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Study: Folic Acid Lowers Autism Risk by 40 Percent

Update Date: Feb 12, 2013 11:31 PM EST

Women taking folic acid, a B vitamin, before pregnancy were 40 percent less likely to have a baby later diagnosed with autism, according to a new study. Autism currently affects one in 88 U.S. children.

Researchers in Norway and at Columbia University followed more than 85,170 Norwegian mothers who gave birth between 2002 and 2008, recording their prenatal diets and surveying them for six and a half years on average. The study was published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Tuesday.

Among their children, the researchers identified 270 with autism spectrum disorders, including 114 with autism disorder.

Doctors have encouraged women to take folic acid before and during pregnancy for years, because it can reduce the risk of birth defects.

The researchers found that the risk of having a child with autism disorder was reduced if the mother took folic acid, typically between 200 and 400 micrograms per day , from four weeks before conception and continuing eight weeks into the pregnancy.

The new study also raises questions about how much folic acid may be needed to lower autism risk, as well as what form it must come in. Experts say that folic acid may not be the magic pill for autism, but it may help.  The exact causes of the disorder, which is characterized by social and communication difficulties and repetitive behaviors, are still unknown.

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