily mean that the nutrient will always prevent autism. 

"The study does not prove that folic acid supplements can prevent childhood autism. However, the findings are so apparent that they constitute a good argument to further examine possible causal mechanisms. It should also be ascertained whether folic acid is associated with a reduced risk of other brain disorders in children," said researcher Pal Suren, M.D., in a statement. 

Other benefits of folic acid
This potential reduced risk of autism is just one of the many pregnancy benefits associated with folic acid supplements. Furthermore, the earlier folic acid is taken, the better, For example, WebMD states that studies have shown that women who take folic acid have for at least a year before getting pregnant reduce their risk of experiencing a premature delivery by 50 percent. 

WebMD adds that if there is not enough folic acid in an expecting woman's body, then her baby's neural tube may not close correctly. This could cause incomplete development of the spinal cord or major parts of the brain. Also, if a mom-to-be already had a baby with a neural tube defect, taking enough folic acid may reduce the risk of her second child having these problems by 70 percent. 

Women thinking about getting pregnant or who just became pregnant should talk to their doctors about how much folic acid they should be taking before and throughout pregnancy. 

Have you talked to your doctor about folic acid or ways to help prevent autism? Do you have any personal stories about taking folic acid? Leave them here!