Wednesday, March 19th, 2014
Environmental toxins like air pollution may play a role in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) at levels that dwarf the extent to which pollution contributes to birth defects. More from Time.com:
Several studies have shown a link between air pollution and autism, but a new study published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology is one of the largest to put the two together.
Researchers studied insurance claims from around 100 million people in the U.S., and used congenital malformations in boys as an indictor for parental exposure to environmental toxins. “Autism appears to be strongly correlated with rate of congenital malformations of the genitals in males across the country. This gives an indicator of environmental load and the effect is surprisingly strong,” study author Andrey Rzhetsky from the University of Chicago said in a statement.
Every 1% increase in malformations corresponded to a 283% increase in autism in the same county.
Image: Pollution, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, March 18th, 2014
Kristin Cavallari, a former reality TV star who is expecting her second son, has gone public with her decision to refrain from vaccinating her children, saying she’s “read too many books” about autism and citing “some scary statistics.” Time.com reports:
Former reality star Kristin Cavallari admitted to not vaccinating her son, and not planning to do so, in a Fox Business interview on Thursday. On Friday, she defended her position on “Fox & Friends,” adding that it was not something she planned to come out publicly on, but it just came up in the interview.
“Listen, to each their own,” Cavallari, pregnant with her second son, said. “I understand both sides of it. I’ve ready too many books about autism and there’s some scary statistics out there. It’s our personal choice, and, you know, if you’re really concerned about your kid get them vaccinated.”
The idea that vaccines cause autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has long been debunked by science, though it persists in part because of celebrities like Cavallari and, more famously, Jenny McCarthy, who perpetuate the link in interviews and public appearances. Meanwhile, diseases that are preventable through vaccination, like measles and whooping cough, are cropping up again in communities across the country.
A recent study found that efforts to educate the public about the benefits of vaccines are not very effective, especially when parents have already formed negative opinions about the safety of vaccination.
Image: Kristin Cavallari, via s_bukley / Shutterstock.com
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Friday, March 14th, 2014
Oxytocin, a chemical that is proving helpful in helping people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), particularly in terms of their ability to read social cues, is being researched for its possible application in treating anorexia, a disorder which currently has no established medication. More from Time.com:
Autism and anorexia have wildly different public faces. The stereotype of an autistic person is a little boy obsessed with trains or a brilliant coder with no social life, while the eating disorder victim is typically pictured as a driven young woman or girl, whose whole world revolves around presenting a carefully drawn picture of thinness and social perfection.
While stereotypes never capture the whole story, underlying both conditions is a rigid obsessiveness that appears within the first few years of life, as well as difficulties reading and responding appropriately to social signals. Not to mention, two of the major triggers for anorexia are a profound sense of alienation and sensitivity to social ranking, according to Dr. Janet Treasure, professor of psychiatry and director of the eating disorders unit at King’s College in London.
Evidence that oxytocin, a brain chemical also known as the “love hormone,” can help autistic people pay more attention to social cues and make socializing less stressful prompted Treasure to explore what effect it would have on anorexia. Now, three new studies of the hormone—best known for its role in bonding lovers to each other and parents to their children—suggest that it may indeed be a viable treatment for anorexia, which currently has no effective pharmacological medication and relies for the most part on therapy.
Image: Erasing anorexia, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, February 27th, 2014
Mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, autism, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), may be more common in children born to fathers who are “middle aged,” or age 45 and older, according to new research conducted in Sweden. The New York Times has more:
In recent years, scientists have debated based on mixed evidence whether a father’s age is linked to his child’s vulnerability to individual disorders like autism and schizophrenia. Some studies have found strong associations, while others have found weak associations or none at all.
The new report, which looked at many mental disorders in Sweden, should inflame the debate, if not settle it, experts said. Men have a biological clock of sorts because of random mutations in sperm over time, the report suggests, and the risks associated with later fatherhood may be higher than previously thought. The findings were published on Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
“This is the best paper I’ve seen on this topic, and it suggests several lines of inquiry into mental illness,” said Dr. Patrick F. Sullivan, a professor of genetics at the University of North Carolina, who was not involved in the research. “But the last thing people should do is read this and say, ‘Oh no, I had a kid at 43, the kid’s doomed.’ The vast majority of kids born to older dads will be just fine.”
