Sunday, November 18, 2007

Autism linked to drinking during pregnancy?

From The Scotsman:

MODERATE drinking during pregnancy could be the hidden cause of thousands of serious childhood disorders including autism, Scotland's leading authority on alcohol and health warned last night.

Dr Maggie Watts, vice chairman on alcohol for the Scottish Association of Alcohol and Drug Action Teams, fears that even low levels of drinking could be related to a range of behavioural problems in young children, the cause of which has previously been a mystery.

Watts, who is also a consultant in public health medicine at NHS Ayrshire and Arran, warned that up to one in 100 Scots children - as many as 9,000 - could be suffering from Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) with symptoms including behavioural and memory difficulties.

But she said many could be misdiagnosed as suffering from autism and other neurodevelopmental problems because doctors do not ask mothers about their pregnancy drinking habits when making their diagnosis.

In recent weeks, there have been a series of contradictory guidelines and reports on the 'safe' limit for alcohol during pregnancy. Abstention throughout pregnancy is now the Scottish Government's official advice but experts south of the Border say moderate consumption is acceptable after the first three months.

Watts is now firmly of the view that pregnant women should not drink. She said: "This condition is vastly under-recognised. It is certainly possible that children with this condition may have been diagnosed as having something else. We need to review some of these children with other labels to see whether they fit the criteria for FASD.

Throughout almost all of recorded history in Europe, the Middle East and Asia an alcoholic beverage, either beer or wine, has been a staple in the diets of all people, young and old, male and female, pregnant or not. And yet it is only now that we are seeing rising rates of autism?

I'm not denying that drinking alcohol during pregnancy might be harmful to the unborn child. That could help explain the astronomical childhood mortality rates in the ancient world (sometimes nearing or even exceeding 50%). However the rates of autism are climbing sharply while fewer and fewer women are drinking during pregnancy so what gives?

I think they're going to have to keep looking for the explanation for the cause[s] of autism.