Hungry during pregnancy? Try a bowl of cereal. A new research study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that women who consumed at least 600 micrograms of folic acid daily had a 38 percent lower risk of having a child on the autism spectrum.
Folic acid, which is a synthetic form of the B vitamin folate, is an addition to many breakfast cereals and other foods containing grains. First added in 1998 in the United States, folic acid deficiencies in pregnant women was linked to brain and spine birth defects.
Folate is an important vitamin for early brain development, as it helps the brain establish those connections and basic functions. Folate deficiency might be linked to mental retardation and developmental disabilities because of its assistance with brain development in early life.
Some researchers hypothesize that too much folic acid during pregnancy actually increases the risk of autism. The researchers of this study investigated the folic acid intake of mothers of 429 preschoolers with autism and 278 neurotypical preschoolers. The findings show that mothers of children without autism had an increased intake of folic acid through fortified foods.
Of the mothers of children without autism, 69 percent of them received the recommended daily amount of 600 micrograms, and these mothers got an average of 779 micrograms of folic acid each day. These numbers compared to mothers of children with autism, who averaged 655 micrograms per day; only 54 percent received the recommended amount each day. While many of these mothers did still intake the recommended dose, those who had more than the recommended daily amount did not have children with autism.
There is no proof, however, that if mothers of children with autism would have prevented autism by having more folic acid. The scientific community is a bit skeptical of the results, and they suggest this research to be replicated to help support its findings.
For now, researchers do suggest getting the recommended daily intake of folic acid. A bowl of cereal has about 400 micrograms of folic acid. Lentils and spinach are also natural sources of folate and have about 100 to 200 micrograms per half cup serving.