Studies Link Autism and Antidepressants

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Exploring the Possible Link Between Autism and Antidepressants

Researchers from two different organizations, Stanford University and the health insurer, Kaiser Permanente, conducting two unrelated studies believe that they are closer to finding what causes autism. While neither study is conclusive nor does it offer definite answers, each points to reasons why genetics and the environment are factors in the cause(s) of autism. What is fairly evident in these studies is that the cause is a combination of the two, environment and genetics, and that whatever that cause may be, it occurs before birth.

The Stanford Study

Researchers at Stanford University studied the link between twins and autism. What they found was:

  • The chances of both children having autism was higher among identical twins than among fraternal twins
  • Fraternal twins were more likely to develop autism than identical twins

So what does this prove?

  • A shared environment plays a role in the development of autism
  • Genetics are a factor but not the only factor

The Kaiser Permanente Study

SSRIs

Researchers believe there may be a link between autism and antidepressants.

Kaiser Permanente studied 300 children with autism and 1,500 randomly selected children who were not diagnosed with autism and compared their mothers’ medical records specifically interested in the use of antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) before or during their pregnancy. The research shows that mothers who filled prescriptions (we can’t say took them because we can’t quite prove that) for antidepressants were two times more likely to have a child diagnosed with autism. Lending more proof to the theory that the environment also affects the probability that your child will develop autism is the fact that from this study, we learned that the chances were three times higher when the mother was prescribed the SSRIs in the first trimester.

Some have asked whether the mother’s state, and therefore reason for needing the prescription, and not the SSRIs were the cause of the development of autism. However, the research did not indicate a relation between the mother’s mental state but rather the drugs taken to remedy the depression.

What Does this Mean if You’re Pregnant?

We are neither endorsing the use of antidepressants nor recommending that a mother who needs this medication stop taking it. This article is simply reporting on the results of the studies. Until the AMA declares that taking SSRIs while pregnant will cause the development of autism, no decisions should be made without consulting your doctor. As Mason Turner, Kaiser Permanente San Francisco’s chief of psychiatry noted in the journal article, a mother who is depressed and needs medication but does not seek help may end up putting her child in a greater risk due to a lack of consistent checkups and not eating regularly.

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