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Amount of Folic Acid Intake during Pregnancy Linked to Autism in Babies

Update Date: Jun 07, 2012 06:20 PM EDT

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition last week suggests that women who do not consume enough folic acid during pregnancy could have babies born with autism.

The study conducted on mothers of autistic children in California revealed that they remember getting less folic acid through food and supplements early in their pregnancies than those whose kids didn't develop the disorder, reports Reuters.

The recommended amount of folic acid intake during the first month of pregnancy is at least 600 micrograms per day. If it is consumed, it lowers down the risk of having a kid with autism by 38 percent, say researchers.

There has been evidence that lack of folic acid, the synthetic form of the B-vitamin folate, in pregnant women is associated with babies born with brain and spine defects and hence folic acid has been added to breakfast cereals and other grains in the U.S. since 1998.

However it is still unclear if lack of the vitamin or the difficulty processing it is the reason for increased risk of mental retardation and certain developmental disorders in babies.

Folate "becomes very critical in the early stages of life... as well as the first year of life, when basically the brain is establishing connections and functions," said Edward Quadros from SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, reported Reuters.

"If there is a folate deficiency, this disrupts a lot of functioning with the brain," Quadros, who wasn't involved in the new research, added.

However, researchers note that the possible link between folic acid and autism remains controversial with some scientists even thinking that excess folic acid during pregnancy could be the reason for higher chances of autism.

"There were a lot of hypotheses on how perhaps the folic acid fortification in the U.S. was responsible for the increased prevalence of autism spectrum disorders, so that was also a concern," said Rebecca Schmidt, the lead author of the new study from the University of California, Davis, according to the report.

"When we starting looking at this, I thought it could go either way," she said.

The new study can still not firmly establish if consuming less folic acid was the reason behind Califorian mothers' children being autistic, since there is no proof that had they consumed more of it, it could have prevented autism in their children. Also, the data of the study is less reliable because it was based on the memory of the women of their diet during pregnancy, which could be inaccurate.

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