Autism and schizophrenia show common disorders in pregnancy
8 January 2009
Schizophrenia and autism probably share a common origin, according to
Dutch developmental psychologist Annemie Ploeger. Following an extensive
literature study, she has demonstrated that both mental diseases have
similar physical abnormalities that are formed during the first month of
Annemie Ploeger investigated whether there is a connection between
disorders in the first month of pregnancy and the development of
schizophrenia and autism. Interestingly, many physical abnormalities of
autistics are also prevalent in schizophrenics.
For example, both autistics and schizophrenics sometimes have
protruding ears and peculiar toes. There are also differences: a large
head and intestinal problems, for example, are typical traits occurring
in autistics. From the findings, Ploeger concluded that the two
disorders share a common origin. The same error that occurs very early
in pregnancy develops into autism in one individual and schizophrenia in
Ploeger's research reveals that in the period between 20 and 40 days
after fertilisation, the embryo is highly susceptible to disruptions. In
this period, early organogenesis, there is a lot of interaction between
the different parts of the body. If something goes wrong with a given
part of the body, it greatly influences the development of other parts
of the body.
As people with schizophrenia and autism frequently have physical
abnormalities to body parts formed during early organogenesis, Ploeger
concluded that the foundation for these psychiatric disorders is laid
very early during pregnancy.
The existence of a relationship between unhealthy behaviour during
pregnancy and the subsequent development of schizophrenia and autism in
the child was already known. However, Ploeger's hypothesis that the
early organogenesis stage is the most critical, is new.
Ploeger bases her hypothesis on an extensive study of scientific
literature in this area. She often had to make use of related studies;
although a lot of research has been done into prenatal influences on the
development of schizophrenia and autism, little is known about the
influence that the period between 20 to 40 days after fertilisation has.
Toxic pregnancy medicine
For example, she acquired information about autism from a study into
softenon use. Softenon is a drug against morning sickness that was
administered to women in the 1960s and 1970s. Later it was discovered
that severely disabled children were born as a result of this medicine.
Autistic children were born in 4% of pregnancies in which softenon was
used, whereas normally this figure is 0.1%.
Women could state exactly when they started to take softenon. The
women who had taken softenon between the 20th and 24th day of the
pregnancy had the greatest chance of giving birth to an autistic child.
Ploeger advises women to stop risky behaviour such as smoking,
medicine use and stressful activities before they even become pregnant.
If you only start to live healthily once you know that you are pregnant,
the basis for a disrupted development of your child could already have
Ploeger's research was partly financed by the Netherlands Organization
for Scientific Research (NWO).
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