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What Causes Autism In Pregnancy

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Could Processed Foods Explain Why Autism Is On The Rise

What Causes Autism?

For the first time, scientists have found a molecular connection between a common food preservative, neuronal disruption, and autism spectrum disorder. The findings suggest that there may be a link between the consumption of processed foods during pregnancy and the rise of autism.

The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder is on the rise.

According to the , in 2000, 1 in 150 children had ASD, but by 2012, that number had risen to 1 in 68.

As of 2018, 1 in 59 children have ASD.

Although researchers do not yet know exactly what causes ASD, they think that a combination of genes, environmental influences, and issues with the maternal immune system in the early stages of pregnancy may contribute to its development.

Recently, some studies have pointed to the gut microbiome as a potential key player in the development of ASD.

For instance, some researchers found that the microbiota of autistic children lacked the beneficial strains of bacteria Bifidobacteria and Prevotella, while other found a significant increase in the Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes ratio and higher levels of the bacterial taxa Escherichia/Shigella and Clostridium cluster XVIII.

Also, autistic children tend to experience gastrointestinal issues such as constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

Specifically, the team focused on the link between propionic acid and autism.

What Prenatal Factors Increase The Risk Of Autism

Taking the medications thalidomide or valproic acid during pregnancy can raise the risk of autism, according to the CDC. There is some research that antidepressant use during pregnancy increases the risk of autism, but that research is not yet definitive.

Other elements linked to a higher likelihood of developing autism include having an infection, autoimmune disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure during pregnancy. This may be due to the manner in which inflammation and the immune response influence the developing fetus. There also seem to be correlations between autism risk and pregnancies that are less than a year apart.

Some evidence indicates taking prenatal vitamins containing folic acid, vitamin B-9, and vitamin D may offer some protection and reduce the likelihood of autism.

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.

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Infection During Pregnancy Causes Autism A Paper

In a paper recently published in Natures Molecular Psychiatry, M. Hornig et al. examined whether there was a link between maternal exposure to second-trimester fever and autism spectrum disorder risk. What they found was that a pregnant woman who had fevers during her second-trimester was 40% more likely to have a child born with ASD.

Using a prospective cohort study, the researchers followed a group of 95,000 children born in Norway over time, who differ with respect to maternal infections, and attempted to determine if those infections may have caused autism in the children. This study was done in Norway, where medical records are thorough for all citizens of the country, allowing researchers to pinpoint a correlation between a cause and an effect.

The relationship between maternal fevers and ASD seems to increase substantially with three or more maternal fevers, with a 312% increase in the risk of ASD children than mothers without an infection. And fever-reducing medications, such as acetaminophen , seem to reduce the risk for ASD. The researchers arent certain that these medications are a solution, since there other risks to pregnant women when they take them.

There is very strong evidence that a rubella infection during pregnancy leads to a significantly increased risk of autism in her baby. Immunization against rubella before or during may be an effective strategy to reduce the risk of autism in children of those mothers.

The authors concluded that:

New Research On Autism And Our Environment


Sex hormones, medications, certain metals such as lead, pesticides, and chemicals used to make plastic hard or pliable have long been suspected of having a role in autism. They have not been proven to cause autism, but these are known to trigger or worsen other health problems, including some that affect the brain. Many studies have shown that chemical exposures during development in the womb can have much more serious health effects than the same exposures would in adults.

A large 2014 study investigated the connection between autism and genital malformations using health insurance claims from almost a third of the U.S. population. Like autism, genital malformations are increasing: cases of undescended testicle increased 200% between 1970 and 1993, and the percentage of boys born with a deformity of the penis known as hypospadia doubled. Many studies have shown that these malformations are more common among children whose mothers have high levels of chemicals that affect the hormones in their bodies, such as phthalates which are found in cleaning products, medicines, and personal care products like shampoos and creams The link between these chemicals and genital malformations has surfaced in other studies, particularly those involving women in professions that require working daily with these chemicals.

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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.

Preventing Autism In Pregnancy: Is It Possible

Autism spectrum disorder is a complex condition, affecting 1 in 68 children. But can it be prevented during pregnancy? Experts weigh in on the latest research.

