Study shows exciting insights into the mystery cause of Autism…

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A ground breaking new study into the fundamental causes of the developmental disorder has shown that high levels of salt in the nerve cells of newborn babies could be the crucial early trigger that results in autism later in childhood.

The negatively charged salt ion is something found naturally within nerve cells – it is not something which is triggered through say, the mother’s diet (so all you pregnant sisters carry on with yer bag of Salt and Vinegar.. As you were..!) and Scientists believe these high concentrations of chloride – yes that’s salt AKA Sodium Chloride for those of you who weren’t paying attention in Science class –  could be responsible for tipping the brain of a newborn child towards autistic development.

So what does this actually mean?
Chloride ions are naturally kept deliberately high in the neurons of the foetus while developing in the womb. Under normal birth conditions, the chloride levels are quickly lowered during delivery. They are lowered and controlled by oxytocin, the wonder birth hormone released by the mother during labour (hurrah for oxytocin!)

The mother’s oxytocin acts like a diuretic, reducing chloride levels within the neurons. However, the study found that when oxytocin is blocked, chloride ions continue to remain high after birth, which can lead to a developmental disorder of the brain and autism.

“During birth and delivery there is an extremely abrupt loss of chloride triggered by the release of oxytocin during labour. If you block oxytocin during delivery you block this protective mechanism,” said Yehezkel Ben-Ari of the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (Inserm).

So to sum up – a woman needs to be producing oxytocin during labour to lower these high levels of salt in the baby’s nerve cells. Failure to do so can lead to Autism in later life.

So what is oxytocin?
Oxytocin is something readers of this blog will know as something I harp on about all the time.. Its a wonderful, amazing hormone that every woman, man and child should know a bit more about. Sometimes referred to as the “Love hormone” as basically its the hormone we transmit when we fall in love, hug or kiss our loved ones, during sexual intercourse, when we trust someone and let’s get back to the matter in hand – when we give birth. In birth its the hormone which – if we allow our bodies to produce it – helps provide smooth and powerful contractions and will help us have a faster and and less complicated labour. In the right conditions its helped along with with the 2nd birth hormone – endorphin which is Mummy’s own natural pain relief.

After birth – breast feeding also helps you produce oxytocin which helps the bonding process with mother and baby and also helps prevent PND.. Its the best thing since sliced bread basically!

What makes a woman produce oxytocin?
Funnily in labour, to encourage high levels of oxytocin (and endorphins), a woman needs to be kept in the kind of conditions one would expect on a romantic date! Now I say funnily as the thought of a woman in Labour sat round a candlelit dinner for 2 with with a couple of violin players just seems ridiculous to anyone who has gone through labour!! “Pass the ARRRRRGHHHH peas please ARRRRRGGGGH dear!” But what I mean by “romantic conditions” is: Low lighting, calm, tranquility, perhaps some soft music, warm water (hence why water birth is so good). All of these things trigger oxytocin to high levels and help you  labour with less pain and faster. So in a nutshell – NATURAL birthing practices will help you produce oxytocin to very high levels.

What stops Oxytocin being produced?
When a woman is labouring and in calm conditions she is producing the hormone quite nicely, as soon as she becomes distressed, anxious or scared she starts to produce the complete oppposite of oxytocin – the hormone Adrenaline. The body goes into “fight or flight” mode and adrenaline starts pumping – cutting off the supply of oxytocin and endorphins.

So what would the best be the best conditions for a woman to stop producing oxytocin and start producing Adrenaline? Think about it – you’re at your most vulnerable place ever when you are labouring.. Whisk a woman off from calm conditions onto a labour ward – bright lights, noises, strangers and you’ve got a breeding ground for Adrenaline right there – bye bye oxytocin… Bye bye endorphins. You or the baby being distressed is highly likely to stop you producing the hormone.

Other reasons to stop oxytocin being produced in normal levels would be the obvious – birthing drugs (epidurals etc), caesarian, induction (as synthetic oxytocin – Pitocin is used) and let’s face it anything where doctors are fiddling around with the natural process.. And we all know they love to mess around with that as much as possible!  Could this finding be yet another a step towards even more women taking a more natural approach to child birth? And the medical world accepting that this – and not the convenience of getting us in and out of hospital and off their list as fast as possible – is the best thing for everyone?

baby kiss

But back to the study… In another finding, they also showed they could lower the chloride ions in a genetic strain of laboratory mouse that would otherwise develop an animal version of autism (i.e a mouse that would’ve contracted Autism via genetic means) – by giving them a diuretic drug which made them lose chloride in their urine. This effectively prevents them from developing the brain disorder later in life.

This piece of research flags up all sorts of exciting possibilities for those already suffering from the disorder, those who may be flagged up in the future as potential sufferers just after birth, and would also be reassuring for those mother’s who can’t avoid medical procedures or caesarian during labour (and thus stopping oxytocin levels) because of complications.

“Chloride levels during delivery are determinants of the occurrence of autism spectrum disorder,” said Professor Ben-Ari, who led the study published in the journal Science.

The findings could explain the results of a 2012 clinical trial involving 50 autistic children aged between three and eleven who were given the diuretic drug bumetanide, which  made them lose chloride ions in their urine. Their autistic symptoms improved during the treatment.

“We have proven the concept that in autism chloride is elevated and perhaps our diuretic acts by reducing that. The evidence was lacking until now,” he said. “These data validate our treatment strategy, and suggest that oxytocin, by acting on the chloride levels during delivery modulates [and] controls the expression of autism spectrum disorder,” .

The study showed that diuretic drugs given to pregnant mice immediately prior to birth could effectively prevent autism developing in their autism-prone offspring. “We showed that if you deliver diuretic to the mother before birth and delivery, then the offspring have so to speak been cured… whereas if you block oxytocin, you get autism,” Professor Ben-Ari said.

The exact origins of Autism still remain a mystery and research is ongoing, but this study is a very interesting and exciting one to add to the other evidence or theories. Other recent studies have also shown faulty genes, environment, and age being a factor. Scientists have known for a while about older maternal age possibly contributing but a recent study also discovered now the father and grandparents being older could also contribute (this particular argument would definitely explain the increase in numbers in the last 20 years as people leave having children later).

Its also highly possible that the it could be a combination of several of these researched factors. Whatever the answer this new study is another hopeful step for the sufferers and carers of those with this lifelong development disorder.

What are your thoughts? Did your birthing method help you produce oxytocin?

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