Taking Folic Acid, known as vitamin B9, before you conceive and throughout pregnancy has long been recommended by medical experts because it has been shown to drastically decrease the risk of neural tube defects like spina bifida and anencephaly. Mothers can get this important vitamin naturally by eating whole grains, leafy greens, citrus fruits, and some legumes. In fact, it’s so important that by 1998 the United States government mandated the vitamin be added to more foods, including nearly all breads, cereal, pasta, rice, and flour. And now even more encouraging news: a group of researchers led by Dr. Joshua Roffman of the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Psychiatry believes folic acid can protect children from another dangerous threat, mental illness.
According to a report Roffman and his team published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry earlier this week, researchers examined three different sets of MRI scans, all of children between the ages of 8 and 18. The first was a set of 291 scans of healthy children taken at Massachusetts General Hospital. The second set was of 861 children, all with different types of psychiatric disorders, taken at Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort. And the third group of scans came from the National Institutes of Health and were images of children born before 1998 when the essential vitamin was added to food.
By examining these scans, researchers concluded that the children who received adequate amounts of the B9 vitamin had a significantly reduced risk of developing a mental illness. This was because the thinning of their cerebral cortex was notably delayed. Though some thinning of the cerebral cortex is expected as part of the natural growth process of the brain, an accelerated thinning has been linked to illnesses like schizophrenia, autism, and psychosis, according to Neuroscience News.
“Severe mental illnesses such as autism and schizophrenia that strike children and young adults are devastating and chronic and, at present, have no known prevention or cure," Roffman said, according to Medical Xpress. "These illnesses are thought to start in the womb, so it makes sense to focus our efforts there. If even a fraction of these cases could be prevented through a benign and readily available intervention during pregnancy, it could be as transformative for psychiatry as vaccines have been for infectious disease or fluoridation for dentistry. Our results with folic acid take an important next step in that direction."
Now that you have yet another reason to up your folic acid intake, check out these recipes for meals that are full of this important prenatal vitamin.