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Study suggests link between high testosterone and autism

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KPB · 20/04/2004 20:50

Have already posted this in the news section!!!
Anyone read this, thought it may be of interest to some of you:-

Study suggests link between high testosterone and autism

Hormone levels in womb affect behaviour later in childhood
By Liam McDougall, Health Correspondent

A LEADING specialist has claimed autism may be linked to over-production of the male hormone testosterone.
Research by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen has shown that babies who produce high levels of the hormone in the womb are more likely to develop abnormalities in social development and other autistic traits.

Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University, said his team had taken samples of amniotic fluid from the wombs of 3000 pregnant mothers to analyse for levels of testosterone.

On each baby?s first birthday, researchers videoed the child to determine social interaction with their mother, including how much eye contact they made. The research, the first of its kind to assess whether a foetus?s hormone levels could determine autism, found that babies who had produced higher levels of the male hormone were less likely to make eye contact with their parent.

Now, preliminary findings from Baron-Cohen?s latest research ? which studies how the children cope socially at school ? has again found that those with the highest levels of prenatal testosterone now face a greater challenge in forming friendships.

He said: ?We have followed these women from before birth and we?ve looked at hormones, in particular pre natal testosterone. We are trying to establish whether hormone levels can influence social relationships. That is exactly what we have been finding.

?The children are now four and so we wanted to study them when they were just starting school, which is another social challenge. We have found that prenatal testosterone predicts how easily a child can make friends in a social group. These are brand new results.?

The initial results, which will be published later this year in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, comes from a sample of 170 children. Baron-Cohen said that by the end of the year, researchers will have results for the thousands of children in the study.

He added: ?None of these children has a diagnosis of autism but it is inevitable that a number will in a group of this size. Most will not get a diagnosis until they are around five or six.

?At the moment we are writing to all the women to find out which, if any, [of the babies] have a diagnosis of autism or a related child development condition. By the end of the year we may be able to test whether a child who had elevated levels of testosterone prenatally will go on to develop autism.?

He added: ?The research has opened up a lot of new questions. It?s very exciting.?

The research, which is unique to Baron-Cohen?s team, has the potential to deal a devastating blow to critics of the MMR jab who believe the vaccine has been responsible for causing autism in children.

If successful, it could show that certain youngsters are in fact predisposed to be affected by the disorder, before they are even born.

On the back of his research, Baron-Cohen has pioneered the ?extreme male brain theory?, which he believes may be at the root of the condition. Basing his theory on animal studies showing that overproduction of testosterone leads to an overdevelopment of the right side of the brain, he says this may account for the reason that many autistic children have good spatial abilities but poor social skills.

?Males produce testosterone in the womb from the testes, but females also produce it from the adrenal gland.

?It is known from animal research that testosterone influences brain development. There is a theory that the more testosterone you produce, the quicker your right hemisphere grows, developing at the expense of the left.

?There are already clues that autism might be linked to being a male. Four males to every female will develop autism, so the sex ratio is very biased. There seems to be something about being a male that increases the risk of developing autism.?

Current figures show that autism affects more than 500,000 families in the UK, usually developing in children before the age of three. Typically, autistic children have problems communicating and relating to people.

Despite the theory, detailed at the British Psychological Society conference in London over the weekend, some parents of autistic children still believe that the MMR jab had a link to the condition.

Carol Gillespie, from Glasgow, who blames the triple jab for her seven-year-old daughter Natalie?s autism, said: ?I think it?s an interesting theory but it doesn?t fit with what we found with Natalie.

?She was a healthy baby who was developing normally but who regressed after receiving the MMR jab. Now she is non- verbal and has difficulty communicating. It was not something that happened in the womb.?

Eileen Hopkins, director of development at the National Autistic Society, said: ?It is always interesting to add new pieces to the puzzle of autism and to improve the information that we can give to people who contact us for support and advice.?


18 April 2004

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