Experts are still trying to piece together what factors contribute to the development of autism. Recent research suggests that changes that occur during conception, pregnancy, and possibly even delivery may increase the risk of autism in children who are genetically predisposed to the disorder.

One study in the New England Journal of Medicine found differences in the brains of children with autism as early as the second trimester of pregnancy. While researchers haven’t been able to pinpoint a definite cause, ASD likely develops from a combination of factors. “Some cases may primarily have a genetic cause, and others may have a primarily environmental cause, but most cases probably result from the interaction of both,” says Paul Wang, M.D., senior vice president of medical research for Autism Speaks.

While you can’t do much to change genetics, you can alter your exposure to certain environmental factors that have shown a link to ASD. However, none of these lifestyle changes are absolutesexperts can’t tell you that lowering your exposure to one particular factor will lower your child’s risk.

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Data Sources And Review Methods

Although the literature search covered the scope of prenatal, perinatal, and neonatal factors, the current report reviews the pregnancy-related factors only, and a future publication will address factors related to labor and delivery as well as neonatal complications in relation to autism. However, it is important to recognize that prenatal, perinatal, and neonatal complications are inter-related, and are therefore difficult to disentangle and reliably categorize. Many perinatal and neonatal complications are often the result of both observed and unobserved prenatal insults and compromises to fetal development. This report focuses on those potential risk factors that were commonly identified as being specifically related to the prenatal period in the extant literature.

Should You Reduce Your Exposure To Chemicals

Pregnancy flu autism

There seems to be an increased risk for ASD associated with maternal exposure to certain chemicals during pregnancy, thought a lot more research needs to be done. For instance, one recent study found environmental exposures associated with autism, specifically “traffic-related pollutants, some metals, and several pesticides and phthalates.” It can get confusing to figure out exactly which chemicals, such as those found in flame-retardants, plastics, and even cosmetics, to avoid. Talk to your doctor about what’s right for youyou might want to limit your intake of canned foods, avoid water bottles made of plastic or aluminum, and stay away from personal care products that list “fragrance” as an ingredient.

Read Also: Is Stuttering A Sign Of Autism

Can Reducing Your Exposure To Air Pollution Help

“Perhaps the most convincing and consistent environmental association with autism risk to date is pregnancy exposure to air pollution,” says Dr. Fallin. Multiple studies have shown this connection: One by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that the risk doubled for children born to women exposed to high levels of pollution, particularly in the third trimester. The higher the levels of exposure, the greater the risk.

However, that’s just part of the story.

“The challenge has become understanding what component of air pollution may be relevant, as this implicates hundreds of chemicals from multiple sources,” explains Dr. Fallin. In general, the American Lung Association recommends several ways to protect yourself from air pollution: for instance, fill your gas tank up after dark, exercise away from highly-trafficked areas and, when pollution levels are high, take your workout indoors. You can check out your daily air quality levels at

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Can Autism Be Prevented During Pregnancy

Given that many cases of Autism happen without apparent cause or owing to genetic history, there arent too many preventive steps one can reliably take. Scientists are conducting research on certain tests that can detect mutations linked to Autism in fetal cells, although these remain largely experimental. In general, expectant mothers should take care of themselves through appropriate lifestyle choices, such as:

  • Maintaining a healthy body weight with a nutritious diet and regular exercise
  • Avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, including certain medications like anti-seizure drugs
  • Taking all prescribed supplements and vitamins on time, especially if their first child has Autism
  • Getting prompt and appropriate treatment for infectious or autoimmune conditions
  • Getting regular check-ups to ensure that vitals are normal
  • Ensuring they have taken the Rubella vaccine before getting pregnant

In short, there are certain risk factors during pregnancy that could lead to Autism in the child. However, parents should never blame themselves if their child is diagnosed with Autism. It is a disorder about which much is still unknown, and no one can pinpoint the exact cause of Autism in any particular child. What matters now is to get them the best treatment as early as possible and to show them all the love and care they need to thrive and grow, regardless of their condition.


  • How do you avoid having a child with Autism?
  • Which parent is responsible for Autism?
  • Is Autism a birth defect?

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Multivariate Logistic Regression Analysis Of Male Autistic Children

Taking childrens autism as dependent variable, 14 items with statistical significance in one-way ANOVA of male group were put into logistic regression equation, and all variable regression method was used The results showed that feeding difficulties , living in the countryside during pregnancy , exposure to cigarette smoking , and perinatal hypoxia were risk factors for ASD for male children .

