7 Things That Absolutely DON’T Cause Autism

by | Apr 2, 2017 | Health

By Krissy Brady

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype.

Over the last few years, we’ve been inundated with scary stories from celebs, mommy bloggers, and even our next-door neighbours about how everything from vaccines to vitamins can allegedly cause a child to develop autism. It seems like every other study that comes out these days implicates something new as a possible cause, too.

Yet despite all this, much about the disorder is still a mystery. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, researchers have linked a number of genes to the disorder and believe that a fusion of genetics and environment likely play a role. As for what those environmental factors are? That’s where things get fuzzy. Still, here are seven things that have been ruled out so far:

1. Normal Levels of Folate

Folate is important for a baby’s neurodevelopment, but new research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests that too much of it could be just as bad as too little. Researchers found that if a new mother has a super-high folate level (more than four times the recommended daily intake), it doubles her child’s risk of developing autism. A daily dose of 400 micrograms is recommended for women of childbearing age, according to the Office on Women’s Health. That’s because deficiencies can put the baby’s central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) at risk. When it comes to proper vitamin intake, always follow your ob-gyn’s lead.

READ MORE: “I Fell In Love With An Autistic Man”

2. Eating Habits

“Based on the current literature, there’s no solid evidence to support a causal relationship between diet and autism,” says Dr. Nicole Van Groningen, internist at NYU Langone Medical Center. Many parents have found putting their autistic child on a special diet (such as gluten- and casein-free) to be helpful, but this doesn’t mean that their child’s autism was caused by feeding them wheat or dairy. “There’s actually evidence that autistic children placed on these sorts of restricted diets have greater nutritional deficiencies than those on unrestricted diets,” says Van Groningen, who suggests avoiding unnecessary dietary changes until it’s better understood where certain foods fit into the equation.

3. Vaccines

The entire anti-vaccine movement was sparked by “scientific” claims in the late 1990s that have long-since been discredited. (The researcher behind the crusade no longer has a medical license.) Even so, the legend lives on. A 2011 study by the Institute of Medicine reported on eight vaccines given to children and adults and found that, overall, the vaccines are very safe. A 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study also found that vaccines don’t cause autism.

4. Parenting Style

Back in the 1950s, it was a popular belief that “refrigerator” moms (cold, distant, lacking maternal warmth) led to autistic children. Groan. “This myth was dropped as early as the 1970s, when expert consensus agreed there was no compelling scientific evidence that linked parenting style to autism risk,” says Van Groningen.

READ MORE: Is It Safe To Eat Fish While You’re Pregnant?

5. Environmental Factors as Sole Cause

Because there are several genetic factors that are clearly associated with autism, it’s impossible for environmental factors, like exposure to pollutants, chemicals like pthalates, or certain meds to be the only culprit behind a diagnosis. Genes play a bigger role. For example, boys are four times more likely to develop autism than girls, and families who have one child with autism are at an increased risk of having another child with the disorder. “There are also many linkages between autism and other genetic disorders, like Rett syndrome or fragile X syndrome,” says Van Groningen.

6. Taking Antidepressants During Pregnancy

“Years ago, small observational studies had shown an association between the use of antidepressants (SSRIs) during pregnancy and autism risk,” says Van Groningen. “However, this discovery hasn’t panned out in subsequent trials.” A Danish registry of more than 600,000 births found absolutely no link, for example. “What they did find was a (very) slightly elevated risk of autism in children of women who used SSRIs before pregnancy but not during, suggesting that maternal depression may play a role in autism risk—though this link is not well-established,” says Van Groningen. At this point, what can be said is that there’s insufficient evidence to demonstrate a link between antidepressants and autism.

7. Letting Your Kids Watch Too Much Television

Research published in a non-medical journal (of all places) found that the more it rains in a particular area, the more TV kids watch (um, duh). The researchers then found that in areas where it rained a lot, there were more cases of autism. They actually leapt to the conclusion that watching TV causes autism—and that 40 percent of cases are because of watching TV in rainy areas. (Oh. Em. Effing. Gee.) “There’s no evidence whatsoever to support the idea that allowing your child to watch a lot of television could possibly cause autism,” says Van Groningen. “However, once your child’s diagnosed, it’s a good idea to limit screen time in favour of more interactive pursuits.”

This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com

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