When we last left off, we examined the importance of the B Vitamins and the best ways to work them into our diets. Some time later, I received an email from a fellow Health Adventurer with some interesting questions and a link to some recent, and somewhat controversial, autism research. The study in question followed more than 85,000 children over the course of 10 years, with the hope of finding a connection between a pregnant mother’s folic acid intake and the risk of her baby developing one of the Autism spectrum disorders. In this brief article, we’ll learn a little bit about the Autism disorders, we’ll examine what this latest research study found, and we’ll discuss how you and your loved ones can use this information.
Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, is an umbrella term for several developmental disorders that, according to the most recent studies, affect 1 out of every 88 children in the United States. Usually diagnosed at an early age, children with ASD commonly display communication deficits, socialization issues and specific types of repetitive behavior. It’s possible they will also exhibit cognitive deficits, although this isn’t always the case.
There is a large amount of research going on to try to pinpoint the reason that ASD is so prevalent in society today. It seems as if there are a variety of contributing factors, including diet, nutrition, genetics, mother’s health and medication use during pregnancy, and age of the parents during conception that may affect whether or not a child will develop ASD.
A New Study, a New Hope?
The study in question, published in February of this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association, followed over 85,000 children from 2002 to 2008. In this particular case, researches were paying special attention to an expectant mother's B9 (Folic Acid) intake. As we already know, adequate levels of B9 in expectant mothers have been found to prevent subsequent birth defects. These researches wanted to see if taking B9 at key points during pregnancy, specifically between the 4th and 8th weeks, affected a baby’s chances of developing ASD.
Out of those 85,000 children, 270 were eventually diagnosed with ASD. When they took a closer look at the mother’s exposure to B9 at that critical time during pregnancy, they found 64 children out of 61,000 mothers who had taken B9 were later diagnosed with ASD, compared to 50 children from 24,000 mothers who had not taken B9 at that time. If you crunch those numbers, it turns out that the mothers from the B9 group had fewer children diagnosed with ASD than mothers who had inadequate B9. Their conclusion was that exposure to B9 near the time of conception seems to be associated with a lower risk of the baby later developing ASD.
So, What Does This Mean?
It’s important to note that, while fewer babies from the B9 mother group developed ASD, there were still some that did. Why is this the case? As we discussed earlier, there are still too many factors that may potentially contribute to a baby developing ASD. While there is progress being made, researchers cannot yet definitively point to B9 as a true cause, let alone the only cause. They still, ultimately, do not understand why a child will develop ASD. I know...it’s complicated and frustrating for them, too. They can, at least, use this information to further support the case for prenatal supplementation.
As the amount of information from different studies continues to grow, researchers have begun to notice trends which may increase the risk of a child developing ASD. While it’s no guarantee, avoiding certain risks is a great way to help improve the odds of producing a healthy baby. The pregnant mother’s age, diet, general health status, (obesity, diabetes) habits, (cigarette smoking) and medication use during pregnancy (especially psychiatric medication) have all been labeled as risk factors for an ASD diagnosis for the baby. The father’s age, genetic predisposition and health status during conception have also been looked to as increased risk factors.
The Bottom Line
If parents try to lead a healthy lifestyle and avoid as many of these risks as possible, they’ll have the best chances of creating a healthy and happy child. Seems like an over-simplification of the issue, you say? Perhaps; but until we know more, it’s one of the only definitive, and the most honest, response resembling an answer you can hope to get.