Study about causes of autism–no vaccines involved

[pullquote]That’s the difference between real research and the whining anti-vaccine lunatics who base their claims on nonsense and logical fallacies, which does nothing for understanding the causal factors of autism.[/pullquote]

The Los Angeles Times reports in “Study finds link between autism and obesity during pregnancy” that data from University of California-Davis MIND Institute’s CHARGE (CHildhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment) research study shows a link between risk of autism and Metabolic Conditions, such as maternal obesity and diabetes.  The study found that women who had diabetes or hypertension, or were obese had 1.61 times greater risk to have children with autism spectrum disorders than healthy women. These women with metabolic conditions (MC) also had a 2.35 greater risk to having children with developmental delays.

The study, Maternal Metabolic Conditions and Risk for Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders, was published today in the peer-reviewed journal, Pediatrics.  The study included Children aged 2 to 5 years, 517 of which had autism spectrum disorders, 172 had development delays, and 315 were controls. Further, the study was a population-based, case-control investigation enrolling patients between January 2003 and June 2010.

The authors of the study concluded:

Maternal MCs may be broadly associated with neurodevelopmental problems in children. With obesity rising steadily, these results appear to raise serious public health concerns.

It’s probably harder to lose weight than to blame other environmental issues (pulling out a random idea, say vaccines).  However, this is a large study, enrolling nearly 700 children with neurodevelopment disorders, and the results are statistically relevant.  It may not be the only cause, but at least there’s a reasonable biological foundation to these results (as opposed to say, vaccines).

For example, we could speculate that women who are pregnant and have metabolic conditions have reduced blood flow to the fetus, reducing both oxygen flow and nutrients necessary for fetal brain development.  This is not some random theory, it is well known that metabolic conditions do lead to reduced blood flow.  In addition, if diabetes is not under control, it is possible that ketoacidosis or high blood glucose could also have an effect.  For example, women with Type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes are over 2.35 times as likely to have children with developmental delays.

However, to be fair, correlation may not indicate causation.  It’s possible that the metabolic conditions were not directly involved, but some related issue such as poor nutrition, or something related to some other factor in the mother’s lifestyle that lead to the metabolic condition.

Seriously, these are the type of studies that allow us to speculate about the cause of autism.  They are well constructed and the conclusions are carefully worded.  It is published in a real journal with a real peer-review.  Of course, the study needs to be repeated, and we need to uncover the causal relationship that supports the correlation.  But at least we can lay out a scientific methodology to understanding the link.  Furthermore, and probably the most important part of this study is that if we understand why women with metabolic conditions have a statistically greater risk of bearing children with neurodevelopmental issues, it may allow us to understand any gestational cause of autism.  That’s the difference between real research and the whining anti-vaccine lunatics who base their claims on nonsense and logical fallacies, which does nothing for understanding the causal factors of autism.


The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!