A new study finds soft evidence that the use of folic acid and multivitamin supplements by women before and during pregnancy may lessen the likelihood of autism spectrum disorder in children. Investigators note, however, that this finding needs to be interpreted with caution because other factors could explain it.
Experts are interested in the finding because maternal vitamin deficiency during pregnancy is associated in some studies with deficits in neural development in children. For example, to avoid neural tube defects in their children, pregnant mothers are routinely recommended to take folic acid during pregnancy.
However, findings about an association between maternal use of folic acid and multivitamin supplements and risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children have been inconsistent. In the study, which appears in JAMA Psychiatry, investigators followed 45,300 Israeli children born between 2003-2007 with evaluations extending to 2015.
University of Haifa researchers reviewed maternal use of folic acid and multivitamin supplements before and during pregnancy (exposure) and if a child received an ASD diagnosis.
They discovered maternal use of folic acid and multivitamin supplements before and during pregnancy appeared to be associated with a reduced risk for ASD in children compared with the children of mothers who did not use supplements.
The study design was not experimental, rather a case-control cohort review. This method is an observational epidemiologic study where children with an outcome (ASD) were compared to children without that outcome.
The approach assessed if exposures (maternal use of folic acid and multivitamin supplements) increased or protected against risk for ASD. However, because researchers were not intervening for purposes of the study, they were unable to control for natural differences that could explain the study findings.
A reduced risk of ASD in children whose mothers used folic acid and multivitamin supplements before and during pregnancy could have important public health implications.
Nevertheless, corresponding author Dr. Stephen Z. Levine explains that more research is needed to determine if the risk reduction is due to other causes.
Source: JAMA Networks