Link Between Autism & Stressed-Out Moms Isn't As Bad As It Sounds

pregnant woman with pharmacistAnother day, another study looking at what might cause autism. Though unlike PETA's inflammatory claims that dairy is to blame, the latest findings from the journal Molecular Psychiatry show that autism in boys may be linked to steroid hormones in the womb. Higher prenatal levels of testosterone, progesterone, and the stress hormone cortisol were greater on average in boys who were later diagnosed with autism, according to researchers.

They explain that they previously knew elevated prenatal testosterone was associated with slower social and language development, better attention to detail, and more autistic traits, but this is the first study that has shown steroid hormones are elevated in children clinically diagnosed with autism.


The study looked at 19,500 amniotic-fluid samples stored in a Danish biobank from individuals born between 1993 and 1999. Because some of the hormones are produced in higher quantities in males than in females, the finding may help explain why autism affects more boys, according to the researchers.

Interesting ... and potentially helpful for parents and doctors, as well. Steroid hormones can be easily measured, and there are ways to control them. (Cortisol itself can often be reduced by employing stress management techniques, like yoga and meditation.) If we're able to look at something like this more closely, it may offer pregnant women options. The more prenatal indications they find, the earlier autism can be identified, and hopefully, interventions to aid kids and their parents can start even sooner!

In the meantime, researchers warn that there's no need just yet for expectant moms to consider steroid-hormone blockers or even for researchers to develop a prenatal screening test, because there's variation in individual sensitivity to hormones. But it definitely sounds like they're on to something. Fingers crossed this study is just the beginning of groundbreaking research that will better guide and help parents and their children.

What are your thoughts on these findings?


Image via racorn/shutterstock

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