Antidepressants in Pregnancy linked to Autism

Antidepressants are now prescribed quickly, even during pregnancy. However, the active ingredients pass through the placenta into the child’s bloodstream. Nevertheless, it was previously said that antidepressants were by and large harmless to the unborn child. However, this assessment can now be considered outdated. That’s because researchers at the University of Montreal in Canada found that taking antidepressants during pregnancy can lead to autism in the child.

Antidepressants: Cause of Autism?

Antidepressants do not lead to miscarriage or malformation, and IQ also remains normal if the mother takes medication for her depression during pregnancy. It is true that some infants show withdrawal symptoms after birth, such as epileptic seizures, heart problems, movement disorders, obstructions in the flow of urine and feeding difficulties. However, this problem, which is usually temporary, is apparently not considered to be so serious. But what if antidepressants can lead to autism?

Risk Factors for Autism

There are many possible causes of autism. Officially, as is often the case, the focus is mainly on heredity, while little attention is generally paid to those factors that parents can actively influence.

For example, it is known that a gluten-containing diet can increase autistic symptoms – and conversely, a gluten-free diet can lead to improvement. Since autistic children also have a different intestinal flora than healthy children, a therapeutic approach would also be available here. Scientists have already shown that intestinal cleansing can improve autism.

In addition, it is known that painkillers such as paracetamol or antiepileptic drugs – if taken by the mother during pregnancy – can increase the risk of autism in the child.

The same applies to antidepressants, as a recent study by Canadian researchers has now shown. It is already known from previous studies that children whose mothers took antidepressants during pregnancy are more likely to be overweight and also more likely to become diabetics. Likewise, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) preferentially occurs when the child has been exposed to antidepressants in the womb. The connection between antidepressants and autism, on the other hand, was only suspected for a long time, questioned from time to time, but has now been confirmed.

Antidepressants double the risk of autism

The scientists from the University of Montreal analyzed data from over 145,000 pregnant women who had taken antidepressants and concluded that the antidepressants increased the risk of autism by an impressive 87 percent. This study result, which was published in December 2015 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, is all the more serious when you consider that 6 to 10 percent of all pregnant women are currently prescribed antidepressants by their doctors.

Study leader Professor Anick Bérard, an expert in drug safety during pregnancy, explains: “The cause of autism remains unclear, but we do know that genetic make-up and children’s environment play a role. Our study has now shown that taking antidepressants in the second or third trimester of pregnancy can almost double the risk of receiving an autism diagnosis by the age of seven – especially if the mother was taking antidepressants from the group of serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).”

SSRIs are among the most commonly prescribed antidepressants. Other possible causes of autism, such as the familial tendency to autism, the age of the parents or growing up in poverty, were excluded in the study.

Antidepressants interfere with the child’s brain development

“In the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, the child is in a critical phase of brain development,” explains Professor Bérard.

“Therefore, we checked the effects of taking the antidepressants during this phase of pregnancy. We then looked at which children had received an autism diagnosis and then discovered an enormous statistical correlation, namely an 87 percent increase in autism risk.”

It is not surprising that antidepressants can lead to autism in the unborn child. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors are known to be taken to affect serotonin levels. Of course, during pregnancy, antidepressants change serotonin levels not only in the woman, but also in her child. Serotonin, however, is involved in numerous prenatal developmental processes of the brain, such as cell division, nerve cell migration, cell differentiation and synapse formation.

If antidepressants are taken exactly when the child’s brain is in the middle of development, then the unusual serotonin level leads to changes in the child’s brain, which can later manifest themselves in the form of autism.

Meanwhile, up to 8 percent of pregnant women take antidepressants

On July 19, 2017, a new study on this topic appeared in the British Medical Journal. No wonder, since up to 10 percent of pregnant women take antidepressants. Researchers from the University of Bristol wrote that children who were exposed to antidepressants during pregnancy had a higher risk of autism than children of women who suffered from mental disorders but did not take antidepressants.

All in all probably 5 percent of pregnant women who take antidepressants would have to expect to have an autistic child.

Autism and antidepressants – both on the rise

The number of autistic children continues to rise. Whereas in 1966 only 4 out of 10,000 children suffered from autism, today it is already 100 out of 10,000. If the widely used antidepressants are involved in this development, it is extremely important to take alternative paths for depression – especially mild to moderate depression.

These are certainly available but are unfortunately not taken seriously by many doctors, despite their sometimes very good effect.

Antidepressants in Pregnancy linked to Autism

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