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Research Spotlight: Antidepressants in pregnancy found not to cause neurodevelopmental conditions

Updated: Oct 7, 2022

After much ado in the last decade about the association between the use of antidepressants in pregnancy and the later diagnosis of children with neurodevelopmental conditions such as Autism and ADHD, a huge review of medical records data found the association to be faulty.




Researchers looked at four and a half million pregnancies, 145,000 where the parent took antidepressants during pregnancy, and three million where they did not take antidepressants to determine what the association between antidepressant use and later diagnosis of a neurodevelopmental condition in the child.

Researchers found that those who took antidepressants during pregnancy were more likely to have children with neurodevelopmental conditions. However, it was not the antidepressants that caused the neurodevelopmental conditions. One way this was determined was by comparing siblings where one pregnancy included antidepressants and the other didn't. In this study, researchers attempted to identify if confounding variables could be isolated to determine their influence. Confounding variables are those that can impact the cause and effect but are not measured in the study. In this case, the confounding variables are genetic and environmental factors that caused the parent to need antidepressants in the first place--possibly the parent's own neurodivergence or similar genetics that later influence their child's neurology and presentation.

Only 6-8% of pregnancies include the use of antidepressants. Antidepressants save lives. The risk of not having access to necessary medications is far greater to the parent and child than their use. This study confirms that antidepressants do not cause neurodevelopmental conditions like Autism or ADHD. Instead, we are left with what other research confirms again and again: these conditions are caused by genetics in at least 80% of cases, possibly more. Researchers in other work have identified more than 100 genes associated with Autism and ADHD. Causation is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. However, as correlations are found and further investigated, it is often determined that a causal relationship doesn't exist such as the conspiracy that doesn't die: vaccines.

At present, air pollution and in-utero exposure to viral illnesses are still considered to be environmental risk factors for Autism. The correlation between autism and air pollution seems to be strong according to the research so far. These require further investigation with a review of confounding variables such as the relationship between frequencies of infections and neurodivergent parents.
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