Tylenol in Pregnancy and Infancy Linked to Autism

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We are women. We are pregnant. We are becoming mothers. All we want is to nurture and raise healthy, thriving babies and children.

The Bad News

Unfortunately, we live in a world where chemicals and toxins have become overwhelmingly profitable and marketized. There are a lot of known risk factors accounting for the formation of autism, which is believed to be caused by both genetic and environmental factors. Now, it looks like we can add acetaminophen (a.k.a. Tylenol to most people) to that list.

This study from 2016 found that maternal use of acetaminophen during pregnancy was positively associated with an increased risk for autism spectrum symptoms in males, and showed adverse effects on attention-related behaviors for both genders. Yes, read that sentence again. Conducted by Claudia B. Avella-Garcia, the study followed Spanish birth cohorts that included 2644 mother-child pairs recruited during pregnancy. Over 40% of mothers used acetaminophen and the scientists found that the associations increased with frequency of exposure. They saw the increases at both the 1 year and 5 year follow-up.

Another study from 2016, following 64,322 children and mothers enrolled in the Danish National Birth Cohort for average 12.7 years, also found that maternal use of acetaminophen in pregnancy was associated with ASD with hyperkinetic symptoms.

Some people are quick to dismiss the concern, citing that the study was fundamentally flawed, because the authors couldn’t confirm if it was the Tylenol, or the health issue that caused the women to take Tylenol that accounted for the increased association. While this is a good point, and we do know that, for example a viral infection in the first trimester of pregnancy increases the risk of ASDs. We also know that getting a flu shot in the first trimester of pregnancy increases the risk of ASDs. And this study from 2014 found an increased risk of ADHD and Hyperkinetic disorders with prenatal use of acetaminophen. Basically any activation of the immune system carries with it a risk to your unborn child.

What the studies do show, is that the positive associations increased with more frequent usage of acetaminophen. “Persistently exposed children in particular showed poorer performance on a computerized test measuring inattention, impulsivity and visual speed processing.” Let’s call a spade a spade. Most people frequently take acetaminophen for back and body pains and headaches and migraines, etc. If a pregnant woman has a persistent fever or a viral infection, she should see her doctor or midwife and not take over-the-counter medications until she has more information.

Even More Bad News

The problems with acetaminophen unfortunately don’t stop prenatally. Children being treated with acetaminophen for a fever (either because of a vaccine, or not) also have an increased risk for ASDs. This study found that children treated with Acetaminophen after MMR was associated with autistic disorder, compared to controls who were not treated with acetaminophen.

The author conducted several follow-up studies, like this one from 2016 that showed that “children who used acetaminophen at age 12 to 18 months vs. those who did not were eight times more likely to have ASD when all children were considered and nearly 21 times more likely to have ASD when limiting cases to children with regression in development.”

Now for the Good News

Not everything in our environment has an associated risk of autism: hugs, sunshine, bubble baths. OK I’m joking, but seriously is there anything inherently awful about those things (in moderation)? After 15 minutes a hug could get pretty sweaty, I suppose. But honestly what is a pregnant woman or mommy to do when they or their baby isn’t feeling good?

Sorry, but you are going to have to wait for my follow-up article to answer that question. My back hurts lol.