Serotonin: Key to SIDS Mystery?

Cynthia Dermody

Photo by cajunjenn

Recently a study helped to pinpoint why smoking during pregnancy -- either first- or secondhand smoke -- raises the risk of SIDS: It suggested that babies exposed to smoke in the womb have improperly functioning hearts that actually get worse over the first year of life.

Now a landmark study out of Harvard and Children's Hospital Boston has put a different twist on the SIDS mystery: That crib death is due to a chemical imbalance of serotonin, a hormone that regulates vital functions during sleep as well as breathing and heart rate.

Some think that SIDS is due strictly to suffocation, and in some case that might be true. But the greater consensus is that sudden infant death comes from a triple-play of events -- a preexisting vulnerability, something that goes wrong during a critical development period, and an outside stressor, be it cigarette smoke, a pillow, etc.

The Harvard doc who led the research feels that "pre-existing vulnerability" might be low levels of serotonin and other brain chemicals yet to be identified, according to WebMD. For instance, low serotonin make the baby unable to wake up and respond to his face being compressed against bedding.

The hope is that once on of the main causes of SIDS can be identified, a screening test can be developed to pinpoint high-risk babies.


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