Can folic acid mitigate autism risk for kids with epileptic mothers?

A new study suggests that mothers who take medications to control their seizures without folic acid supplementation during their pregnancy may be placing their unborn children at risk of later displaying autistic traits.

The large-scale Norwegian study was published in JAMA Neurology in December 2017. Researchers used the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study to assess the effects of both antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) and folic acid supplementation between June 1999 and December 2008. The women’s children were studied at age 18 to 36 months. In the folic acid group, supplementation was given from 4 weeks before to 12 weeks after conception, with plasma folate levels tested at between 17 and 19 weeks’ gestation, according to the report. As for the outcomes in children, autistic traits were assessed using the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers and Social Communication Questionnaire.

The research team found that of the 335 children exposed to AEDs in utero, the risk for autistic traits was significantly higher at 18 and 36 months of age when folic acid supplementation was not used in comparison with the mothers who took AEDs and folic acid supplements. In women with untreated epilepsy, 389 children displayed insignificant risks of autistic traits, the report notes. The study suggests that the degree of autistic traits was inversely associated with the plasma folate concentration of the mother during pregnancy, but that the concentration of AEDs was not specifically associated with any degree of autistic traits.

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8th February 2018
Contemporary Pediatrics