Pregnancy Hormones Linked to Autism

Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbili...

Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbilical cord has not yet been cut. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scientists in Cambridge and Copenhagen have just announced the results of research  conducted on children in Denmark, which has alarmingly discovered that boys born with autism had been, unlike those who developed to be normal babies, possibly exposed to higher levels of hormones within the amniotic environment of the maternal wombs.

 

Found to be autistic boys, it would seem, were found to be carrying higher levels of cortisol, testosterone and other hormones whilst in the womb. This was discovered by the researchers analysing amniotic fluid samples, taken at various stages of pregnancy, these conclusions helping reinforce the scientific opinion that the biological foundations of autism are laid down well before birth.

Researchers further believe that factors other than child’s genetic make-up might be involved, as they work hard to untangle the baffling puzzle as to what exactly are the underlying causes of autism, which for unexplained reasons affects boys five times more often than girls, and affects one person in a hundred.

It is well known that the amniotic fluid in which the growing babies float is a hot-bed of baby-urine initiated hormones and other substances, which is sampled for testing –  the procedure known as amniocentesis – at around the halfway stage of pregnancy some women.

The research team referred to amniotic fluid samples from 128 boys that had later been diagnosed with autism, and found – in comparison to a control group –  to be showing greater amounts, in the blood, of  the four hormones in the body, including progesterone and testosterone. Where normally developing boys generate double the testosterone production of girls, the autistic babies were making even more, possibly influencing the progress of brain development.

Earlier studies involving animals had demonstrated what a pivotal role testosterone plays in male brain development inside the womb, and this latest study needs now to be further investigated, to see if there are similar hormone imbalances in the cases of girl babies. Currently, there is no definitive test for predicting whether a baby will be born autistic or not, as there do appear to be a range of factors involved, though such tests might, in any event, have serious moral and ethical implications.

 

If such tests led to previously unknown decisions to terminate pregnancies due to potential autistic diagnosis, it would certainly evoke storms of protest from pro-life groups and many others, though the researchers point out that any such test will be a long way into the future before being developed, as so much more research needs doing first. This is something that in the case humans is made incredibly difficult  by the limitations to be found in gaining access, within the living womb, to monitor what is happening within the developing foetus.

 

 

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