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Folic acid before pregnancy could help prevent autism, study says



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SALT LAKE CITY — An important new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that women who expand the use of folic acid may reduce the risk of autism for their babies.

Folic acid is a vitamin most expectant mothers already take at their doctor's suggestion. Its widely believed the supplement helps to reduce the chance of certain birth defects, like spina bifida.

The difference in this study is that women began taking it before they became pregnant — and the results were significant.

Researchers in Norway followed 85,000 children born between 2002 and 2008, tracking their progress into 2012. They discovered that mothers who began taking folic acid at least one month before pregnancy had a 40 percent reduced risk of having a baby who develops autism.

Utah mother Cheri Wilkins is expecting her third baby, so she knew to start taking folic acid before this pregnancy.

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"(I like) just knowing that I'm doing everything I can to try and help with a healthy pregnancy. And if it's just taking one little pill a day, like, how hard is that?" she said.

Cheri and her husband, Morgan, are still with the doctor who brought their older childrn, Eston and Carson, into the world. Dr. Steven Johnson recommends folic acid for all of his patients.

"There has been suggestions over the past several years, that it influences autism, that this study really helps to cement," Johnson said. "It made a huge difference. Forty percent less incidents; that's a very significant number."

Folic acid can be found in cereals and breads. The March of Dimes recommends 400 micrograms a day. Doctors recommend as much as 800 micrograms a day so that brain cells grow at the rate they should.

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Carole Mikita

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