Whether or not to take prenatal vitamins is a question often raised by our patients as they do everything they can to optimize fertility. While we do support the use of prenatal supplementation in most cases, we also understand that those who pay close attention to what they eat may not require the same level of supplementation as those who have a harder time eating the rainbow of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, etc.
One thing is for certain – folic acid remains one of the most highly-recommended nutrient supplements for women who plan to get pregnant and who are pregnant. Not only does folic acid minimize risk for spina bifida, studies show women who take folic acid supplements via prenatal vitamins are less likely to have babies born with autism.
Folic Acid and Prenatal Vitamins May Lower Autism Risk
The study, which took place in Israel, aimed to, “examine the association between maternal supplementation with FA and multivitamins before and/or during pregnancy and the risk of ASD (autism spectrum disorder) in offspring.”
One of the most impressive things about the study is that it followed 45,300 babies born between 2003 and 2007 – and reviewed data about those children through 2015. They paid attention to women who were prescribed prenatal vitamins containing folic acid (FA) and the results with those who had not been prescribed – or taken – supplements containing folic acid.
Of those 45,300 babies, 572 were diagnosed on the autism spectrum. When comparing all of the data, researchers found that taking folic acid and prenatal vitamins lowered a mother’s risk of having a baby with autism by 73%. Thus, researchers concluded:
“Maternal exposure to folic acid and/or multivitamin supplements before pregnancy was statistically significantly associated with a lower likelihood of ASD in the offspring compared with no exposure before pregnancy.”
However, lead authors add that there are limitations and that further research studies should be done to correlating these findings.
Natural Ways to Increase Folic Acid Intake
The good news is that in addition to prenatal vitamins, women planning to conceive can increase folic acid in their own diets. In addition to a well-rounded diet that supports a healthy conception and pregnancy, you can get folic acid by increasing your intake of:
- Citrus fruits
- Folic acid-enriched cereals
- Spinach and other dark, leafy greens
- Eggs (the yolks are where the FA is at, so begin adding them back to your diet if you’re typically a whites-only eater)
- Lentils, peas and other legumes
- Seeds and nuts
- Lean, red meat (preferably grass-fed and finished, and raised without hormones or antibiotics)
- Sweet potatoes
The good news is that all of these foods are included in any healthy dietary recommendations you read for fertility health, including an anti-inflammatory diet, which is particularly beneficial for women with PCOS or endometriosis, both of which are associated with chronic inflammation.
If you’re planning to conceive this year, begin to focus on eating nutrient-rich foods, especially those with a higher folic acid content – and speak to your doctor about whether a prescription for prenatal supplements containing folic acid is right for you.