Folic Acid: Larger Brains, Healthier Minds

By Charles Li MD

  • In 1996, we began supplementing grains, such as wheat, with Folic Acid (Vitamin B9).
  • This turned out to be one of the greatest success stories in nutrition.
  • We knew that this would prevent Spinal Bifida, a rare disabling developmental disorder.
  • In July 2018, we found out that this vitamin also unexpectedly led to larger brains in children, and may even prevent schizophrenia.

Folic Acid and Brain Size

A 2018 MGH study in JAMA Psychiatry studied 292 kids who received brain MRIs.
Kids who were born just after 1996 had significantly thicker brains in the highlighted areas.

Cortical Thickness

Relative Cortical Thickness in the Above Highlighted Regions of the Brain
Relative Thickness

Why Cortical Thickness Matters

  • Not only did kids with adequate exposure to Folic Acid have greater cortical thickness, the cortices also remained thicker for longer as they aged, a key feature associated with higher intelligence.
  • The regions affected overlapped with brain areas in which cortical thickness in childhood is correlated with higher IQ as found in an earlier study.
  • Late Childhood

    Early Adolescence

Cortical Thickness and Psychosis

  • Folic Acid fortification also improved the future behavioral health of kids.
  • The brain changes from Folic Acid significantly lowered the the odds of a kid getting psychotic symptoms later in life.
  • Psychosis Odds Reduction

  • 37-59%

  • These symptoms include hallucinations and schizophrenia associated symptoms.
More Articles to Explore:


1) Eryilmaz, Hamdi, et al. "Association of Prenatal Exposure to Population-Wide Folic Acid Fortification With Altered Cerebral Cortex Maturation in Youths." JAMA psychiatry (2018).

2) Shaw, Philip, et al. "Intellectual ability and cortical development in children and adolescents." Nature 440.7084 (2006): 676.