Quiz: Which of the following factors have been identified in association studies as increasing the risk for autism? Mark all that apply.
Living near a freeway
Use of flea/tick powder
Close spacing between birth of children
Vitamin D deficiency
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) use in pregnant women
All of the above
If you marked all of the above, you are correct, but get ready to add one more.
If you were anywhere near a computer or television last week, you’re aware of the buzz surrounding a new study that identifies too much folic acid in pregnant women as a risk factor for developing autism.
Folate is the naturally-occurring form of Vitamin B9 found in leafy green vegetables and other foods and folic acid is the synthetic form of this nutrient important in the role of neural tube development in fetuses. In the late 1990’s in an effort to reduce the risk of neural tube defects, folic acid was added to many processed foods such as flour, cereal, and bread and figured prominently in prenatal vitamins.
This recent study was presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research and has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a professional journal, but it got much attention in the media. Here are links to two of the media reports:
May 12, 2016 By James Hamblin
May 12, 2016 By Alexandra Sifferlin
Take-Away from this study
The take-away from this (and all association studies) is first to remember that association does not mean causation. This was a small study that has not yet been peer-reviewed so until it has passed through peer review and been published in a scientific journal, we should be curious but cautious. And, even after publication, we want to watch for more rigorous studies to corroborate the findings, before we feel more confident in the finding. If you have any questions about folate/folic acid, ask your health care provider for guidance.