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Mom's Health While Pregnant Linked to Autism Risk

Obesity, High Blood Pressure, Diabetes During Pregnancy May Increase Autism Risk

Prenatal Care Improves Health of Mother, Baby continued...

Alycia Halladay, PhD, agrees: "This study adds to the evidence that maternal health and prenatal factors may play a role in risk for autism." She is the director of research for environmental sciences at Autism Speaks, an advocacy group.

One theory involves a common thread of insulin resistance. If a person becomes resistant to the effects of the hormone insulin, the pancreas secretes more to control blood sugar levels. If it cannot produce enough insulin, blood sugar rises, and diabetes may develop.

"If the inability to regulate glucose is contributing to these effects, monitoring glucose, modifying your diet, and taking insulin could be three things to do not just in regard to lowering autism risk, but also to improve your health and that of the baby," Halladay says.

Other prenatal factors have been linked to autism risk. These include prenatal infection, immune system issues, and delivery complications. "Improving maternal health during pregnancy leads to the best outcomes for mothers and children," she says.

Not Enough Evidence Yet?

Andrew Adesman, MD, says it is too early to connect the dots between autism and maternal health during pregnancy. He is the chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. "This study suggests that health conditions in pregnant women may pose some increased risks for developmental problems in children," he says.

"[But] we must resist temptation to look at the rising rates of these conditions and presume that there is a solid causality," Adesman says. "We don't know that the increase in autism is due to increases in obesity, hypertension, and diabetes."

That said, "pregnant women, for a multitude of reasons, are best advised to optimize their health, including weight, blood pressure, and glucose control."

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