A new study published in the journal Epidemiology found that women who take prenatal vitamins for three months before conception and in the first month of pregnancy may have reduced the risk of their child developing autism by 40 percent. Autism is the spectrum of developmental disorders that affects an estimated 1.5 million Americans or one out of every 250 births.
The study found that women with gene variants that affect how they metabolize folate are more than 7 times more likely to have an autistic child if they do not take prenatal vitamins. Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) is one such gene variant, and it is detected with a simple blood test. All prenatal vitamins contain the B vitamin folate, or its synthetic form folic acid.
"Taking prenatal vitamin supplements even before conception is a concrete step concerned parents can take," Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, the study's senior author told The New York Times.
The March of Dimes already recommends women take prenatal vitamins, including at least 400 micrograms of folic acid, before conception to prevent neural tube defects including spina bifida. In addition to taking supplements, the organization recommends these foods that are naturally high in folate:
- Fortified breakfast cereals (look on the label to see if the cereal has been fortified with folic acid)
- Black beans
- Peanuts (only if you do not have a peanut allergy)
- Orange juice (from concentrate is best)
- Enriched breads and pasta
- Romaine lettuce
(image via: http://blogs.babble.com/)