This Week in Health: Acetaminophen may impact fetal brain development
Location of study: U.S.
Study subjects: Autistic children whose brain activity was recorded with magnetoencephalography (MEG)
Results: According to researchers from Case Western Reserve University and the University of Toronto, the brains of autistic children create 42 percent more information at rest when compared to neurotypical children. The findings are being attributed to more complex brain activity in children on the autism spectrum.
“We believe that this excess in information generation is indicative of a richer inner experience and a higher level of introspection that lead autistic people to withdraw into themselves, thereby impairing social interactions,” said senior author Dr. Roberto Fernandez Galan. Autism refers to a group of developmental disorders that affects about one in 88 children in the United States.
Significance: Social withdrawal is a hallmark of autism. Many children on the spectrum appear socially detached or disinterested in their environment. The study’s findings align with the Intense World Theory – the idea that autism in the result of hyper-functioning neural circuitry that leads to a state of over-arousal.
Location of study: Denmark
Study subjects: More than 64,000 children and mothers who took part in the Danish National Birth Cohort from 1996 to 2002. The cohort studied pregnancy complications and diseases with a special focus on medicinal side effects.
Results: UCLA researchers teamed up with the University of Aarhus in Denmark to study women during pregnancy, then at six months after giving birth and again seven years later. More than 50 percent of these women reported using acetaminophen while pregnant. The study found a 13 to 37 percent higher risk of developing ADHD or hyperkinetic disorder (a severe type of ADHD) among children whose mothers used acetaminophen during pregnancy. The risk only increased after the first trimester. Taking the drug for more than 20 weeks of pregnancy was associated with at least a 50 percent increase in ADHD/hyperkinetic disorder risk.
Significance: According to researchers, it’s possible for acetaminophen to cross the placental barrier and interfere with maternal hormones or induce oxidative stress. This, in turn, could potentially impact fetal brain development. Acetaminophen is a common over-the-counter pain reliever that’s considered safe to use during pregnancy; Tylenol contains acetaminophen.
Location of study: U.S.
Study subjects: Record analysis of 1,500 HIV-positive people aged 12 to 24 between 2002 and 2010.
Results: A study out of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center found that almost half of all teens and young adults with HIV delay treatment until the disease becomes advanced. Researchers attribute part of the problem to teens being unaware of their HIV status (roughly one in five infected people don’t know they have the virus.) Youthful invincibility may be at play, as well. “This is especially true for those who are asymptomatic and don’t really feel sick,” said Dr. Allison Agwu, infectious disease specialist and HIV expert at Johns Hopkins. According to the study, 30 to 45 percent of teens put off treatment until they had fewer than 350 CD4 cells per cubic millimeter of blood. A CD4 count below 200 is considered full-blown AIDS.
Significance: Waiting this long before seeking treatment makes it harder to get a handle on the disease and makes patients more susceptible to dangerous infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends HIV testing for everyone aged 13 to 64, though researchers speculate that health care providers may not be emphasizing this enough.
Location of study: Sweden
Study subjects: Every child born in Sweden from 1973 to 2001
Results: A collaborative study between Indiana University and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that children born to older fathers were significantly more likely to experience mental health problems and academic issues. When compared to the offspring of a 24-year-old father, a child born to a 45-year-old father was 13 times more likely to develop ADHD and three times more likely to have autism. These children were also twice as likely to have a psychotic disorder and 25 times more likely to develop bipolar disorder. Suicide risk was much higher, as well. Researchers say sperm replication might play a part since genetic mutations are more likely to be present in the sperm of older men.
Significance: As the average childbearing age steadily increases, more and more fetal health risks are associated with advanced maternal age. But little research has been invested in better understanding the health risks associated with older fathers. The study’s findings also compared children born when a father was younger to siblings born when the father was older. The differences were wide.
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