July 11, 2011

More Folic Acid Could Improve Teen Grades

According to a new study, Swedish teenagers who consume more folic acid will get better grades in school.  

According to Dr. Torbjorn Nilsson of Orebro University Hospital and his colleagues, the new study is among the first to examine whether folate is tied to school achievements.

The researchers looked at 386 15-year-olds who were finishing up ninth grade.  Once all the grades from the classes were added up, there was a difference between the teens who got the most and the least folic acid in their diets.

Teens in the top third of folic acid intake scored grades of 139 out of 200, on average.  Those in the bottom third consumed less folic acid and had an average score of only 120.

The differences remained even after the researchers accounted for gender, smoking, the mothers' education and which schools the kids went to.

O'Connor of the University of Toronto said the findings were "pretty significant."

"It's not a randomized controlled trial, so you always wonder, are there other things going on that you weren't able to control for?" she told Reuters. "Like most studies, it probably raises more questions than it answers."

However, one expert says that does not mean teens should stock up on the B vitamin just yet.

"There is very little deficiency of folic acid in North America," Deborah O'Connor, a nutrition researcher who was not involved in the study, told Reuters Health. "If you're already sufficient, there is not a lot of evidence that taking more supplements will help."

She said the teens in the study might have been deficient in folic acid, with levels a few times lower than what is typically seen in North American kids.

Certain foods are filled with folic acid in North America because a lack of the nutrient during pregnancy can cause severe birth defects in babies.  

During the study, Sweden did not fortify foods, nor did kids use supplements.  Folic acid is naturally present in green, leafy vegetables and legumes.

According to the Institute of Medicine's "Dietary Reference Intakes," kids aged 9 to 13 in the U.S. get a total of 300 micrograms of folate a day from food and supplements.  

The institute also said that kids 14 and older, along with adults, are urged to get 400 micrograms a day and pregnant women should get 600 micrograms.

The findings were reported in the journal Pediatrics.


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