In Wednesday's Healthier Me, a new study published in JAMA by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo, Norway, and Columbia University suggests that women who take a certain supplement might reduce the risk of autism in their child.
Doctors advise pregnant women to take 0.4 mg of folic acid every day. It's a proven method of reducing their babies' risk for serious birth defects, like spina bifida, and now, it has an apparent added benefit: if you're on folic acid, you may reduce the chance of having a child with autism.
Researchers in Norway followed 85,000 children for 6 years and found that mothers who took folic acid supplements before they got pregnant and during the first trimester lowered their babies' risk of developing autism by 40%.
Experts in the field call this link between nutrition and autism a landmark finding, but it's just one piece of a complicated puzzle of genetic and environmental factors that influence autism development.
Alycia Halladay, Ph.D., Autism Speaks: "This does not prevent autism; there were women in this study who took prenatal folic acid and went on to have a child affected with autism."
Our food supply is fortified with folic acid, but experts say many women may not be getting enough in their diet to make a difference, and there's no downside to taking the supplements.
Max Wiznitzer, M.D., UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital: "To me, this is a no-brainer. It's a win-win proposition; it's good for the mother, it's good for the fetus, and you can't ask for anything better than that."
In addition to supplements and fortified breads and cereals, folic acid is found naturally in dark green, leafy vegetables.