Next month, I”™m giving a talk at a conference on autism and food. This very brief post focuses on a link that I found unexpectedly while doing some quick research on PubMed.

Apparently, autism is now referred to as autism spectrum disorder, a concept that developed as a result of the widely varied symptoms that may be involved. The disorder is absolutely not my field; I was asked to speak on sugar as a limiting factor in health. (I”™m quite comfortable with that topic.)

While researching and preparing the talk, however, I ran across several articles in different science journals that describe a link between maternal metabolic conditions and the risk for autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays, and impaired development in their children.

The metabolic conditions investigated included diabetes, decreased insulin sensitivity, hypertension, high triglycerides, low HDL (good) cholesterol, high fasting insulin, and high fasting glucose. The presence of these conditions in pregnant women makes their infants more likely to develop disorders in the autism spectrum.

Researchers have concluded that increasing rates of obesity among the US population could make these findings significant and quite serious in terms of public health concerns.

For my part, I”™m aware that obesity can and does cause insulin resistance, but it”™s certainly not the only cause. A number of factors can lead to insulin resistance (IR), including diet. In fact, diet can play a major role, both as cause and in successful risk management, or even reversal. The metabolic conditions are the same and can occur no matter which factor triggers IR.

(As it turns out, research on lab animals has shown a link between poor-quality maternal diets and insulin resistance, but, for obvious reasons, that kind of research could never be done on pregnant women.)

Needless to say, I”™ll let the conference attendees know about this link I just read about between maternal metabolic conditions and the autism spectrum, and also about the link between diet (emphasis on sugar that day) and those metabolic conditions.

Let”™s say you have a student who is overweight or has any of the above metabolic conditions. If she is, or is planning to become, pregnant, it would be wise for her to work with you or with a nutritionist. (Obviously, I”™m not suggesting working with nutrition at the expense of medical care. Everyone knows how important prenatal care is for pregnant women.)

My point is that eating better and getting the metabolic conditions under control as soon as possible could make a big difference for both mother and baby, and that”™s clearly worthwhile.

Joan Kent

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