Local doctors wary of possible link between autism and high folate intake

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SEATTLE -- A new study linking autism with a well-known pregnancy routine is causing a lot of talk.

Pregnant women are urged to eat foods high in folate.

Leafy greens, citrus fruits and beans are high in folate and the vitamin form of that is called folic acid.

Doctors have been recommending folic acid supplements and prenatal vitamins with folic acid for years in case women are not getting enough folate in their diet.

But now researchers from Johns Hopkins University are  linking autism with a high intake of folate or folic acid.

Researchers say a child's risk of developing autism doubles if a new mom has a very high level of folate right after giving birth. Researchers say the women in their study had more than four times what was considered adequate.

But doctors at Seattle's Swedish Medical Center are worried the study could do more harm than good.

“It’s very important for families and moms to take into consideration that this is preliminary information,” Dr. Elizabeth Meade said.

Meade added that folic acid is still crucial for pregnant women and those trying to conceive to prevent birth defects like spina bifida. They say folic acid is the reason why the number of babies born with birth defects have plummeted.

“We recommend women take 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid."

Meade says the findings have yet to be proven and there are too many unknowns.

“Unfortunately, with this study of these women with high levels, how much were ... taken and what supplements were taken?" Meade said.

But some women admit the new research got their attention.

“Autism is the biggest scare for our generation; it’s still so unknown,” Ballard mom Christine Shalda said.

Shalda, who is expecting her third child, says the research had her second-guessing her pregnancy routine.

“You have to listen to your instincts,” Shalda said.

So Shalda spoke to her health care provider and found an alternative supplement with the right amount of folic acid for her specific diet.

Shalda says she is taking the research with a grain of salt, and that is exactly what local doctors are recommending.