Table 5

Autism Screening And Diagnosis

Pregnancy danger: Catching FLU risks autism in unborn ...

It can be hard to get a definite diagnosis of autism. Your doctor will focus on behavior and development.

For children, diagnosis usually takes two steps.

  • A developmental screening will tell your doctor whether your child is on track with basic skills like learning, speaking, behavior, and moving. Experts suggest that children be screened for these developmental delays during their regular checkups at 9 months, 18 months, and 24 or 30 months of age. Children are routinely checked specifically for autism at their 18-month and 24-month checkups.
  • If your child shows signs of a problem on these screenings, theyâll need a more complete evaluation. This might include hearing and vision tests or genetic tests. Your doctor might want to bring in someone who specializes in autism disorders, like a developmental pediatrician or a child psychologist. Some psychologists can also give a test called the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule .

If you werenât diagnosed with autism as a child but notice yourself showing signs or symptoms, talk to your doctor.

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Trying To Stop Early Labor

In 2011 the United States Food and Drug Department said that injectable terbutaline was not safe for use in pregnant women to stop preterm labor. The drug can cause serious heart problems for the mother, as well as the child. The FDA also said it does not condone the use of the oral tablet for pregnant women either. A study from Duke University found that terbutaline also significantly increased the risk of neurological and cognitive deficiencies in babies whose mother was treated with the drug. The study also showed that the drug predisposed babies to autism. As autism is at an all time high, having risen 172% since 1990, many parents have come to believe this drug is or was the cause of their child’s autism.

Interactions Between Genes And The Environment

If someone is susceptible to ASD because of genetic mutations, then certain situations might cause autism in that person.

For instance, an infection or contact with chemicals in the environment could cause autism in someone who is susceptible because of genetic mutations.1 However, someone who is genetically susceptible might not get an ASD even if he or she has the same experiences.2

Read Also: Does Autism Affect Life Expectancy

Are There Treatments Options Available

There is no cure for autism, but many treatments are available that may ameliorate some of the more challenging aspects of the disorder. Education can help parents learn to deal with their childs behavioral and emotional concerns, and will allow them to train their child to live a more independent lifestyle. However, it is important to remember that all autistic children are different, and no single treatment will work for all children.

Getting The Flu Shot While Pregnant

Report: Autism May Begin Developing In Infants During Pregnancy

This is one more study that can help provide peace of mind to people who are pregnant, said Dr. Christine Carlan Greves, a board certified OB-GYN at Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies in Florida.

Greves says theres no conclusive evidence that the flu shot causes autism, but with parental guilt, she does understand being concerned when parents see different reports on social media.

We all want to do the best we can as mama bear for our baby, she told Healthline. In no way would I recommend something unless I see the studies that show its benefits and that its not harmful.

Dr. Kevin Ban, chief medical officer at Walgreens, told Healthline that this finding, among other scientific studies shared by the CDC further reinforces that getting a flu vaccine is safe during pregnancy.

But experts say online misinformation and myths about vaccines and autism still pose a threat to vaccination rates.

Its quite possible to see certain things out there that dont give you that sense of peace, and that just rock your heart, and leave you wondering if youre hurting your baby by doing this to protect yourself, said Greves.

The flu shot is the best defense that we have at not getting the flu, she added.

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Examining The Causes Of Autism

Autism is a broad, complex, and increasingly important brain disorder. New data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that one in sixty-eight children is born with some degree of autism. Autism is also more common in males by a four to one ratio. Making it especially difficult to discuss in finite, conclusive terms is the fact that there is no biological test for autism diagnosis is based on behavior, and the only verified treatment is intensive behavior therapy. Our author, one of the nations foremost researchers on autism, examines the prenatal factors that contribute to the disorder.

Illustration by William Hogan

As an autism researcher, I often try to put myself in the shoes of parents who have just been told that their child has autism. More and more families in the United States and around the world are facing this difficult news. The families that Ive seen go through this often respond emotionally at first. Some go through denial others are sad or furious. But emotions soon give way to questions. What caused my childs autism? Was I to blame? Which treatments will help? And what does the future hold?

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