A national study led by Perth’s Telethon Institute for Child Health Research has found that folic acid supplements before and during pregnancy reduces the risk of childhood brain tumours.
The national case-control study collected data between 2005 and 2010 to investigate nutritional, environmental and genetic risk factors for childhood brain tumours.
335 mothers of children with brain tumours participated in the study along with 1363 mothers of healthy control children, randomly recruited from around Australia.
Study leader Professor Elizabeth Milne said while other studies had investigated the impact of multivitamin supplements, this research project was the first to separate out different types of supplements, including folic acid and other B group vitamins.
“Our study found that folic acid use before pregnancy reduced the risk of childhood brain tumours by around 30%,” Professor Milne said.
“There also appeared to be some effect when taken after conception, but it was not as strong as when taken before pregnancy.
“We know this is biologically plausible, as a mother’s store of folate is used rapidly from conception in keeping DNA healthy as it replicates and in fuelling the rapid development of brain cells in the fetus.”
Professor Milne cautioned that the results did not mean that a lack of folate had caused brain tumours in children in the study.
“What we are looking at here is reducing overall risk in the population and these findings cannot be extrapolated to an individual level. Indeed, many case mothers took folic acid,” she said.
“There are likely to be many causes of childhood brain tumours and we are hopeful that folic acid supplements may be one way to reduce the risk as well as providing other established benefits to the developing baby.”