Iron And Folic Acid In Pregnancy Make Smarter Babies

22 December 2010

Folic Acid

As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I went to Boots for a bottle of Folic Acid.

I need really not have worried, as I was given some at my first midwives visit, and at almost every visit thereafter. I was in hospital for a few days roundabout five months, and was fed them then, and was sent away with another bottle.

I kind of got the message that they were important. And now I know why.

Researchers have found that children whose mothers had sufficient folic acid (found naturally in green leaves) and iron supplements before and during pregnancy showed greater cognitive and motor skills when compared to children whose mothers did not receive the prenatal supplements.

According to AOL Health, the study followed 676 children in a double-blind, randomized controlled trial of micronutrient supplementation given between 1999 and 2001. Researchers followed up with the children at ages 7 to 9. The children whose mothers had received prenatal supplements of folic acid and iron showed stronger cognitive ability, higher reasoning skills, better motor skills and enhanced inhibitory control when compared to their study group peers whose mothers had not taken supplements.

The research was carried out in Nepal, but is certainly relevant to us – especially those who may not include much by way of green, leafy veg in the daily diet. And even if you do eat a bag of folic acid and iron rich spinach every day, the nutritional value is often debatable by the time it hits your plate. So really, when it comes to building a new human brain, supplements are probably the way to go.

Of course we all know how important diet and lifestyle are for a healthy pregnancy, but it's nice to see a study come up with a positive result for a change, one which confirms that we've been doing the right thing, not so?

7 comments

  • Sam
    No, the reason that hospitals advise Folic Acid during pregnancy is for the prevention of birth defects, a well evidenced claim. This cognitive test is less well evidenced, only being conducted in Nepal, where it is much more likely women would be seriously malnourished, and even the AOL article suggests any greater cognitive skills are probably down to iron supplementation rather than folic acid. Your claim in the title is at best poorly evidenced, and at worst completely misleading. And I highly doubt you have any evidence to suggest taking supplements is better than eating actual vegetables. If you are giving people nutritional advice, please make sure you have a reasonable backing for it, rather than hunches and assumptions.
  • Luschka O.
    Yes, you are right about why hospitals give folic acid - but that wasn't the point of this research, nor my thoughts on it. The title was off the back of the AOL title, which you correctly point out, I left out the iron bit - I've changed that, thank you. It is not my claim, but that of the research. I'm just saying it's nice to have research come out which, for a change, supports what we're already doing, and doesn't conflict with what we THOUGHT we already knew. I honestly hope no one is reading an opinion piece looking for nutritional advice - I have no doubt that eating a bag of raw spinach is better for you than popping a pill, but I don't know many people that do that regularly. If you're having a spoon full of boiled spinach at dinner, that's not going to be your full requirement for the day, and it's probably better to have a supplement than to have just your spoon of boiled spinach(with loads of the nutrients gone down the drain with the boiled water)and think you've done what you need to. The Explore Vitamins website (http://www.explorevitamins.co.uk/are-vitamins-food-better-than-supplements.html) recommends pregnant women take supplements. As does the food standards agency: http://www.eatwell.gov.uk/agesandstages/pregnancy/whenyrpregnant/ Admittedly, this is not based on MY research, but I'm happy to take their word for it.
  • Sam
    I do not contest the idea that taking supplements during pregnancy is useful, particularly with Folic Acid, and I agree that a supplement is probably better than a spoonful of spinach. However, the claim you originally made was based on "a bag... of spinach", which is clearly a different matter. However, none of this addresses the fact that this study doesn't exactly prove that in the UK general public taking such supplements will make your baby smarter. Indeed, since the study was in Nepal, the improvement may have come about from the malnourished who were severely lacking in Folic Acid and Iron, which isn't necessarily going to be as apparent in British society. The idea that simply taking these supplements will make your child more intelligent isn't necessarily supported by the trial you've quoted.
  • Sam
    Also, the idea that people won't be taking nutritional advice from this is shortsighted. Your article is clearly presented as a science piece rather than opinion; you've sourced a study, and made factual statements based upon it. What you have written is presented as nutritional advice.
  • Luschka O.
    Yes, I did talk about a bag of spinach, but I also said the nutritional value is debatable by the time it hits your plate, meaning "depending on your preparation, how much nutrition you're getting from it is an unknown quantity". I don't agree that just being a member of the UK general public means this study doesn't necessarily apply to you. This report from 2010 put 5% of the British public, or 2 million people, in the malnourished category, which is at least an improvement on the 2007 EPHA report that put 3 million people in that category. The AOL article also says that this isn't limited to the women in Nepal, but that 30% of women in the US are not getting enough iron during pregnancy (hence the anemia) - there are various websites that state that at least half of all pregnant women in the UK are iron deficient too. In a place like Nepal, taking the supplement might have a critical effect on - as the study showed - cognitive and motor skills, but somewhere like the UK, the effect might be less noticeable because of the higher general level of nourishment, but that does not negate the ability of these supplements to potentially have the same effect as it does on the test subjects in Nepal.
  • Luschka O.
    If, based on this article someone decides to take their Folic Acid and Iron supplements, I honestly won't be losing any sleep over it, since it's actually a good thing, and all ;)
  • Sam
    Indeed, it is a good idea to take such supplements during pregnancy, for various reasons, but the article pushes the belief that should you decide not to take such tablets you're depriving your baby of intelligence, which is, as I'd think you would agree, an absurd statement. This sort of talk is dangerous, as it gives people the misguided belief that such things are merely down to nutrition, as opposed to the many factors involved, and that if their child isn't top of the class, they should blame themselves for not taking such pills when they were pregnant. As a source of media you need to make sure you avoid sweeping, blanket statements like the one in the title, which is only very vaguely supported by your evidence, in a very malnourished area.

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