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Folic acid and it's effects on cognitive development in children

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It’s widely known that women trying to conceive and expecting mums should take folic acid to help prevent certain birth defects. But are there other benefits for the fetus’ and child’s development? Here, we look at the scientific research and studies to breakdown why this important supplement is so crucial for pregnancies. 

Man made from a B Vitamin called Folate, folic acid plays an important role in the production of red blood cells. Scientific evidence has existed for over 30 years which shows that folic acid is important for the healthy development of fetuses and can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida.

The NHS recommends that all women trying to conceive and who are pregnant should take a daily dose of 400 micrograms a day for the first trimester of their pregnancy to support the growth of the baby’s spine. Below, we examine the potential benefits of taking folic acid throughout the entire pregnancy, and the impact it could have on the baby in later life.

Cognitive Development

The FASSTT Offspring Trial in 2006 sought to discover if there were other benefits to continuing to take folic acid supplements in the second and third trimester of pregnancy, with a special emphasis on cognitive development.


The study randomly assigned 119 women in 2006/2007 who had been taking 400 micro-grams of folic acid during their first trimester. 59 women were placed in a treatment group to continue to take folic acid throughout their pregnancy, and 60 women were placed in a placebo trial. All participants received either Folic Acid or placebo supplements every 4 weeks, with an overall participant compliance rate of 93%.

Assessments were carried out on the children at ages 3 and 7 using validated and internationally recognised tools to measure their cognitive development. At age 3 the children were assessed with the most frequently used developmental test for infants and young children between 1 and 42 months, using the Bayley’s Scales of Infant and Toddler Development 3rd Edition (BSITD-III). At age 7, the same children were measured on their cognitive performance using a validated clinical instrument for assessing children up the the age of 7 years and 3 months, called the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence Test 3rd UK edition (WPPSI-III).

The Results

  • Children born to mothers who has received folic acid throughout the pregnancy scored significantly higher in word reasoning compared to children from the placebo group.

  • Children assessed at age 3 from the folic acid group scored significantly higher in the cognitive domain during the BSITD-III test compared to children from the placebo group.

  • Children from folic acid treated mothers scored significantly higher during the WPPSSI-III tests for verbal IQ, performance IQ, general language and full scale IQ when compared with a nationally representative sample of children at age 7 years.

The study concluded that folic acid supplementation after the first trimester is likely to be essential for the development of the fetus’s brain, with further positive impacts on cognitive performance and behaviour in early life and beyond. The study hoped that further randomised trials with similar findings will help to reform existing policies and practices for the recommendations of folic acid supplementation throughout the entire pregnancy.

Other Benefits

Other clinical studies have also found evidence to suggest that;

  • In some observational studies, premature births have been associated with the absence of folic acid supplementation during pregnancy.
  • Taking folic acid could be linked to the prevention of congenital heart disease.
  • Research also shows that taking folic acid in early pregnancy can help prevent cleft lips and cleft palates.

Folic Acid is certainly the superhero ingredient of our Prenatal Life Stack and based on the research, we recommend it is taken throughout the entire pregnancy to enhance the cognitive development of your child. 



Folic Acid Supplementation and Pregnancy: More Than Just Neural Tube Defect Prevention

The FASSTT Offspring Trial

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