Children, Language Development and Folic Acid
Having a child is one of the most -- if not the most -- rewarding journeys you’ll experience in your life, but it will come with a wide range of challenges and responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is making sure your child remains healthy on a daily basis, especially in the early years when growth and development is at its peak.
While your child’s first steps will likely be one of the first major milestones you record, their first words will be one of the most memorable moments of their young life -- at least for their parents. Because of this, you’ll want to monitor their language development closely and ensure they’re being raised in an environment that encourages their development.
How do children typically learn a language?
Language development in children is generally acquired through interaction with the parents, other family members, and other children they come across. By watching others speak, conversate, and interact with each other, the child will learn to do so themselves.
Believe it or not, this interaction has to be developed face-to-face. In a digital world, that might be a little difficult to wrap your head around, but children wouldn’t be able to learn a language properly if they only heard it via the television or the internet.
As you can likely imagine, being raised in a friendly household that expresses themselves often will be a great place for a child to grow up. They need attention just as much as anyone else!
Also Read: Can Folate Supplementation Have Benefits During Pregnancy and After Childbirth?
So, why do some children struggle to develop language properly?
In some cases, your child might experience something known as language delay. This can include a wide range of symptoms such as failure to babble at around 15 months, failure to talk by the age of two, or failure to speak sentences by the age of three.
Language delay can also refer to the inability to follow directions and fulfill demands, poor pronunciation, struggling to use words correctly, or frequently leaving words out of a sentence.
There are a variety of possible causes surrounding language delays, including hearing impairments, autism, intellectual disruptions, and physiological disruptions. For the most part, healthcare professionals will typically contribute language delays to another underlying health condition that acts as a precursor to the delay.
One of these health conditions is a folate deficiency, which is often included as a possibility anytime a child’s growth or development is in question. Folate is essential to a child’s early years and supplementation will often be required in women long before they get pregnant -- but can the lack of this fundamental nutrient really lead to language delays in your child?
What Is Folic Acid?
Folic acid, much like any other vitamin, will come with its fair share of confusion due to that fact that there are many different forms available. For the most part, you’ll see folic acid used as an umbrella term for Vitamin B9 but it’s much more specific than that. In fact, Vitamin B9 is the proper umbrella term for Vitamin B9.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of Vitamin B9, meaning it’s the form made by man chemically and ‘added into our foods or supplements’. This is called fortification and has been required by the government for many years now in an effort to reduce vitamin deficiencies in the general population. There’s also a natural form of Vitamin B9, which is known as dihydrofolate and is found naturally in the food we eat.
When comparing the two, folate is considered a better source of Vitamin B9 because there is one less conversion step required in the body for it to become the active form the body needs to kick off all of the necessary downstream enzymatic processes for optimal health. However, both forms are equally as problematic when it comes to a very common genetic mutation that a majority of the population has (MTHFR) which makes it very hard for the body to convert folate into methylfolate (the active, bioavailable version of folate the body needs for absorption and direct use). Some believe that folic acid is much easier to consume when found in a cheap, generic supplement. As a result, many people will have higher amounts of folic acid in their system -- as opposed to folate.
Folic acid supplementation will also largely be recommended to pregnant women, since it is so foundational for building the body’s central nervous system, including its neural tube, or early brain and spinal cord. In recent years, a MUCH more effective supplement has been introduced to the community known as methylfolate -- the active form of Vitamin B9 that can be immediately used by the body. This form of Vitamin B9 is the most effective form because it bypasses the entire folate metabolism genetic conversion process, of which there are actually four main enzymatic conversions that are required to make folic acid into the methylfolate your body needs. These genes, if mutated, can cause roadblocks that prevent the absorption of the form of folic acid. Long story short, if you value your health and the foundational building blocks that the nutrient folate must do within your body, then don’t take a chance ‘hoping’ your body can convert folate into methylfolate. Just reach for the more immediately effective supplement form that can bypass the complicated conversion process and go with an L-Methylfolate option instead..
Also Read: Understanding Vitamin B Deficiency
Can Folic Acid Affect Language Development in Children?
What causes folic acid deficiency in children?
Folic acid deficiency in children can be caused by a wide range of issues. First and foremost, ensuring the mother follows a proper folate supplementation protocol before, during, and after pregnancy is essential to the child’s early growth and development.
As you start to introduce your child to food, folic acid deficiency -- which is really referring to methylfolate deficiency -- can present itself in a variety of ways. Not receiving enough folate can be difficult to avoid, but consuming too much folic acid (through supplements and/or fortified foods) can also cause harm in the body, especially if too much UMFA (unmetabolized folic acid) develops. UMFA can build up when folic acid is given to people with folate metabolism mutations - and it has been linked to cancer by some studies. So the key to being safe and ensuring your child has enough methylfolate in their body is really to stick to a healthy diet AND consider a quality L-Methylfolate supplement to give the body the ‘right form’ of the folate it needs to ensure health at the building block level.
Some bodies can convert both folic acid and folate into the absorbable form, methylfolate, but many cannot and won’t likely even know it. So it will certainly be a much easier and safer process to supplement with methylfolate -- which is why it is the preferred form over folic acid these days. A quality L-Methylfolate is definitely more expensive, but don’t let the cost cause you to compromise with your health and resort to the unknowns of synthetic folic acid.
What Else Affects Language Development in Children?
Outside of folate deficiency, there have been several health conditions that have raised eyebrows as possible causes of a language delay in children. To give you a better idea of all the things that could be affecting your child’s ability to develop proper language, we’ve listed them all below:
- Difficulty pronouncing words or making certain sounds
- Hearing loss at an early age
- Difficulty understanding what others are saying
- Neglect or abuse at home, especially not receiving enough attention
- Neurological problems such as cerebral palsy
- Injuries to the brain
- Autism and selective mutism could also keep the child from learning a language