It has been well-known for years that women who take folic acid before conception and during pregnancy can significantly reduce the incidence of neural tube defects (e.g. spina bifida) in their infants.  A new study — published in JAMA last week — reveals a similar connection with folic acid supplementation and a lower incidence of autism:

Use of prenatal folic acid supplements around the time of conception was associated with a lower risk of autistic disorder in the MoBa cohort. Although these findings cannot establish causality, they do support prenatal folic acid supplementation.


It’s important to note that most of the risk seems to be averted when folic acid is being taken before the start of a pregnancy.  More studies will be needed to confirm this.  In the meantime, it’s not a bad idea for all of us to get more folic acid every day.  Unless a woman of childbearing age can get the daily requirement of folate (and iron) from her diet, a daily supplement — perhaps in a daily multivitamin with iron — is probably indicated, whether a pregnancy is being planned or not.

The list of foods high in folic acid includes those that Americans often choose not to eat, such as spinach, broccoli, asparagus, lentils and beans, and avocado.  The rest of the list is here.

Read JAMA study here or a summary of the study from Reuters here.