Folic acid supplements during pregnancy found to impart huge psychological benefits to children

Hey, mommies: Don’t stop taking your folic acid. The synthetic form of vitamin B9, otherwise known as folate, is typically recommended a month before conceiving and three months into the pregnancy. This is to prevent neural tube defects (NTDs) in the child such as spina bifida and anencephaly. However, a team from Ulster University saw that continuous use of the supplement can offer more advantages to the developing fetus, particularly in terms of mental and emotional health. Lead researcher, Professor Tony Cassidy mentioned in Science Daily that, “There is evidence that folic acid supplements taken during the first three months of pregnancy can have beneficial effects on children’s brain development. We wanted to investigate whether continued supplementation throughout pregnancy had any additional effects.”

To assess this, Professor Cassidy and his team asked 39 parents of children who are now eight about their child’s personality, including levels of resilience, social relationships, and how they expressed their emotions. Of this group, 22 mothers had taken folic acid throughout their entire pregnancy while the other 19 took it only for the first three months. The team found that children whose mothers took the supplement throughout their pregnancy had higher emotional intelligence and resilience.

“Most expectant mothers know that taking folic acid supplements in the first three months of pregnancy is important for the baby’s spinal development. Our study shows that there are potential psychological benefits for the child if supplements are taken throughout the pregnancy,” concluded Professor Cassidy.

But what about that link between folate and autism in children?

In 2016, a study entitled “Folic acid and autism: What do we know?” suggested that excessive use of folate during pregnancy increased the risk of the child being autistic. This created a wave of hysteria among expecting moms, with many of them (almost) discontinuing their use. Thankfully though, the initial storm of panic was immediately quelled by the medical community uniting and firmly stating that supplemental folate is still recommended and beneficial to both the mother and baby.

Doctors stated the preliminary results of this study required further research. Lead researcher of the controversial study and chair of the department of mental health at Johns Hopkins, Dani Fallin, spoke candidly in an interview on The Atlantic: “There’s this danger that the message would be that folate supplementation is bad. And that’s not at all what we saw.”

She explained that among her tested participants, around 10 percent of them had high levels of folate in their blood. These women, her team found, had a higher risk of having a child who would later be diagnosed with autism. “We would want to understand why these women have such high levels of folate in their blood, whether it’s about fortification of foods, supplementation, genes and enzymes involved in metabolism, or a combination of those things,” she said. Fallin’s evidence, so far, is extremely premature; her findings are not peer-reviewed and only have a brief scientific abstract.

Still, it does emphasize the need for mothers to do their research before doing anything drastic.

The current guidelines for folate supplementation

In an article on Baby Center, it is stated that since half of the pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, women of childbearing age should take around 400 mcg of folic acid everyday. This should be boosted to 600 mcg daily once you are pregnant. Women who are trying to conceive are recommended to take 400 mcg of folic acid a day for one month before trying to get pregnant.

Good sources of folic acid include lentils, dried beans, avocados, and dark green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach.

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