Maternal Folic Acid Use Linked to Reduced Autism Risk

(HealthDay News) – Maternal use of folic acid supplements around the time of conception is associated with a reduced risk of having children with autistic disorder, according to a study published in the Feb. 13 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

To determine whether prenatal folic acid use reduces the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in addition to neural tube defects, Pål Surén, MD, MPH, from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo, and colleagues examined the association between folic acid supplement use four weeks before to eight weeks after the start of pregnancy and risk of autism spectrum disorders in 85,176 children born between 2002 and 2008.

As of March 31, 2012, the researchers found that 270 children (0.32%) had been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (114 with autistic disorder, 56 with Asperger syndrome, and 100 with pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified [PDD-NOS]). The risk of being diagnosed with an autistic disorder was significantly lower for children whose mothers had taken folic acid (0.1% vs. 0.21%; adjusted odds ratio, 0.61). In contrast, there was no association between folic acid use and Asperger syndrome or PDD-NOS.

“Our main finding was that maternal use of folic acid supplements around the time of conception was associated with a lower risk of autistic disorder,” Surén and colleagues conclude. “This finding does not establish a causal relation between folic acid use and autistic disorder but provides a rationale for replicating the analyses in other study samples and further investigating genetic factors and other biological mechanisms that may explain the inverse association.”

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