Anorexia Before or During Pregnancy Could Be Tied to ASD in Offspring

February 14, 2022

Women Experiencing Anorexia During Pregnancy Are 4 Times More Likely to Have a Child with Autism

New research from Sweden has shown that women with anorexia nervosa before or during pregnancy have a greater chance of having a child with autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Previously, eating disorders in individuals on the spectrum have been linked. In fact, approximately 20 percent of people with anorexia also hold a diagnosis of autism. However, very little research has been conducted associating eating disorders of mothers to the development of autism in their offspring. This current study drew from a large dataset. In total, close to 53,000 children born in Sweden between 1990 and 2012 were included in the research. Approximately 8,800 of these children were born to women with anorexia, bulimia or an unspecified eating disorder, which was experienced either before or during pregnancy. The study’s results demonstrated that mothers who had anorexia during pregnancy were four times as likely to have a child with autism in comparison to women who never had an eating disorder. The research also discovered that the odds of having a child with autism were 80% higher among women who had recovered from anorexia nervosa prior to pregnancy. Interestingly, after the study’s authors investigated whether a full maternal cousin (without an eating disorder) of these women had the same odds of having a child with autism, and discovering that they did not, they realized that their findings pointed towards environmental factors (and not genetic) influencing this greater risk of autism. The researchers then identified changes in several metabolic and endocrine biomarkers that could contribute to autism in offspring. For instance, a previous study found that babies of women with an active eating disorder also had lower levels of cord blood DNA methylation, specifically in genes connected to neuronal development. The next step for this research team is to attempt to figure out which part of the environment is responsible for this association. Could it be suboptimal nutrition, epigenetic changes or the fetus’ exposure to medications taken in response to an eating disorder? More research is needed to answer these important questions.


Original Article

Original Study

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons