These days it is pretty hard to make sense of everything we see in the news and through social media. With so much contradictory information, inflamed personal views, misinterpretations, and assumptions about Autism and what causes, it can be easy to have our judgment clouded. Many of us are left wondering what the truth is and what isn’t. While there are many beliefs and stigmas surrounding the definitive reasons that we are seeing an increase in Autism diagnosis, there has never been one single source identified as the culprit. According to experts in the field, there are many potential causes of Autism, but one thing that many of them have in common is a link between the disorder and pregnancy. Science is telling us in so many words, that Autism probably begins in the womb, in most cases.
The verdict is still out, about whether or not we can control, suppress, or even prevent the causes that are linked with Autism. The truth is, we just don´t know yet. But, if you are interested to know what medicine and science have unveiled about pregnancy and Autism, it is best to compile research from reputable sources like medical journals and scientific studies.
The problem is that many of us simply can’t make sense of the terminology intended for doctors and experts in the medical field. We are not experts either, but here we do our best to make sense of the facts in ways that everyone can understand.
15 Evidence Of First Trimester Brain Defects
According to researchers who performed a study through the University of California San Diego, there is now “clear and direct evidence that autism begins during pregnancy”. The study was compiled by comparing the brain tissue of post-mortem children both with and without Autism. Apparently, tissue in the brain cortex was disturbed in the majority of those diagnosed with Autism. This part of the brain is responsible for higher order brain function and it develops in the prenatal period. Scientists say this type of disturbance is viewed as a defect, and could possibly be identified by specific genes that carry the abnormality. Researchers are hopeful that this means that in cases of Autism diagnosed in the toddler years or before, children may still have a chance at significant improvement through clinical treatment. It is not yet clear exactly what is happening in pregnancy to cause the defect, and experts continue to stress that it is unlikely caused by a single factor, but rather by multiple influences from the mother.
14 Autism Could Be A Genetic Disorder
In efforts to identify people who are at risk for developing Autism, Scientists conducted the largest case study known about Autism. This particular study compared the genes of families with several people who have been diagnosed with the disorder. 15 genes were confirmed as Autism-related. Scientists say that there could be as many as 200-400 genes that are responsible for Autism. Researchers say that this information has been published in medical journals, but is not being currently being used in clinics for genetic testing. They say that relaying this information is critical, as early diagnosis and intervention have the best chance of improving patient outcome. The only real hope for recognition on these findings is even larger studies that reflect the same findings. The information should be interpreted carefully, as is important to understand that not every person with Autism will have the gene for it. It is still believed that Autism has many causes that influence in each other for a collective impact.
13 Prenatal Exposure To Environmental Pollution
Information released by Harvard states that pregnant who are exposed to air pollution in the third trimester are twice as likely to have a child with Autism, as compared to women who were not exposed. The study compared 116,000 pregnancy women from all 50 states. The variables that were compiled included where the women lived during their pregnancy as well as pollution levels in that area as provided by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Levels of PM2.5 or fine particulate matter were noted in 245 children diagnosed with Autism. The comparisons were made before, during, and after pregnancy. Exposure during pregnancy and especially in the third trimester posed a significantly increased risk with diagnosis. The evidence is quite convincing that maternal exposure to air pollutants is a huge risk factor for offspring Autism. Researchers hope that the information will be useful in considering ways to prevent the disorder.
12 Use Of Specific Prescription Drugs During Pregnancy
What is the truth about the prescription drugs we take during pregnancy? Could they be helping us but harming the baby? There are three major drugs that have direct links to Autism: they include a drug used in labor, a preventative drug for seizures, and certain Antidepressants. Terbetuline is a drug commonly used to stop premature labor. Babies exposed to it in the third trimester are 4 times as likely to be diagnosed with Autism. Pregnant women who are given Valporic Acid, a medication for preventing seizures, early in pregnancy during the formation of the neural tube, may be associated with Autism. The study has only been done on rats, but just one dose of the drug, resulted in changes to the brain that mimic those of people diagnosed with Autism. Now, for the Antidepressants. It is a widely held belief that antidepressant used during pregnancy is safe, but according to JAMA Pediatrics, women who take them are 87% more like to have a child with Autism as compared with women who did not. Researchers say that taking antidepressants is still not a proven cause of Autism, but it is correlated with it. Experts say that pregnant women should not stop being treated for depression, but if their symptoms are mild, it might prove beneficial to consider alternative non-drug treatments like psycho-therapy and exercise.
11 Maternal Pregnancy Diet
Everybody knows that what a mother eats in her pregnancy is super important to the health of her baby. But, some new studies are saying that the little details are more important than we think. According to research from both Harvard and Oxford, the amount and kind of fat a woman eats during pregnancy can affect the chances of her child having Autism. Apparently Omega 3s from veggies rather from fish can make all the difference. Women who ate the “healthy” fats from vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds were 34 % less likely to have a child with Autism. But, women who ate low levels of fatty acids from fish increased the risk for Autism by 53%! Researchers say that these findings don’t prove a cause and effect, but that especially during pregnancy, moderate intake is a good principle as too much of a good thing could wind up being detrimental. Don’t take an Omega3 supplement if you get enough from your diet, and aim for cold water fish like Salmon, herring, sardines, and anchovies 2-3 times a week to lessen your risk.
10 Prenatal Supplements
It is not uncommon, for many pregnant women to run straight to the pharmacy for prenatal vitamins the moment they get a positive pregnancy test. There are many reasons to take them, and your OBGYN will urge you not to skip this important key to prenatal health. It seems like there are a million to choose from and it can be a bit overwhelming to make a good choice. To add the confusion, experts are now saying that we should look at lot closer at our folate intake. The amount of folate found in prenatal vitamins is usually higher than the amount that we could naturally ingest through diet. Scientists say this might not be such a good thing after all.
Prior to the prevalent use of prenatal vitamins, mothers who did not carry something called the MTHFR C677T polymorphis, an enzyme for fetal neural development, would ultimately experience a miscarriage. But, due artificial folate increases, the mother artificially keeps the enzyme and babies survive. The problem is not in the survival, but in the lack of the same artificially high levels post-delivery. In babies who might not have survived, they are unable to maintain the high levels of folate that they need. The postnatal drop can then result in developmental disorders including Autism. Researchers say that they hope the information will lead to testing in newborn for folate levels, to help identify and treat babies that need additional folate through the postnatal period of brain development. The lesson here is not to stop or avoid prenatal vitamins, but rather to take doses that are just enough to promote a healthy pregnancy, and to avoid unnaturally high amounts of artificial intake.
9 Pregnancy Weight
Talking about weight to a pregnant woman has long been a taboo subject. But, the startling obesity trend means that we can avoid talking about it no more! Obstetricians say that the number one pregnancy problem of today is obesity. Experts in the field now say that the touchy subject needs to be addressed, as overall, pregnant women of today are both too fat and gaining too much weigh in their pregnancies. Both factors increase the baby’s chance of Autism, but the strongest link is with women who gain too much pregnancy weight. For every five pounds of extra baby weight, the chance of having a child with Autism rises by 1%. But, most women are not just gaining five pounds too much. Many are gaining double to 4 times more than the 11-25 pounds currently recommended for all women. Only 1/3 of American women stay within in the current weight gain recommendations.
8 Pregnancy Age
We´ve all heard it before, than older women are at the highest risk for having babies with Autism. While, the information is not untrue, it isn’t complete either. Turns out that the implications of parental age are bit more complex than generally believed. Moms over 40 are at increased risk for birthing babies that will late be diagnosed with Autism, but it doesn’t stop there. When Women have babies with men younger than them, their babies are at risk, too. And Mom is not the only one to blame, Dads are no longer exempt. Studies now show that when the father is over the age of 50, babies are more likely to have Autism. But, the most shocking one: Teen Moms! Very recent studies have shown that the best odds of beating Autism, are if the Mom is between the ages of 20-29 and if the Father is older than Mom but younger than 50.
7 Prenatal Exposure To Viral And Bacterial Illnesses
You may or may not have heard this one before that getting sick during pregnancy can up the odds of an Autism diagnosis in your baby. This information has been around for quite awhile now that when infections stimulate the central nervous system of the mother, her immune response might trigger an alteration in the unborn baby. While some might assume that a more serious illness is needed, that is not necessarily true. The main causes for concern are viral infections during the first trimester, and bacterial infections in the second trimester. The highest threat arises when the mother is sick enough to be hospitalized in the 2nd or 3rd trimester. The biggest culprits are the flu, the herpes virus, congenital rubella, and borne disease. When we see rubella, we often think of the MMR vaccine and the ongoing debate over a link between Autism and the scheduled shot. Direct evidence that the vaccine could cause Autism has not been found. It is still unknown whether the risk for Rubella is still present when the mother is exposed to live vaccines.
