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maternal obesity, autism, and gut bacteria?

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Dimensions' loiterer
Global Moderator
Library Mod
Sep 29, 2005
The great white north, eh?
It is important to note that this entire study was carried out on mice. Mice, obviously, are not humans. Further, their development is probably simpler, both because it happens much more quickly and so is exposed to less variables, and because their brains and behaviors are not as complex. So do take all of this with a pinch, or maybe a spoonful, of salt when thinking about it in terms of human beings.

If fact, normally I would not link an article at this level of research, but I’m doing it with this one for two reasons:
1) As the parent of a kid who probably had/has aspergers (officially that term doesn’t exist anymore), I know the extra challenges that throws in ones path, and life can be challenging enough without extra hurdles to overcome, so all else being remotely equal it is good to reduce one’s offspring’s chance of developing it.
2) I think it VERY likely that “If you are fat your kids will be autistic!” will show up somewhere in the mainstream media, as well as possibly “If you feed you/your baby THIS miracle pill, your kids won’t be autistic!” Being informed of the facts as known so far is good, in this age of click-bait journalism and ‘facts’ being circulated via Facebook, etc.

Super-compressed, tl;dr summary:
• There are studies that suggest fat mother have more autistic kids
• In mice, it looks like having more of a particular bacteria in the gut might fight this tendency

In summary:
• Apparently there are numbers showing that obese (human) mothers are more likely to have autistic kids (no reference provided in this article)
• They were able to reproduce similar effects to this in mice by feeding the mother mice a very high fat diet before and during pregnancy (which also made them obese). (no comment on whether it is the high fat diet, or the obesity, which caused the autism like effects)
• They showed that changing the gut bacteria of the offspring of the mother mice fed the high fat diet avoided the autism like effects (not clear to me from this article whether this reversed an existing effect, or if this was only if given from a very early age)
• They found a specific bacteria in mice (emphasis that this was in mice, human gut flora probably is not all the same?) that seemed to correlate strongly with these observations, and were able to show that simply giving the offspring of the high-fat-fed-mothers that bacteria seemed to avoid the effects (again not clear to me if this reversed effects, or avoiding them developing if given early enough)
• They were able to show that these effects in mice seem to correlate with the number of oxytocin producing cells in the offspring’s brains (oxytocin is a hormone that influences a lot of social behavior in mammals, not to over simplify but I think I’ve seen it referred to as the ‘cuddle hormone’)

With all those disclaimers out of the way, here is the link to the article:

On a personal note, I don’t know if I’ll push this article at my wife, because I worry she will feel guilty – beyond generic mother’s guilt – for our son’s non-typical neural development, because she was medically obese while pregnant.

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