Integrative Nutrition Blog

Nutrition During Pregnancy: Could Folic Acid Prevent Autism?

February 13, 2013

Autism is a complicated development disorder with a multitude of contributing factors and no known single cause or cure.  A surprising new study, however, shows that a common vitamin found in our foods and supplements can dramatically reduce the risk of a woman having a child with autism – by 40 percent!

Folic acid, a B vitamin found in foods such as spinach, beans, and meat, has been shown to significantly reduce the incidence of autism when the vitamin is taken as a supplement for at least several weeks before and during pregnancy, according to the study.  

To get the full benefits, women are recommended to start taking folic acid supplements four weeks before conceiving, and to continue taking it during the first eight weeks of pregnancy. In a piece by NPR, study author Ian Lipkin explains that while certain foods are a great source of the B vitamin, it is not necessarily enough because we only absorb about half of the folate from foods that we take in.

"The notion that a very simple, nontoxic food supplement could reduce your risk is profound,” Lipkin says.

Folic acid is shown to have enormous benefits for women’s health, including prevention of cervical cancer and miscarriage. Now reducing the risk of autism during pregnancy may be one more reason to consider adding the supplement to your diet.   

At Integrative Nutrition, we believe each person has his or her unique nutritional requirements, which we call bio-individuality. Because we each have our own individual body type, lifestyle, metabolic rate, and genetic background, there is no single way of eating that works for everyone, or no one-size-fits-all diet. To gain perspective on the study, we asked our own staff members which foods and supplements worked for their family during pregnancy:

“I took an organic, food-based prenatal vitamin, loads of cod liver oil, and omega-3s throughout my pregnancy. I supplemented calcium, magnesium, and Vitamin D-3 using a powder mix-in that has good absorption. I also used a greens superfood powder supplement most days to increase my intake of trace minerals, phytochemicals, and probiotics. Beyond that, I just ate lots of good food and trusted that my body would direct me to eat whatever I (and my growing baby) needed.” – Bailey, Marketing 

“As a nutritionist, I've been hypersensitive to the issue of getting enough (and not too much) folate during pregnancy. In my efforts to get enough folate, I eat a diet very rich in greens and drink green juice at least twice a week.  I've also chosen a food-based prenatal supplement called Prenatal One by Rainbow Light because I also want to avoid over-supplementing with megadoses. I plan to continue taking my prenatal while breastfeeding, and making sure my son or daughter adopts a diet rich in greens, too!” – Jessica, Education

“I took a prenatal vitamin high in folic acid and fish oil prior to becoming pregnant, and throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. I had done a lot of research on having a healthy pregnancy, as I am a doula and lactation counselor, as well. During my pregnancy, I was generally concerned about being in my best health so I would be able to have the homebirth I was planning (I did!). I took prenatal vitamins, and reduced stress, which I worked on by taking prenatal yoga with IIN grad Latham Thomas.” – Aisha, Enrollment

Do you take any supplements to promote reproductive health?  

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