TUESDAY, Oct. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Taking folic acid
supplements before and during pregnancy was linked to a decreased
risk of a having a child with a severe language delay at age 3,
according to new research.
The Norwegian study found that women who took no folic acid
supplements before and during pregnancy had more than twice the
risk of having a child with a serious language delay compared to
women who took folic acid supplements.
"Maternal use of supplements containing folic acid within the period from four weeks before, to eight weeks after conception was associated with a substantially reduced risk of severe language delay in children at age 3 years," said the study's lead author Christine Roth, a Ph.D. student in the division of mental health at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo.
Results of the study are published in the Oct. 12 issue of the
Journal of the American Medical Association.
Folic acid supplementation is already recommended for women of
childbearing age, because adequate folic acid stores have been
shown to help prevent major birth defects, such as spina bifida and
other neural tube defects. Folic acid is important in allowing
nervous system cells to reproduce and to repair themselves,
according to background information in the study.
In the United States, many foods, such as breads and cereals,
are fortified with folic acid. In Norway, flour is not fortified
with folic acid, according to Roth.
The study included data from the Norwegian Mother and Child
Cohort study, a prospective observational study of pregnant women
and their offspring conducted from 1999 through 2008. Data were
collected on the children until they were 3 years old.
Mothers assessed their children's language skills using a
six-point language scale. Children who had only minimal expressive
language, which was defined as only using one word or
unintelligible utterances at age 3, were classified as having a
severe language delay.
Of the nearly 39,000 children in the study, 204 had a severe
Of children whose mothers took no supplements during pregnancy,
0.9 percent had severe language delays. Just 0.4 percent of
children whose mothers took folic acid supplements before or during
pregnancy had severe language delays, according to the study. And,
just 0.4 percent of children whose mothers took folic acid
supplements in combination with other supplements before and during
pregnancy had a severe language delay.
Roth said the researchers don't know exactly how folic acid
might help prevent severe language delays, but said it may be due
to the nutrient's effect on the nervous system.
"Knowing that neural tube defects range from milder defects of the lower spine to the most severe instances where the fetus does not develop a brain at all, we wondered whether the availability of folic acid in this crucial time of neurodevelopment also could influence other aspects, such as language development," said Roth.
Although many foods in the United States are fortified with
folic acid, women who are planning to become pregnant should start
taking a prenatal vitamin or a multivitamin that has at least 400
micrograms of folic acid a day, advised Dr. Deborah Campbell,
director of the division of neonatology at the Children's Hospital
at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
But more evidence is needed to know for sure if doing so will
help prevent language delays, she added.
"This is an interesting study showing an association with severe language delays, but I don't know that there's enough here to show causality," Campbell said.
Learn more about the importance of folic acid from
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Offic...n Women's Health.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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