Study: Folic Acid May Reduce Risk of Gestational Diabetes

Bethesda, MD—Taking a folic acid supplement daily before pregnancy may reduce the risk of pregnancy-related diabetes, according to a study published in Diabetes Care.

Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, found in foods including leafy green vegetables, nuts, peas, and beans. A press release on the study notes that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force already recommends that all women intending to reproduce take a daily supplement containing 400-800 micrograms of folic acid to reduce the risk of conceiving a child with a neural tube defect.

Gestational diabetes, the release says, results when the mother’s blood sugar rises too high, increasing a woman’s chances for c-section and blood pressure disorders. The infants are at risk of large birth size and of obesity during childhood and adulthood.

The current study involved data from nearly 15,000 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study II, according to the release, a long-term study of diet, lifestyle factors and disease outcomes among female nurses. Out of 20,000 pregnancies, there were 824 cases of gestational diabetes. Compared to women who did not supplement with folic acid, women who took less than 400 mcg of the nutrient were 22% less likely to develop gestational diabetes; those who took 600 mcg were 30% less likely to develop the condition.

That said, the press release notes, the correlation was only found with folic acid, not with foods containing folate. This could be, as per studies cited by the researchers, because folic acid is more easily absorbed than folate.

Cuilin Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., senior author of the study, said in the release: “In addition to reducing the risk for neural tube defects, our findings suggest that taking folic acid supplements before pregnancy might provide a low-cost way to reduce the risk of gestational diabetes.”