The Link Between Autism and Folate Deficiency

Photo by: Bigstockphoto
Photo by: Bigstockphoto

Can folate deficiency in pregnant women result in autism? Several studies suggest that low amount of B9 vitamin or folate may double the chance of autism spectrum disorder in children. While the real cause of autism is highly debatable, it’s generally believed that this condition is caused by genetics and nutrition.

The Risk of Autism

When genes and nutrients interact with a fertilized cell, it causes multiple development of organs and systems, forming a fetus. Each of these biological components has a role to play in a person’s genetic makeup. Nutrients from the food a pregnant woman eats continuously interact with the still-developing egg until it turns into a fetus.

Doctors believe that autistic babies tend to have genetic susceptibility or abnormal Omega-3 fatty acid profile in their cell membranes that causes abnormality in the digestive or central nervous system. It’s common for animals and humans with Omega-3 fatty acid profile in their cell membranes to be afflicted with neurodevelopmental disorders because the brain cells are exposed, left vulnerable during development. This leads to brain cell impairment, ultimately resulting in various mental conditions. This development may occur during pregnancy or after birth. As abnormalities in the brain progresses, it causes mental retardation.

What is Folate Acid?

Folate is a type of B vitamin that helps the body cells to divide. Also known as vitamin B6, vitamin M, or vitamin B12, folate is present in many foods we eat. This vitamin is important in the development of the fetus and in growing children. This is why most pregnant women and those planning to conceive are advised to boost their folate acid intake to prevent birth defects and autism. Although the link between autism and folate acid remains unclear, many scientists agree that the latter plays critical role in brain development in developing fetus and growing children.

How Folate Plays a Role in Autism

For decades, scientists have been figuring out how cerebral folate deficiency in children could lead to autism. In one preliminary research, three children with autism, mental retardation, and clinical features of Angelman syndrome or Rett syndrome showed abnormalities of CNS folate or vitamin B6. After taking folate, doctors saw “some degree” of improvement on autistic children.  However, the test shows that though folate supplements help the autistic children’s motor skills, it did not improve the more pronounced symptoms of autism.

In some cases, too much folate could cause neurodevelopmental disorders too. In one study, researchers believe that excess folate acid triggers brain cell abnormality as well. This is why pregnant women are encouraged to work closely with their doctor to determine the right balance of nutrients they need to maintain normal brain development in babies.

The study between autism and folate acid is largely controversial because the cases of autism is increasing at an alarming rate. The environment and genetic makeup of a person are common causes for brain abnormality and mental retardation but new studies linking vitamin B6 deficiency may hold the key to preventing autism, giving mothers a fighting chance to overcoming mental disorders.