With autism rates climbing at a terrifying rate, parents are desperate to find a conclusive cause, or at least a preventative measure. Now researchers believe they have stumbled upon the latter.
According to an article in Huffington Post, a small Norwegian study has found that folic acid taken in the earliest stages of pregnancy may lower a child's risk of autism by nearly 40 percent.
"This is a relatively inexpensive way that parents can take action to possibly prevent risk of tube birth defects and autism," said senior director for environmental and clinical Sciences for the advocacy group Autism Speaks, Alycia Halladay.
In the latest study, published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers examined the effect 200-400mg of folic acid taken from one month prior to pregnancy to two months after had on 85,000 children born in Norway between 2002 and 2008.
The result: moms who took the supplement ended up with 39 percent decreased odds of having a child with autism. Though the research doesn't set up a causal relationship between the vitamin and the developmental disorder, the authors of the study claim folic acid may well have a "protective effect" against autism since it is "critical to the synthesis of DNA."
"We do not know how other dosages would have affected the risk of autism, or whether it matters if folic acid is taken as single tablets or as part of a prenatal multivitamin supplement," said Pal Suren of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
Interestingly, there was no such link established between women who took fish oils during pregnancy and autism incidence.
Folic acid is not new. Since the early 1990s, health agencies have recommended the prenatal supplement to ward against neural tube and birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
Still, researchers warn that the vitamin isn't a "magic pill." The fact that more women have been taking the supplement in recent years has done little to stymie the incidence of autism—now estimated at 1 in 88 children in the U.S. Autism stems from a complex mix of genetic and environmental factors, so the odds of there being a simple, singular cause and effect are slim to none.
I can say hand on heart that I did take folic acid faithfully throughout my pregnancy to no avail. But who know? Maybe without the supplement, my son would be more severely impaired than he is today. If simply popping a vitamin helps lowers your risk, then it's surely worth it.