By Rachel Neifeld, RD, CDN

Getting one hundred percent of the recommended amount of folate is essential at least one month before becoming pregnant and throughout the first three months of pregnancy. It is recommended that all women of childbearing age take a folic acid supplement or a multivitamin with at least 400 mcg of folic acid because this B vitamin is known to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida and encephalopathy. But could folate do more? Based on new research, taking supplements before and during pregnancy can decrease the risk of a child having a severe language delay when they’re three years old.

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Norwegian study found that women who took supplements containing folic acid four weeks before until at least eight weeks after conception had a reduced risk of their child having a severe language delay at age three. Folic acid is important in allowing nervous system cells to reproduce and repair themselves. As stated by Ross, the study’s lead author, “Neural tube defects range from milder defects of the lower spine to the most severe where the child does not develop a brain at all.” The researchers, therefore, wondered whether the availability of folic acid during this crucial time of neurodevelopment could influence other aspects as well, such as language development.

The study was an observational study, meaning it collected data in many women and then analyzed the results. Though convincing, we cannot prove causality from this study- or that that taking folic acid definitely prevents severe language delay. This doesn’t change what we do know- which is that folic acid is essential in all woman of childbearing age to prevent neural tube defects. The added benefit of preventing language delays in offspring is only another reason to get 100% of the recommended daily value.

To make sure you’re getting enough, take a supplement with at least 400 mg of folic acid every day. Folic acid is found naturally in high amounts in green leafy vegetables, dark yellow or orange fruits and vegetables, nuts, beans, and liver. It is also fortified in bread, cereals, rice, and pasta.


SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association, Oct. 12, 2011