New Research Finds Mental Illness In Childhood May Be Linked To Folic Acid Intake During Pregnancy

Science has found even more reasons for soon-to-be-moms to be taking folic acid during pregnancy.

Folic acid is already recommended by doctors for pregnant women. A man-made form of vitamin B (also sometimes called folate) is essential to a fetus’ development and helps prevent defects in the spine and brain. Specifically, folic acid reduces the chance of a fetus developing Spina Bifida--a birth defect whereby the spine doesn’t fully develop and part of the baby’s spinal cord grows outside of the body.

Lucky for moms, companies in the US have been fortifying most grain products with folic acid since 1998. Flour, pasta, cornmeal, and rice all usually have a sprinkling of folic acid added so that we all get our daily recommended intake. Even in healthy adults, folic acid has a number of health benefits including a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.

Now a new study suggests that folic acid can not only help a developing fetus, it can also help shield an older child from mental illness.


The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is remarkably simple. Since we know that the US started dosing grains in folic acid beginning in 1988, scientists were able to scan the brains of children born after 1988 and compare them with known scans from before then.

Over a thousand children were scanned and then compared with adults who were born before folic acid became added to the food supply. Researchers found that children born after 1988--when their mothers were mowing down on folic acid-infused grains--had a significantly reduced risk of mental illness.

Scientists believe that the cause of this is due to folic acid delaying the thinning of the cerebral cortex. As we age, the cerebral cortex naturally thins to get rid of excess build-up between neurons. However, thinning too early is connected with mental illnesses like schizophrenia and autism. Delayed thinning seems to have the opposite effect.

So, of course, consult a doctor before anything, but introducing a folic acid supplement while pregnant may do even more good than previously thought. Or, you could chow down on a bowl of fortified spaghetti. Your unborn baby might thank you later!

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