A new large-scale study from Sweden has found that polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), an endocrine disorder that affects 5 to 10 percent of women of childbearing age, increases the risk of giving birth to children suffering from autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by 59 percent. The reason appears to be the role of androgens, male sex hormones, in fetal brain development. All women naturally produce some androgens, but women with PCOS are prone to increased androgen levels that can cross the placenta and impact the developing fetus. Scholars have been quick to point out that the full spectrum of ASD cases likely involve a wider variety of genetic and environmental factors — the risk level of autism is greater in children born to fathers over age 50 than it is in children whose mother has PCOS, for example. And since the prevalence of ASD is only 1 to 2 percent in the general population, even a 59 percent increase in risk means it’s only a fraction of a percent more likely for a woman with PCOS to give birth to a child with ASD. Still, researchers hope the discovery of the link between PCOS and ASD will help doctors identify ASD-prone children who might benefit from early interventions.
Read the full story at Scientific American.