Folic acid supplementation is not one size fits all for pregnant women. In addition, women should not presume that while you are preparing to get pregnant that you should eat lots of green leafy vegetables.
They may or may not be beneficial to you or your child. Even worse, they may be a benefit to you and not your child.
A new study out of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Public Health shows that medicine’s decade-long promotion of folic acid supplementation for pregnant women can be very detrimental for certain patients and their unborn babies, possibly contributing to the rise in autism over the last decade.
We have been telling patients for many years that women should take the standard dose of folic acid only during the first trimester of pregnancy, and not go beyond that time period. Folate is a necessary nutrient for the prevention of neural tube defects, but it can have very detrimental side effects for both mother and baby if one or both are undermethylated. It is only needed during the first trimester of pregnancy. After which the brain is fully formed.
The John Hopkins study supports what we’ve been saying for almost a decade. Folic acid in excess may not be good. Quite frankly, sometimes too much or too little of any good thing can be problematic. And this is true for folic acid.
We’ve seen the trend in medicine over the last decade move from recommending folic acid for the first three months, to six months, to a year, and then to giving it to nursing mothers as well. It seemed like the general consensus was if something is good then more is better. We have been cautioning our patients for years to only use folic acid for the first three months of pregnancy, after which it should be discontinued.
Bottom line: continued use of folic acid while pregnant may potentially offer more dangers than it does benefits.
Why Folic Acid Should be Discontinued after the First Trimester
The John Hopkins article specifically refers to the risk of autism due to excessive use of folate during gestation. For us, the underlying factor involved here is methylation status. Many of our patients are familiar with the methylation cycle, which is a series of interdependent biochemical pathways that all our bodies use to function. The methylation cycle influences critical biological processes such as DNA maintenance, energy production, detoxification, and our immune systems.
When the methylation cycle is out of balance mental health conditions will surface because an imbalance negatively affects neurotransmitter activity and development. If you have an imbalance you can be either undermethylated or overmethylated. Folate, while very beneficial for overmethylated folks, is extremely detrimental for undermethylated people.
Children with autism are mostly undermethylated and undermethylation is also a factor in various other conditions we treat that may be affected by excess folate from supplementation in utero.
This imbalance may also be producing future anxiety, future depression, and future ADHD in undermethylated babies fed too much folic acid in utero. Statistics show that in addition to autism, ADHD has also risen in the past decade. Is excess folate supplementation in utero also creating Asperger’s syndrome? Future OCD? All of these conditions may be related to excess folic acid. This is also why we don’t recommend methylated folate for our patients diagnosed with autism.
Folic acid is not a friend for these undermethylated folks.
Folic Acid Supplementation for Overmethylated Pregnant Women
But what if you are overmethylated? You might be an overmethylated mommy who needs folic acid. But you don’t know if your child is an undermethylated fetus. Two lineages (maternal and paternal) can influence the methylation status of the unborn child. If you do any form of folate such as folinic acid, methylated folate, or folic acid, we recommend that you discontinue dosing after the first trimester when brain development of the fetus is fully formed. Your continued use of folic acid at 6 months, a year, and while nursing may contribute to a biochemical imbalance in your child if he or she is potentially undermethylated. Once you have delivered the baby, if you are not breastfeeding, you should get back on your supplements if you are on a nutrient program.
Special thanks to Dr. Albert Mensah of Mensah Medical for this important post.
Why Diet is Key
The average diet in the U.S. is full of hidden folate. Enriched or fortified foods have at least 200 to 400 mcg of folic acid per serving. This includes bread, orange juice, cereal, and of course over the counter multivitamins. Plain and simple, now is the time to be cautious and read labels.
Now we have seen that traditional medicine has likely been advocating too much folic acid supplementation. Now the medical world has begun to re-evaluate previous recommendations for folic acid usage and is beginning to understand the potential dangers and beyond.
If you are thinking about becoming pregnant or if you are pregnant, it’s important that you know who you are biochemically, so that methylation status can be identified and addressed. Folic acid is important but too little or too much can be detrimental to you and your unborn child.
If you or someone you know is pregnant or desiring to become pregnant, please share this post. It is through sharing that we create community, eliminate guilt and shame, and bring about healing.