The Potential Risk of Too Much Folic Acid

Most pregnant women have been told to consume lots of folic acid during pregnancy to support their baby’s brain, spine and nervous system.  In fact, most expectant moms supplement their folic acid intake with prenatal vitamins that include this essential nutrient.  But new research reveals that too much folic acid, as well as Vitamin B12, may increase risk of autism.

folic acid during pregnancyFolic acid is also known as folate or B9.  It’s naturally found in leafy greens like spinach and broccoli, beans and lentils, and fortified flour, cereal and pasta.  The CDC recommends starting a regimen of folic acid when women enter childbearing age.  The standard dosage for folic acid intake for young women including during pregnancy is 0.4 mg.

During pregnancy folic acid helps protect developing babies from a number of birth defects including neural tube defects, spina bifida and other spine issues, and brain conditions such as anencephaly.  It also helps strengthen these key areas of a baby’s body for normal, healthy growth.

The recent study conducted on a relatively small group of children at Boston University Medical Center made a correlation between autism and high levels of folic acid in mothers when they gave birth.  The study followed 1,391 children of which approximately 100 were later diagnosed with autism.  The researchers linked the risk of autism to mothers who had higher levels of folate as well as B12 in their bloodstream at the time they gave birth.

The statistics showed that elevated folic acid levels increased autism by twice as much in the children participating in the study.  B12 increased autism by three times.  The combination of folate and B12 increased risk of autism by 17 times.

This study is not considered a breakthrough in folic acid recommendations because it was a relatively small test group from one hospital. Also, mothers were tested for folic acid levels at the time of childbirth, not earlier in pregnancy when the brain, spine and other critical areas of development were solidified.

It’s important to note that different women absorb nutrients differently.  Those who consumed folate in their diet and took prenatal vitamins with folic acid and B12 may not have had elevated levels in their bloodstream at the time of birth.  Others who took in less folic acid may have had higher readings.

Researchers are not recommending that pregnant women stop taking prenatal supplements with folic acid or eliminating folic acid from their diet.  The study merely points out that too much of a healthy nutrient can have harmful side-effects.