Folic acid is a standard part of a mother’s prenatal care, so a recent study linking high folate levels to disorders on the autism spectrum is sure to raise some concerns. We spoke with Dr. Diana Kumar, MD, an obstetrician gynecologist with SCL Physicians, about the study to help us separate facts from fears.
The new study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests there could be risks in having far too much of the same nutrient. Research found that if a new mother has a very high level of folate right after giving birth — more than four times what is considered adequate — the risk that her child will develop an autism spectrum disorder can double [Sciencedaily.com].
Interviewer: Does this study suggest pregnant women should stop taking a folate supplement?
Dr. Kumar: Definitely not. While this research found a possible correlation between excessive amounts of folate and autism spectrum disorders, there are numerous other factors that need to be weighed. Factors that need to be accounted for in the setting of high folate include obesity, gestational diabetes, age and overall prenatal care. Women should continue taking their doctor-recommended folic acid supplements.
Interviewer: Will an OB-GYN prescribe the appropriate dose?
Dr. Kumar: Yes, we prescribe folic acid supplements in the form of prenatal vitamins. That dose is usually 0.4 mg, although it can be increased in certain circumstances. Ideally, we want women to start this one month before conception.
Interviewer: Are there risks with taking normal amounts of this supplement?
Dr. Kumar: Folate is an important nutrient that is present in our food. The risks of taking a supplement are very minimal. On the contrary, the risks associated with a folic acid deficiency are well-documented and could lead to increased risk of neural tube defects in the developing fetus.
Interviewer: How can women ensure they are getting the proper levels of nutrients throughout their pregnancy?
Dr. Kumar: Women should eat a healthy, balanced diet and take prenatal vitamins. Since these vitamins contain iron, take them separately from calcium-containing foods. Lastly, discuss any changes or increases to supplementation with a physician.
Folic acid is an essential nutrient for pregnant women and needed for cell proliferation. “What we do know for sure,” adds Dr. Kumar “is that normal levels of folate and prenatal vitamin usage decrease the rate of neural tube defects. Don’t skip your folate supplement or any of your prenatal vitamins during this important time in your new baby’s development.”