A Link Between Autism and Autoimmunity?

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antibodyThe first large-scale study on a possible link between parents with autoimmune diseases and children with autism has yielded some surprising results. The research, which emerged following a study of nearly 3,000 mothers of autistic children, was conducted at New York’s Center for Autoimmune and Musculoskeletal Disorders at the Feinstein Institute.

The study was able to show that roughly one in ten mothers with autoimmune antibodies in their bloodstream passed them along to their developing fetuses. These “anti-brain” proteins filtered into the developing brains of their babies in utero, and potentially harmed the blood-brain barrier enough to cause autism.

Seventy five percent of the roughly 50 million Americans living with autoimmune diseases today are women. These diseases, which range from lupus, Crohn’s disease and psoriasis to rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome and multiple sclerosis (along with more than 100 others) are listed as one of the top 10 leading causes of death in females under the age of 65.

These autoimmune disorders work by turning the body’s natural defenses against themselves. In people with healthy immune function, when a foreign invader, infection, virus or bacteria enters the body, the body in turn produces antibodies that attack these invaders. However, for those affected by autoimmune diseases, an infection or any additional illness instead causes the release of a flood of auto-antibodies, or antibodies that will attack the body itself. This kind of inner self sabotage causes disease, pain, organ damage, and more. It’s a process responsible for more than $100 billion in annual direct health care costs.

And while those auto-antibodies themselves are normally deflected from entering the brain by the blood-brain barrier, the developing brain of a fetus can’t control them. Instead, that rush of proteins, according to the study, leads to the onset of autism in the unborn child.

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