By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 30 May 2011)
Vitamin B9 (obtained naturally in foods as folate or via the synthetic additive folic acid) is critical to cell production and maintenance, particularly at times when the body is growing fast such as pregnancy, infancy, and adolescence. Symptoms of folate deficiency include slow physical growth, loss of appetite, tongue inflammation, shortness of breath, gingivitis, diarrhea, forgetfulness, irritability, and mental sluggishness.
Efficacy of Folic Acid in Treating Autistic Symptoms
Evidence for the efficacy of B9 is largely anecdotal, though French researcher Jerome Lejeune found that 250 mcg per pound of body weight daily generated significant improvement in some autistic children (Gerlach, 2003).
Of the Autism Research Institute’s 1,955 parent reviews of folic acid supplements for autism, 43% saw improvements, 53% noted no effect, and 4% said that their children grew worse. Using folic acid to treat Asperger’s syndrome generated similar results, with 48% seeing improvements, 44% no effect, and 8% saying that symptoms worsened.
In addition to providing protection against a number of diseases such as cancer, folate may be useful in treating conditions that often occur in conjunction with autistic spectrum disorders such as depression. Those with depression are more inclined to have low folate levels, and a number of studies have suggested that taking a folate supplement may reduce depressive symptoms in some people (Jorm et al. 2002).
Dr. Nancy Elder (2006) notes that research into folate’s efficacy for treating depression and anxiety (another problem that often accompanies autistic spectrum disorders and tends to trigger or exacerbate negative symptoms) is still being studied. Some studies have found a connection between folate deficiency and problems with anxiety and depression, but supplementation may only help those who are depressed or anxious because their levels of folate are low.
B9 (Folic Acid) Supplements
When taking B9 as a supplement, it’s best to choose a multivitamin that contains the other B vitamins as well, because these are necessary for folate activation. B12 is particularly beneficial in conjunction with folate, and folate is also more effective when taken with vitamin C (Autism Canada Foundation, 2011).
Vitamins can be toxic in high doses, and vitamin B9 can reduce the effectiveness of certain medications, such as antibiotics, and other medications can reduce the efficacy of folic acid. Always consult a doctor before administering vitamin therapy to establish safe and effective dosing.
Other Autism Supplements
For more on the effectiveness of various supplements for treating autistic spectrum disorders, see the main Autism Supplements page. For a full list of articles on autism and Asperger’s syndrome, visit the main Autistic Spectrum Disorders page.
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical consultation or care. Health concerns should be referred to a doctor.
- Autism Canada Foundation. (2011). “Nutritional – Folic and Folinic Acid.” AutismCanada.org.
- Autism Research Institute. (2008). “Parent Ratings for Autism” and “Parent Ratings for Asperger’s Syndrome.” Autism.com.
- Elder, N., MD. (2006). “Vitamin Deficiency and Anxiety Disorders.” Netwellness.org.
- Erlach, S.D., NMD. (2007). “Possible Interactions with: Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid).” Unversity of Maryland Medical Center, UMM.edu.
- Gerlach, E.K. (2003). Autism Treatment Guide. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons Inc.
- Jorm, A.F.; Christensen, H.; Griffiths, K.M.; & Rodgers, B. (2002). “Effectiveness of Complementary and Self-Help Treatments for Depression.” Medical Journal of Australia, 176 (10 Suppl.), S84-S95.