Sunday, September 27, 2020
US flag

Folic acid during conception reduces risk of autism

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, and other institutions have shown that mothers who take recommended amounts of folic acid around conception might reduce their children’s pesticide-related autism risk.

In the study, children whose mothers took 800 or more micrograms of folic acid (the amount in most prenatal vitamins) had a significantly lower risk of developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD)—even when their mothers were exposed to household or agricultural pesticides associated with increased risk. The study appears today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

“We found that if the mom was taking folic acid during the window around conception, the risk associated with pesticides seemed to be attenuated,” said Rebecca J Schmidt, assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at UC Davis and first author on the paper. “Mothers should try to avoid pesticides. But if they live near agriculture, where pesticides can blow in, this might be a way to counter those effects.”

In the paper, which used data from the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study, researchers looked at 296 children between 2 and 5 who had been diagnosed with ASD and 220 who had developed typically. Mothers were interviewed about their household pesticide exposure during pregnancy, as well as their folic acid and B vitamin intake. The team also linked data from California Pesticide Use reports, which provide important details about agricultural spraying, with the mothers’ addresses.

Mothers who took less than 800 micrograms and encountered household pesticides had a much higher estimated risk of having a child who developed an ASD than moms who took 800 micrograms of folic acid or more and were not exposed to pesticides. The associated risk increased for women exposed repeatedly. Women with low folic acid intake who were exposed to agricultural pesticides during a window from three months before conception to three months afterward also were at higher estimated risk.

“Folic acid intake below the median and exposure to pesticides was associated with higher risk of autism than either low intake or exposure alone,” said Schmidt, a UC Davis MIND Institute faculty member. “The mothers who had the highest risk were the ones who were exposed to pesticides regularly.”

While folic acid did reduce the associated risk of a child developing autism, it did not entirely eliminate it.

“It would be better for women to avoid chronic pesticide exposure if they can while pregnant,” Schmidt said.

The authors caution that this is a case-control study that relied heavily on participants’ memories. In addition, they have yet to establish a causal link. However, these results certainly warrant larger studies to validate them. The team is also eager to investigate the mechanisms that contribute to folic acid’s possible protective effects.

“Folate plays a critical role in DNA methylation (a process by which genes are turned off or on), as well as in DNA repair and synthesis,” said Schmidt. “These are all really important during periods of rapid growth when there are lots of cells dividing, as in a developing fetus. Adding folic acid might be helping out in a number of these genomic functions.”

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

Recent posts

On constitutional flat taxes in Illinois

An important ballot question in IL involves the elimination of the flat tax in favor of a graduated income tax structure.

Weather conference for Howard Co. 6th graders

The Howard County (Md.) Conservancy invites 6th graders to register for a conference about preparing for extreme weather.

Exercise harder, remember more

Scientists have found that the more vigorously you exercise, the stronger the response in the brain that helps your memory.

More than Covid keeps kids home at E. Peoria

Mud & debris flooded E Peoria Comm HS this summer, so students can't return to in-person learning sooner than the end of Oct.

Schools rethink the whole idea of snow days

Why have snow days anymore if we can have 'virtual learning' days, now that we know a thing or two about how they work?

Student news roundup, Maryland, Sept. 24

State to allow sports beginning in Oct., but some districts won't go back yet; Miss Maryland Agriculture; music lessons virtually.

Grand jury indicts officer in Breonna Taylor case

A former police officer was indicted in connection with the death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville. But it was less than many had hoped for.

New youth forum talks virtual learning in Md.

Virtual learning thoughts from a Md. HS: It can work and keeps kids safe, but it ends up being harder (you can't just ask a teacher if you don't understand).

IL brings 1000s back to school for SAT exam

Many IL seniors went back to their school buildings today to make up the SAT exam, which they missed last spring as juniors due to the pandemic.

Baltimore City Schools to lay off 450

Layoffs are coming to Baltimore City Schools due to a budget shortfall. Some teachers and teacher's assistants are included in the layoffs.

How citizens prefer to fund environmental action

Growing demand for countries to combat climate change, less consensus on how to fund it. New study offers insight from the US, UK, Germany, France.