Folic Acid Supplementation in Pregnant Women

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WholeFoods Magazine Staff
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Oslo, Norway—Studies have shown that the intake of recommended doses of folic acid (a naturally occurring B-vitamin) from the period before conception to early pregnancy can prevent neural tube birth defects. Now, Christine Roth, M.Sc., Clin.Psy.D., from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo has led a study (published October 12, 2011 by JAMA) that investigated whether maternal use of folic acid supplements was associated with a reduced risk of severe language delay in children at age three years. They recruited women who were pregnant between 1999 and 2008; mothers returned a three-year follow-up questionnaire by June 16, 2010.

The exposure to folic acid included maternal use of folic acid supplements from four weeks before to eight weeks after conception. The children’s language competency at age three years was measured on a six-point ordinal language grammar scale, and severe language delay included only one-word or unintelligible utterances. Of the 38,954 children (19,956 boys and 18,998 girls) who were included in the study, 204 (0.5%) had severe language delay. Among 9,052 children (24 %), whose mothers took no dietary supplements in the exposure interval, 81 (0.9%) had severe language delays. The other three patterns include: other supplements, but no folic acid (2,480 total [6.6 %]: 22 with delays [0.9%]); folic acid only (7,127 total [18.9%]: 28 with delays [0.4%]) and folic acid in combination with other supplements (19,005 total [50.5%]: 73 with delays [0.4%]).

The authors concluded that maternal use of supplements containing folic acid within the period from four weeks before to eight weeks after conception, was associated with a substantially reduced risk of severe language delay in children at age three years. They also said if a causal relationship was established in the future, it would have important implications for policies of folic acid supplementation for women of reproductive age.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, December 2011