Research about the potential association between prenatal folate status and children’s brain anatomy was recently published in the British Journal of Nutrition. The study was carried out at the Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands and is part of the Generation R Study, which looked at nearly 10,000 pregnant Dutch women between 2002 and 2006.
The primary aim of the study was to investigate the association between maternal folate status during early pregnancy and a child’s brain development, as indexed by brain volume of 6- to 8-year-old children. The secondary aim was to explore whether brain volume accounted for any association between prenatal folate status and the occurrence of cognitive performance or emotional and behavioral problems in the same study sample.
A correlation was found between the low level of folate in the mothers during pregnancy and children’s brain anatomy at the age of 6 and 8.
The results suggested prenatal maternal folate deficiency in early pregnancy had a long-lasting global effect on brain development in offspring and was associated with smaller total brain volume, poorer language and visuospatial performance in children between the ages of 6 and 8.
It remains to be investigated whether the effect is permanent, as evidenced throughout adolescence and adulthood.
The maternal folate (active form 5-methyltetrahydrofolate, 5-MTHF) concentration of mothers enrolled in the Generation R Study was measured in plasma—considered to provide a more objective and reliable index of folate status. Of note, women with adequate folate levels were more likely to have used a folic acid supplement.
Gnosis S.p.A.stated several factors may interfere with reaching the right level of 5-MTHF in the blood. Humans cannot synthesize folate and because of its water-soluble nature, the body only stores folate to a limited extent. Low folate in the blood may occur not only for inadequate dietary intake, but also for the potential limited ability of some people to metabolize folic acid to active 5-MTHF form.
The enzymatic conversion of folate/folic acid to the active 5-MTHF is a multi-step process where the enzyme methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) plays a key role.
According to the company, some individuals, due to their unique genetic patterns and expression, have polymorphic forms of this enzyme and do not produce adequate or effective MTHFR. More than 40 percent of the global population is affected by MTHFR gene mutation.