Folic acid supplements are routinely recommended for pregnant women to help prevent serious neural birth defects including spina bifida and anencephaly. Now new research shows that folic acid may also help support healthy brain development.
Researchers found that babies who were exposed to folic acid while in the womb had a significantly lower risk of psychiatric disorders later in life. How? The research suggests the vitamin seems to slow down the thinning of the brain cortex.
“After the brain reaches its full thickness, the cortex begins to thin in a selective pruning process,” reports Reuters. Slower thinning is linked to higher intelligence. Accelerated thinning is associated with autism and psychotic disorders like schizophrenia.
For the research, published in the JAMA Psychiatry, senior study author Dr. Joshua L. Roffman, from Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Psychiatry, and his team analyzed brain scans of children who had been born before and after foods were fortified with folic acid in the U.S.
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Results showed that brain cortex thickness was greatest in those born when food had already been fortified with folic acid. “Our findings are among the first to link prenatal folic acid exposure to improved brain health outcomes in young people,” Dr. Roffman told Reuters.
“This study provides additional evidence that all countries should use folic acid fortification or other effective approaches to ensure women have adequate levels of folic acid intake during pregnancy,” he adds.
In the Philippines, the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) and the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) support the adequate intake of folic acid in women.
Folic is naturally found in legumes (such as munggo and soybeans), liver, fruits, and green, leafy vegetables, says the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). The vitamin helps prevent neural tube defects (NTD) which are birth defects of the brain, spine, and spinal cord. This includes spina bifida and anencephaly.
“Spina bifida, in which the fetal spinal column doesn't close completely, and anencephaly, in which much of the brain and skull do not develop, are the most common forms of NTDs which entail high cost of treatment,” says DOST.
FNRI recommends, “To meet the dietary requirement for folic acid or folate, all women of child-bearing age can take multivitamin supplements with folic acid in addition to eating foods high in folates.” (Doctors often prescribe 400 micrograms of folic acid.)
If you’re planning to become pregnant or are already expecting, talk to your ob-gyn about supplements you can take to ensure your baby has the best start possible.