6 Thyroid Deficiencies In The Mother
Some studies have shown a correlation between hypothyroid conditions in pregnant woman and Autism diagnoses in their children. Women are determined to have an under active thyroid are 4 times as likely to have offspring diagnosed with Autism by the age of 6. The impact begins early on in pregnancy and the odds increase with the severity of the disorder. Thyroid deficiency during important windows of brain development has proven to be severely detrimental to the baby. It has been found that neural brain lesions mimicking Autism are noted in fetuses as early on as 6-18 into the pregnancy. Experts say that the connections cannot be determined as a direct cause of Autism, but the information could be useful in future diagnostic tests for the disorder during the gestation period. If parents know of probable likelihood of Autism in the first trimester, they can make better informed decisions about how to progress with pregnancy.
5 Pre-Gestational Diabetes
Revealing information that came out just last year, offers a connection between women who are diagnosed with diabetes and who are obese prior to conception. This 16 year study determined that women with both preexisting conditions have a much higher risk of delivering a baby who later be diagnosed with Autism. We already know that maternal obesity is associated with a risk of Autism to the offspring, but so far, there are not any studies that examine pre-gestational diabetes in healthy weight mothers. This information is based on the combination of both factors: obesity and diabetes. Analyzers of the study are hopeful that knowledge of the connection will encourage mothers to remedy their risk factors before making plans to getting pregnant. Weight loss and lifestyle changes that begin prior to pregnancy may offset the severity of the risk in women who intend to achieve pregnancy in the near future.
4 Prenatal Stress
A very, recent research project, completed just over six months ago, says that maternal stress might be linked to some Autism cases. This is a very important discovery for the side of Autism that suspects causes related to both environment and genetics. Doctors say that not all women with highly stressful pregnancies will give birth to Autism prone children, but it is certainly likely that some do. The results come from a single gene that is known to affect stress in the fetus. The same gene is known to be a factor in the development of Autism. So, if the baby has already received the gene associated with autism, and the mother experiences extreme stress during the pregnancy, Autism could come into play. So, what type of stress is considered extreme for a pregnant woman? Mostly social factors, like divorce, job loss, and moving that occur late in the 2nd trimester and early in the 3rd.
3 High Levels Of Fetal Testosterone
It has long been noted that the prevalence of Autism seems to be stronger in boys than in girls. It does not mean that girls are excluded from Autism, but instead that higher numbers of boys are diagnosed than girls. Science has indeed confirmed that the trait is male-typical, although not exclusive. The study says that high levels of testosterone in the amniotic fluid may be related to certain variables of brain function, like cognition and behavior. The information was compiled from routine amniocentesis. These findings confirm a previous hypothesis that Autism could be related to the male sex hormone. The theory states that children with “extreme male brain”, babies exposed to too much testosterone, show a reduced capacity to empathize and a stronger urge to systemize. Researchers say that this test was too small to be conclusive and that a much larger study is necessary to confirm the link between over productions of testosterone in the amniotic fluid and Autism.
2 Exposure To Ultrasounds
Most of us are well aware of how dangerous x-rays and exposure to radiation can be during pregnancy. But, have you ever stopped to think about if our ultrasounds are safe? Some scientists say there could be a connection, between the rise in common ultrasound practices and the rise in Autism. According to research on the topic, when babies are exposed to ultrasounds at the wrong time, during times of neurological development, there could be a problem. At these specific times of vulnerability, exposure can trigger an incorrect distribution of neurons. The concern is similar for babies who are over-exposed to ultrasounds during gestation. Just a few months ago, another separate study narrowed down the danger zone, stating that women receiving diagnostic ultrasounds in the first trimester were the highest risk. Children at the greatest risk are those with a perceived genetic link to Autism who are also exposed to ultrasounds early in the gestation period.
1 Lack Of Sufficient Vitamin D
Less than one month ago, a new discovery was made in regards to links between Autism and pregnancy. A massive study that took place in Australia included more than 4,000 women. After analyzing the blood work of the group of pregnant women, scientists noticed an increased risk for offspring Autism in women with Vitamin D deficiencies. Women with the strongest link were those with a deficiency in that last half of the pregnancy. The research hints that low levels of Vitamin D during pregnancy could disrupt fetal brain development. The study suggests that Vitamin D supplements taken during pregnancy could significantly reduce the prevalence of Autism. Vitamin D is best known for boosting calcium levels in the blood and for promoting healthy bone and muscles growth. What most people don’t know is that low levels of Vitamin D can have serious health implications. The vitamin is actually a hormone that has been long been associated with increased risk for mental health complications. For these reasons, it’s really not surprising that a link between Vitamin D exposure in pregnancy has been made with Autism.
Sources: LWW Medical Journals, NCBI, University of San Diego, TIME, Harvard, Scientific American, JAMA Medical Journals, American Journal of Epidemiology, American Associations of Pediatrics, American Neurological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, UofMissouri School of Medicine, The British Journal of Psychology, ABC News,