Autism may be caused by sperm degeneration in older dads, but it could ALSO be caused by a weakened immune system in the mother. Modern immune systems are less efficient than those in the past. Why? Because we're too clean!
In one subset of autism (scientists estimate this could be in a third of the cases) autism resembles a type of inflammatory disease that begins in the womb. Our immune system is designed to fight off the germs that cause inflammation, then return to quiescence when it's done, but it doesn't work this way in people with autism. In the autistic's brain, these anti-inflammatory signals are never switched off--instead, they become an abnormal, continuing biological process.
A recent study from Denmark that looked at births over the last 20 years in that country found that a mother's hospitalization for a viral infections (such as the flu) in the first trimester of pregnancy increased the chances of giving birth to an autistic child by 40%. Asthma in the mother has also been linked to autism.
In the August 26th edition of the New York Times, Moises Velasquez-Manoff writes: "The question is: "Why are we so prone to inflammatory mothers? What has happened to the modern immune system?
Another researcher noticed that in a Cambodian population filled with parasites and acute infections, autism is nearly nonexistent. Velasquez-Manoff writes that "the hygiene hypothesis--that we suffer from microbial deprivation--has long been invoked to explain these patterns."
Should we infect pregnant women with parasites? This does not seem like good medicine, but a trial is underway at a major US hospital that is exploring this by injecting whipworm parasites into autistic adults who agree to participate in the experiment. In conclusion, Velasquez-Manoff writes: "Preventative medicine will need, by strange necessity, to emulate the patterns from deep in our past."
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