Acetaminophen Use in Pregnancy Linked to ADHD and Autism

Using more acetaminophen (Tylenol) while pregnant is associated with an increased risk of ADHD or autism spectrum disorder in children.

Peter Simons
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Mothers who used more acetaminophen (Tylenol) while pregnant were more likely to have children with a diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a study in JAMA Psychiatry. The researchers were led by Xiaobin Wang at Johns Hopkins University.

All mothers in the sample used some acetaminophen. However, the researchers separated the amount used into three groups of “acetaminophen burden.” Mothers who used more acetaminophen were more likely to have a child with ADHD and/or ASD diagnosis.

Compared to those who used the smallest amount, mothers who used a medium amount found their risk more than doubled for having a child with an ADHD diagnosis (2.26) and an ASD diagnosis (2.14).

For mothers who used the most acetaminophen, the risk increased by almost three times (2.86) for ADHD and by more than three-and-a-half times (3.62) for ASD.

“These findings suggest in utero exposure to acetaminophen is associated with increased risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder in children,” the researchers write.

Overall, 43.2% of the mothers in the ADHD group and 43.9% of the mothers in the ASD group had the highest levels of acetaminophen use, but only 27.2% of the mothers in the “neurotypical” group had the highest levels of use.

Previous research, such as a 2016 study published in JAMA Pediatrics, found the same result. However, those researchers based their assessment on mothers’ self-report of Tylenol use.

By contrast, the current researchers examined umbilical cord plasma taken at the birth of the child, searching for actual biomarkers of acetaminophen use—that is, acetaminophen itself and its metabolites.

The study included 996 mother-infant dyads from the Boston Birth Cohort. According to the researchers, their sample consisted of “257 children (25.8%) with ADHD only, 66 (6.6%) with ASD only, 42 (4.2%) with both ADHD and ASD, 304 (30.5%) with other DDs [developmental disorders], and 327 (32.8%) who were neurotypical.”

The researchers controlled for a number of potential confounding factors, including mothers’ stress, smoking, drug use, and demographic factors, as well as whether the child was preterm, whether the child was breastfed, the child’s lead exposure, and the sex of the child. None of these factors changed the results.

The researchers even controlled for whether the mother had a fever during pregnancy, which means that it was the acetaminophen use, not the mothers’ fever, that was associated with this finding. The researchers write that animal studies have revealed the ways in which acetaminophen use can alter brain development in babies.

“Studies in rodents reported acetaminophen toxicity in cortical neurons and inhibition of fetal testosterone production, which would critically disrupt brain development.”

Because the current study used umbilical cord biomarkers measured at birth, it’s unclear whether the mothers used acetaminophen throughout pregnancy, how often, or how much. Instead, the study provides a snapshot of how much the mothers used in the perinatal period, in the weeks before giving birth.

The study also can’t tell us what the risk would look like with no acetaminophen use since every mother in the study used the drug.

 

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Ji, Y., Azuine, R. E., Zhang, Y., Hou, W., Hong, X., Wang, G., . . . & Wang, X. (2019). Association of cord plasma biomarkers of in utero acetaminophen exposure with risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder in childhood. JAMA Psychiatry, 77(2), 180-189. DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.3259 (Link)

7 COMMENTS

  1. No doubt.

    One thing is, the effects of drugs on babies are not possible to verify, but it stands to reason
    that a developing embryo is vulnerable.
    The effects also keep the “disorder” idea alive.
    Tandem.
    Yet all it does is lead to more drugs. ALL are damaging. We cannot use more damaging drugs
    on kids that were unwilling participants in all druggings.

    Psychiatry is not welcomed by kids. And psychiatry has it’s ultimate shame through the abuse and
    drugging of SOMEONE elses children.
    Shame on you shrinks for getting your grubby hands on kids. You stoop so low, that it exposes you.
    You tell no one about the damage.

  2. “Instead, the study provides a snapshot of how much the mothers used in the perinatal period, in the weeks before giving birth.”

    It could even be just a few days or less … the half-life of paracetamol is a few hours.

    But, of-course, by the time they are 5, while their brains are still developing, you can give them amphetamines and blame the mother for having taken a few paracetamol in the last days of pregnancy.

    The narrative is falling apart …

    • well yes huh.
      It’s perfect. We get to talk about the “disorders”, when we look for reasons.

      Then, we get to blame the mother for being stupid enough to take Tylenol.

      Then she gets further blame for giving it to a child with fever…..AFTER 20 years from now they “research” the brains of children that took Tylenol.

      Some stimulants and depressants are great for the commonalities.

  3. I’ve been complaining to docs for DECADES that paracetamol / acetominophin is NOT SAFE, and yet it is the FIRST THING they give for ALL COMPLAINTS.

    I have severe osteoarthritis of the knee, in addition to back pain, and they wonder why I refuse their daily doses of “Panadol Osteo” and instead favour the occasional opoiod then the pain interrupts sleep or functioning.

    I’ve also seen evidence that acetominophen / paracetamol damages the motility of the gut – which is also tied to the dysfunctions which get labeled “ADD” and “ASD.” There are specific bacteria involved (if I have to take paracetamol, there is a special probiotic I also take a couple hours after) that this drug damages.

    “ADD” and “ASD” may not be valid diagnosis. However, there may be neurological damage which causes the behaviours and challenges that these children face. Add to it trauma, parental attention, and you get a perfect storm. But the potential for neurological or gut damage is a good reason to be extremely careful what toxins we expose ourselves and our children to.

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