When you are pregnant you may be eating for two (or three, four, or in the Octomom’s case…eight) in more ways than you realize.
In a study just published online in JAMA Pediatrics, a team led by Xiaobin Wang, M.D., M.P.H., Sc.D., Zanvyl Krieger professor in children’s health and director of the Center on the Early Life Origins of Disease at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH), found that mothers with low folate levels (below approximately 20 nanomoles per liter) during pregnancy were more likely to have obese children. The lower the mother’s folate level, the greater the risk for obesity in the child. These results came from more than 1,500 pairs of mothers and children from predominantly low-income and minority populations who have been followed before, during and after pregnancy as part the Boston Birth Cohort. (Dr. Wang and I are the principal investigators for one project that involves the Boston Birth Cohort.) The relationship between the mother’s folate levels and child’s risk of obesity held even among obese mothers in the study. When a mother was obese but had adequate folate levels (at least 20 nm/L), the child was 43% less likely to become obese. Therefore, potentially add childhood obesity to the list of problems that accompany folate deficiency, such as birth defects and anemia.
Thus, when you are pregnant, you should get enough folate. But is too much a bad thing? Another study using the Boston Birth Cohort found that when mothers after giving birth had folate levels more than four times the recommended level, their newborns had twice the chance of eventually developing autism spectrum disorder. Ramkripa Raghavan, MPH, MSc, a DrPH candidate at JHSPH, led this study and presented findings on May 13 at the 2016 International Meeting for Autism Research in Baltimore. Now keep in mind that this study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal. Therefore, the “jury” is still out on whether too much folate really does lead to autism. However, it does support the age-old axiom: moderation is the key to life. As presidential candidate Donald Trumphas said, “a little more moderation would be good.” (However, he did add, “Of course, my life hasn’t exactly been one of moderation.”)
So, what is folate? Otherwise known as Vitamin B9, folicin or folic-acid, folate is a water-soluble B vitamin that the body needs to build DNA and other genetic material and grow and divide cells. With folate being so important in cell functions, it is plausible that its presence or absence can affect a child’s metabolism. In its consumer fact sheet here, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) lists the following foods as being naturally rich in folate:
- Vegetables (especially asparagus, Brussels sprouts and dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and mustard greens)
- Fruits and fruit juices (especially oranges and orange juice)