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Folic acid, Vitamin B12 and Autism

Study finds link to children born with autism and mothers taking excessive amounts of vitamin B12 and folic acid.
Folic acid in pregnancy

Researchers have suggested that excessive amounts of folic acid and vitamin B12 in pregnancy may lead to an increased risk of autism in children.

Link found between autism and vitamin B12. Picture: Science Photo Library

They have speculated that if a new mother has four times the recommended amount of folate following birth, the risk of the child developing autism is doubled and high levels of vitamin B12 are potentially harmful too, tripling the risk of the child developing autism.

Both levels being high can, according to the study, increase the likelihood of a diagnosis of autism by 17.6 times.

It has long been known that folate is good for the neurodevelopment of the foetus and that deficiencies in early pregnancy have been linked to birth defects, such as spina bifida, and neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism.

This longitudinal study included almost 1,400 pregnant

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Researchers have suggested that excessive amounts of folic acid and vitamin B12 in pregnancy may lead to an increased risk of autism in children.


Link found between autism and vitamin B12.
Picture: Science Photo Library

They have speculated that if a new mother has four times the recommended amount of folate following birth, the risk of the child developing autism is doubled and high levels of vitamin B12 are potentially harmful too, tripling the risk of the child developing autism.

Both levels being high can, according to the study, increase the likelihood of a diagnosis of autism by 17.6 times.

It has long been known that folate is good for the neurodevelopment of the foetus and that deficiencies in early pregnancy have been linked to birth defects, such as spina bifida, and neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism.

This longitudinal study included almost 1,400 pregnant women and followed them and their child’s progress for several years.

The study has been condemned by some as alarmist, and has not, to date, been peer reviewed.

Impact of supplements

However, it raises some important questions about why women had so much folate and vitamin B12, and the impact of supplements on the developing child. Questions were raised about the sources of B12 and folate, absorption rates, how the body manages vitamin excesses and the information that women are given about folic acid and vitamins during pregnancy.

There is much therefore that needs to be further explored. The findings of this study however do indicate that it may be wise to keep to recommended doses of folate and vitamin B12, and this is something that nurses should be stressing to pregnant women.


Ragavan R et al (2016) Folate and Vitamin B12 link to autism. John Hopkins School of Health

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