One of the 13 essential vitamins, folate (or vitamin B9), is necessary for the purpose of construction and repair of DNA molecules. Folate must be obtained either from diet or supplementation, as it cannot be produced de novo by the body. Folic acid, a synthetic dietary supplement, can be found in enriched foods and vitamins.

Folate intake is highly important during pregnancy for the growth and development of the foetus and to prevent abnormalities. In addition, it has been well-established through research that taking folic acid around the time of conception reduces the risk of neural tube defects in the baby.

Folic acid: Intake and sources

The demands for folate increase during pregnancy due to its role in nucleic acid synthesis. However, for pregnant women, an adequate level of folate may be difficult to achieve through just diet alone. For this reason, folic acid supplements are usually recommended for this population.

Folic acid is usually available in multivitamin and prenatal vitamins form, in supplements that contain other B-complex vitamins, as well as a single supplement.

In addition to supplements, it is also present in enriched cereal grain products, cereals and other fortified foods. Supplements and ready-to-eat cereals provide up to 400 μg of folic acid in pill form or per serving.

Benefits to children’s emotional intelligence and resilience

A recent finding from a study conducted by researchers from Ulster University, UK revealed that benefits of taking folic acid for pregnancy extend to the children’s psychological development as well.

In the study, researchers inquired parents of 39 children about their child’s personality. Among the participants, 22 mothers had taken the supplement throughout their pregnancy, whereas others took it only during the first three months.

Based on the results, children whose mothers took the supplement throughout pregnancy were found to demonstrate higher levels of emotional intelligence and resilience.

In addition, the level of folic acid in mother’s blood towards the end of pregnancy was a good predictor of children’s resilience and emotional intelligence. This finding is highly significant as it demonstrates the benefits of folic acid if taken throughout the pregnancy, rather than only prior to conception up until the first three months.

Lowers the risk of autism

Women who took folic acid supplements from four weeks before conception to eight weeks into pregnancy had a 40% lower risk of giving birth to children with autism.

According to primary author Dr. Pål Surén, researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health – it was observed that the reduced risk of childhood autism only reflects folic acid supplements. No connection was found between childhood autism and intake of other supplements during pregnancy. In addition, there is no correlation found with maternal intake of folate through food.

This is consistent with the finding from another research done by researchers at the University of California Davis MIND Institute. The study revealed that women who consumed the recommended amount of folic acid daily during the first month of pregnancy experienced a reduced risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder.

Overall, findings from the above mentioned studies highlight the importance of folic acid consumption that goes beyond physical development, as is mostly known.

Many pregnant women may understand the importance of taking folic acid to avoid serious birth defects, but may not know the impact on the psychological development of their offspring. Therefore, advice from doctors on the importance of taking folic acid at the recommended amount throughout pregnancy can prove to be highly beneficial. MIMS

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