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Could Fertility Treatments Cause Autism?

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Ronda Kaysen: In the seemingly endless search for the cause of autism, researchers have honed in on another possible culprit: fertility treatments.

Fertility Treatment

In two separate studies, researchers have found that women who go through fertility treatments are more likely to have children with an autism spectrum disorder. In the first study, researchers looked at women who used the common fertility drug Clomid -- and found that those who took it were more likely to have autistic kids. Interestingly, the longer a woman took Clomid, the higher the autism risk. A separate Israeli study found that children conceived using in-vitro fertilization were also more likely to be autistic.

But here's the catch: Fertility treatments are also linked to increased rates of twins, triplets, premature births and low birth rates -- which are all indicators of autism in and of themselves. Also, older moms are more likely to need fertility treatments than younger moms -- and age is another factor in autism. So it's hard to tell whether Clomid and IVF are causing the problem, or whether autism is caused by a combination of factors related to infertility.

"We need to understand how to tease these factors apart," Lisa Croen, senior research scientist with Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif., and director of its Autism Research Program, told Time magazine. (She was not involved in the study.) "This study is addressing a really important question, but we really need more data."

With so many factors to consider, it's hard to know what the root cause is. But infertility affects 10 percent of American women and autism is reaching epidemic proportions, so it's important to find out if Clomid and IVF play a role in the disorder.

It's hard enough to struggle with infertility. To add the risk that just taking Clomid could harm the baby you want so much to have is heartbreaking.



next: Dealing with Dumb Comments During Your Pregnancy
70 comments so far | Post a comment now
Danielle May 24, 2010, 5:12 AM

Going against nature has it’s consequences. More studies will continue to prove it time and time again.

Joe May 24, 2010, 9:56 AM

It makes sense to me and would explain the huge jump in autism.

Anonymous May 24, 2010, 9:58 AM

Older dads are a risk factor for autism. Women getting infertility treatments are more likely to have older husbands. Maybe moms married to older men should consider getting pregnant with someone other than their husband, particularly if they are having trouble getting pregnant. Also maybe men should start listening to their own biological clock. By the way, the huge study that older fathers were linked to a huge increase in autism also found that the mother’s age made no difference.

Julia May 24, 2010, 10:19 AM

I have seen this study everywhere and I wish that the journalists would focus more on the caveats rather than the results. People tend to gravitate toward results without recognizing the other factors. The biggest caveat of this study is that it does not take into consideration the fact that a majority of people who undergo fertility treatments are women over 35, and we’ve known for a while that women and men having children at older ages is connected to an increase in autism. I don’t believe it’s the fertility treatments that are linked to autism, I think it’s the rising number of parents choosing to have children at older ages, which increases both the risk of autism AND the need for fertility treatments.

Pamala May 24, 2010, 5:06 PM

This makes more sense to me than the vaccination debate. People are having children later in life and this I think has resulted in the increase of these disorders, rather than vaccinations. I don’t think it’s the fertility treatments, more so just older people having children and we already know how the risk increases with age.

Mike May 25, 2010, 7:22 AM

Just one clarification, Pamala: there is no vaccine debate. The science does not support any link between vaccines and autism.

DanielleA  May 25, 2010, 4:01 PM

to DANIELLE: Some of us cannot get pregnant on our own, and we need fertility treatments to get pregnant. I think your comment was rude and you should think before you speak about people going “against nature”.

Joe May 27, 2010, 8:03 PM

But DanielleA, you are going against nature, are you not? I think was she said was more brutally honest than rude.

Megan June 1, 2010, 10:50 AM

It’s against nature to treat cancer too.


But we do it.

Anonymous September 15, 2010, 11:27 AM

The finding by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health that women using fertility drugs had almost double the risk of having a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is an important study in the quest to determine causes of this perplexing condition. The drugs studied included Clomid (clomiphene citrate) and Pergonal (gonadotropin).

The Harvard study is part of a growing body of research that strengthens the
argument that Clomid and other fertility drugs are a cause of ASD via their ability to deny cholesterol to a developing embryo shortly after conception. About 58% of ASD children have low total cholesterol ( (7-dehydrocholesterol) to cholesterol. Cholesterol is essential for growth of the myelin membranes that cover the brain and abnormalities in the myelin sheath are believed to be a contributing cause of ASD. Many experts thus believe that low cholesterol during early embryonic development is one of the causes of ASD.

Clomid has a long half-life and is present during the embryonic period (first 8 weeks) even when taken before conception. Studies have shown it to be
biologically active for up to 54 days after ingestion and that it can accumulate over successive cycles of treatment. In the Harvard study they found that the longer the use of fertility drugs, the higher the risk of developing ASD. A critically important fact - and one not known by most physicians prescribing the drug - is that Clomid is a cholesterol inhibitor and impairs its production by acting upon enzymes in the body similar to Lipitor and other statin drugs. Its
chemical structure is also similar to the cholesterol-reducing drug, Triparanol, which was briefly available during the 1960s. Animal studies have shown that Clomid and Triparanol both act on the same enzyme and affect developing organs in a similar way, with Triparanol being slightly more potent.

Pergonal (also known as human menopausal gonadotropin or hMG) likewise
reduces cholesterol, but by way of a different mechanism. Namely, it suppresses cholesterol levels in early pregnancy via its ability to elevate estrogen production. Studies have established that following hyperstimulation of the ovaries by Pergonal, the resulting elevated estrogen during the luteal (post-ovulation)phase of the cycle suppresses the level of total cholesterol. In fact,
there is an inverse correlation between concentrations of estrogen and the level
of total cholesterol - the higher the level of estrogen, the lower the
concentration of total cholesterol.

The GOOD NEWS is that many ASD children with low cholesterol, treated with
cholesterol supplementation, have shown dramatic improvement. Scientists at
Johns Hopkins University Medical Center, led by Dr. Richard Kelley, have shown such treatment resulting In improved mobility, verbalization, growth, behavior, sociability and alertness. More importantly, once we have a full understanding about a cause of ASD, we will be in a position to eliminate that cause and reduce the number of families impacted by this tragic abnormality.

Terence Mix September 15, 2010, 3:51 PM

I failed to include my name on my post at 11:27 AM. The second paragraph was also incomplete and should have read:

This recent study is part of a growing body of research that strengthens the argument that Clomid and other fertility drugs are a cause of ASD via their ability to deny cholesterol to a developing embryo shortly after conception. About 58% of ASD children have low total cholesterol (below 160 mg/dL) and about 19% have extremely low total cholesterol (below 100 mg/dL. The average level for children is 165 mg/dL.
It has also been observed that a high percentage of children (71-86%) born with Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome (SLOS), in addition to a wide array of birth defects are also born with ASD. Infants with SLOS are born with a defective enzyme that impairs the body’s ability to convert a precursor (7-dehydrocholesterol) to cholesterol. Cholesterol is essential for growth of the myelin membranes that cover the brain and abnormalities in the myelin sheath are believed to be a contributing cause of ASD. Many experts thus believe that low cholesterol during early embryonic development is one of the causes of ASD.

My apologies for these oversights, which occurred during my enthusiastic effort to make this posting. Terence Mix.

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