Dr. Kenneth S. Kendler, a professor of psychiatry and human molecular genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University, also urged caution in interpreting the results. “This is great work from a scientific perspective,” he said. “But it needs to be replicated, and biomedical science needs to get in gear and figure out what accounts for” the mixed findings of previous studies.
The strengths of the new report are size and rigor. The research team, led by Brian M. D’Onofrio of Indiana University, analyzed medical and public records of some 2.6 million people born in Sweden from 1973 to 2001. Like many European countries, Sweden has centralized medical care and keeps detailed records, so the scientists knew the father’s age for each birth and were able to track each child’s medical history over time, as well as that of siblings and other relatives. Among other things, the analysis compared the mental health of siblings born to the same father and found a clear pattern of increased risk with increasing paternal age.
Compared with the children of young fathers, aged 20 to 24, those born to men age 45 and older had about twice the risk of developing psychosis, the signature symptom of schizophrenia; more than three times the likelihood of receiving a diagnosis of autism; and about 13 times the chance of having a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder. Children born to older fathers also tended to struggle more with academics and substance abuse.
The researchers controlled for every factor they could think of, including parents’ education and income. Older couples tend to be more stable and have more income — both protective factors that help to temper mental problems — and this was the case in the study. But much of the risk associated with paternal age remained.
“We spent months trying to make the findings go away, looking at the mother’s age, at psychiatric history, doing sub-analyses,” Dr. D’Onofrio said. “They wouldn’t go away.”
Use our growth chart for help calculating your child’s height and weight percentiles.
Image: Older dad, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
American children are exposed to at least double the levels of chemicals that are known to affect the brain in ways that are linked with disorders including autism, ADHD, and dyslexia–all disorders that have been on the rise in recent years. Time.com reports on new research that has found radical changes in chemical exposure since 2006:
In 2006, scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai identified five industrial chemicals responsible for causing harm to the brain — lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (found in electric transformers, motors and capacitors), arsenic (found in soil and water as well as in wood preservatives and pesticides) and toluene (used in processing gasoline as well as in paint thinner, fingernail polish and leather tanning). Exposure to these neurotoxins was associated with changes in neuron development in the fetus as well as among infants, and with lower school performance, delinquent behavior, neurological abnormalities and reduced IQ in school-age children.
Now the same researchers have reviewed the literature and found six additional industrial chemicals that can hamper normal brain development. These are manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene and polybrominated diphenyl ethers. Manganese, they say, is found in drinking water and can contribute to lower math scores and heightened hyperactivity, while exposure to high levels of fluoride from drinking water can contribute to a seven-point drop in IQ on average. The remaining chemicals, which are found in solvents and pesticides, have been linked to deficits in social development and increased aggressive behaviors.
The research team acknowledges that there isn’t a causal connection between exposure to any single chemical and behavioral or neurological problems — it’s too challenging to isolate the effects of each chemical to come to such conclusions. But they say the growing body of research that is finding links between higher levels of these chemicals in expectant mothers’ blood and urine and brain disorders in their children should raise alarms about how damaging these chemicals can be. The developing brain in particular, they say, is vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals, and in many cases, the changes they trigger are permanent.
“The consequence of such brain damage is impaired [central nervous system] function that lasts a lifetime and might result in reduced intelligence, as expressed in terms of lost IQ points, or disruption in behavior,” they write in their report, which was published in the journal Lancet Neurology.
They point to two barriers to protecting children from such exposures — not enough testing of industrial chemicals and their potential effect on brain development before they are put into widespread use, and the enormous amount of proof that regulatory agencies require in order to put restrictions or limitations on chemicals.
Image: Chemical pesticides, via Shutterstock
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ADHD, Autism, brain chemistry, chemicals, dyslexia, fluoride, pesticides, toxic chemicals | Categories:
Child Health, Must Read, New Research, Trends