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Too much folic acid during pregnancy could affect newborns’ brain development

Researchers say too little folic acid can also be cause for concern

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Photo (c) kjekol - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of California at Davis explored the risks associated with folic acid during pregnancy. Based on findings taken from tests of pregnant mice, the team says brain development is likely to be compromised when folic acid levels are imbalanced during pregnancy. 

“We believe there’s a Goldilocks effect with folic acid,” said researcher Ralph Green. “Too little is not good, too much is not good; you have to get it just right.”

Finding the right amount 

The researchers tested various amounts of folic acid on pregnant mice to determine how the supplement affected the health and development of their offspring. Some of the mice were given no folic acid, some were given the recommended daily dose of 400 micrograms, and some were given 10 times the recommended daily dose. 

After analyzing the effect that folic acid had on the mice, the researchers confirmed that too much or too little folic acid can be detrimental to infants’ health and development. Brain development was particularly affected, as the study revealed that taking high doses of folic acid can affect brain structure and growth. The results were similar for the mice who didn’t take any additional folic acid. 

“It’s not subtle,” said researcher Konstantinos Zarbalis. “It’s substantial. It makes a marked difference in brain structure if you take very high amounts of folic acid.” 

The researchers explained that folic acid is good for pregnant women because it can protect against several complications, learning disorders, and birth defects. However, as these findings made clear, it’s important that pregnant women consult with their doctors about getting the right amount of folic acid because too much or too little can have negative consequences. 

“Addition of folic acid to the diet was a good thing, and I’ve supported fortification, but there is a ‘best amount’ of folic acid, and some people may be getting more than is optimal,” said Green. 

Moving forward, the researchers hope that more work can be done in this area to better understand the risks associated with folic acid during pregnancy. 

“In animal models, we have indications that very high amounts of folic acid can be harmful to brain development of the fetus, and the clinical community should take this indication seriously, to support research in this area to reevaluate the amount of folic acid that is optimal for pregnant women,” said Zarbalis. 

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