BY SARAH OWENS
Pregnant women taking antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) who supplemented their diets with folic acid had a reduced risk of having a child with autistic traits, according to a study published online on December 26 in JAMA Neurology.
Folic Acid's Importance
Folic acid supplements are generally recommended to all pregnant women to reduce the risk of birth complications, such as spina bifida, as well as neurodevelopmental complications.
Supplementation may be especially important for pregnant women who take AEDs, which treat epilepsy and seizures, since anti-seizure drugs are known to interfere with folate absorption and metabolism.
Additionally, research has shown that children born to mothers who took AEDs during pregnancy have an increased risk of developing autistic traits, including repetitive behaviors and impaired social skills and communication.
Studying Mothers with Epilepsy
To find out if folic supplementation would decrease the risk of having a child with autistic traits for women taking AEDs during pregnancy, researchers at several universities in Norway assessed data on participants in the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort study, a long-running study of the health of pregnant women and their children in Norway. Participants had an ultrasonographic examination between June 1999 and December 2008 and provided information on their use of AEDs and folic acid supplementation during pregnancy as well as follow-up information on the health of their children.
A total of 104,946 children between the ages of 18 and 36 months who were born between March 2016 and June 2017, were included. As part of the study, the mothers answered questions about their children's health using a test that measures autistic traits. The mothers were asked questions such as, "Does your child enjoy being bounced on your knee?" and "Does your child take interest in other children?"
The researchers then compared the mothers' information on AED use and folic acid supplementation with their answers on the test to look for associations.
A Clear Connection
The researchers discovered that women who took AEDs during pregnancy and also took folic acid supplements were significantly less likely to have a child with autistic traits than pregnant women who took AEDs but did not supplement with folic acid. In particular, they found that higher folic acid levels between weeks 17 and 19 of pregnancy were associated with a reduced risk of autistic traits.
The findings, the study authors conclude, suggest that all women of childbearing age who take AEDs should take folic acid supplementation to reduce the risk of autistic traits in their children.