Asparagus vs. Autism: Folic Acid Linked to Lower Chance of the Disorder, But You Ought to Start Now

December 12, 2014

A new study in Norway shows that women who took folic acid supplements before becoming pregnant and early in their pregnancy were less likely to have a child with autism.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 88 children in the U.S. has been diagnosed with an condition within autism spectrum disorder, and that number has increased in recent years, although the rise may be due to new recognition of the disease by doctors.

The new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, shows statistical significance that women who took a supplement of the B-vitamin had fewer instances of autism diagnoses: of the 85,000 women and their children studied from 2002 to 2008, by between three and 10 years old, 270 had been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, including 114 with autism itself.

The results are exciting, considering the current rate of autism diagnosis: those in the study were half as likely to be affected by the disorder.

Dr. Pal Suren of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo, who led the study, found one in 1,000 babies born to women who said they took folic acid early in pregnancy had autism, compared to about two in 1,000 of those who didn’t. Researchers found no link between other supplement and autism occurrences, such as fish oil.

The study does not prove folic acid prevents autism, however, and the study proved no effect on the autism spectrum disorder known as Asperger’s Syndrome.

The new research “provides an additional reason to take folic acid, in addition to the preventive effect that we already know it has against neural tube defects,” Suren said.

As Suren notes, the findings add another reason pregnant women are encouraged to take folic acid supplements early on in pregnancy, and if possible before becoming pregnant. Although the connection between folic acid and autism is not totally definitive, previous research has found that a lack of the vitamin is connected to brain and spinal cord birth defects, leading healthcare professional to encourage women to take note.

“If you are not even just planning a pregnancy, but able to get pregnant, then you should be taking some sort of folic acid supplement,” Rebecca Schmidt, who has studied prenatal vitamins and autism at the University of California, Davis, told Reuters Health.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends all women who are planning to or could become pregnant take between 400 and 800 micrograms of the vitamin daily. The U.S. and Canada has also required that flour is fortified with folic acid since the late 1990s.

Although for women of childbearing age a supplement is recommended, some foods that are high in folic acid are Spinach: 1 cup = 263 mcg of folate (65 percent DV), Collard Greens: 1 cup = 177 mcg of folate (44 percent DV), and Asparagus, which contains 262 mcg of folic acid per cup, or approximately 65 percent of your daily needs. Asparagus is also full of Vitamin K, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and Manganese.