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Maternal Metabolic Conditions and Risk for Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Posted Apr 09 2012 6:13pm

A study from the U.C. Davis MIND Institute was published today in the journal Pediatrics: Maternal Metabolic Conditions and Risk for Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders . The link is to the abstract, but the full paper is available free for download.

The paper is part of the CHARGE Study . (CHARGE: Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment). The study looked for increased risk of a child being diagnosed autism if the mother had metabolic conditions during pregnancy. The metabolic conditions studied were diabetes, hypertension and obesity. They found a possibly heightened risk of autism for these pregnancies. I wrote a more in-depth summary which is available at the Autism Science Foundation blog .

  1. passionlessDrone:
    Hello friends - Can I take this opportunity that I posited this possibility over two years ago on my blog, A paper that shows immune, behavioral, and even spatial processing changes in the offspring that have similarities to the findings in the autism population? It is informative to also consider another paper from IMFAR last yearwhich showed pretty much as the title suggests. It just so happens, another study, found several of the same cytokines (and others), increased in a study on metabolic syndrome in pregnancy. I'd say that this has some rather profound implications for the question of incidence. - pD
  2. McD:
    I can see this one going down like a cup of cold sick with the warrior-mom crowd. Nice to see the paper is open access too, and thanks for the link to your nice summary, Sullivan. IIRC the relationship between fetal and maternal health is complex and interactive. The fetus to some extent is exerting control over the mother's health - hence conditions such as gestational diabetes. My obstetrician described this to me as the fetus attempting to maximise its own allocation of resources at the expense of the mother's health. There is a battle going on in the womb, paternal genes and epigenetic factors are pitted against maternal ones. And then a mother's genetic interests may not reflect her personal interests as an individual. I found it fascinating (got an aspie obsession and spent several months diving into philosophy of biology issues while I was pregnant; I got both gestational diabetes and pregnancy asthma, neither of which have made any show since). So absolutely not surprised that maternal health is gaining more empirical support as another risk factor for autism, among the fascinating ones of the last few weeks.
  3. McD:
    So pD, what do you think? this would be yet another wee contributor to the observed increase. As you note on your blog, people are getting larger. The problem with this is that there is just an association, not directionality shown here. The autistic fetus could be triggering gestational diabetes and MR in the mother perhaps. I do think that the rise in heroic treatment of at risk pregnancies is contributing to the increase in autism prevalence. This study may reflect part of that. Pregnancies that would have failed in the past, are now progressing. In my own case, without the specialist intervention I received my son would not have been born (he also would not have survived his first year without anti-biotics, another story)
  4. Dee:
    As a warrior mom, this confirms an emerging idea that autism incidence is increasing along with prevalence... It also supports the idea that genetics plus environment can trigger autism. As the warrior mom of an absolutely amazing three year old currently with a DX of autism who also happened to be severly obese at the time, I understand that a "perfect" storm of several factors including obesity, infections during pregnancy, an MTHFR mutation, Faragile X premutation and a fever at 19 months sent my son into mitochondria dysfunction, altering his GABA/glutathione levels for which I unknowingly treated with Tylenol (effecting these levels further) which led to a severe and scientist confirmed regression into autism. The great thing is that it's treatable. Medically. What I'd like to highlight is that recent science understanding these issues allows us to treat this as a disease and "fix" the biological problem before it's too late. Warrior moms, curbsies, and the like aren't all what the stereotypes insist... New science means new treatment for the underlying medical conditions that effect the neurology... The money going into this research, cause and treatment has had a profound effect on my family. I am commenting in hopes that others will seek genetic testing, that money will continue to go into research, medical treatment will become legitimized, and that there could be an understanding between parents who seek to "fix" their child's biological problems and those who make the world a better place with their advocacy.
  5. lilady:
    Thanks so much for the link to the full text article in the "Pediatrics" Journal. There is a blog about this study on the Huffington Post website and, as usual, the same crank comments from the anti-vaccine crowd appear...*it's the vaccines*, *too many, too soon* and other assorted nonsense. Here is a good link about diabetes during pregnancy: There is a very strong link with having gestational diabetes during pregnancy and being diagnosed with Type II diabetes within a few short years of that pregnancy. LGA (Large for Gestational Age) babies require special care in the newborn nursery and monitoring of their serum glucose levels...they truly are the fragile giants in special care nurseries. We do have an epidemic of childhood and adult obesity in the United States. I fear that as young obese females grow up and are starting their own families, we will have many more woman and neonates put at risk, due to metabolic syndrome, insulin-resistance and diabetes, during pregnancy.

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