Ronda Kaysen: In the seemingly endless search for the cause of autism, researchers have honed in on another possible culprit: fertility treatments.
In two separate studies, researchers have found that women who go through fertility treatments are more likely to have children with an autism spectrum disorder. In the first study, researchers looked at women who used the common fertility drug Clomid -- and found that those who took it were more likely to have autistic kids. Interestingly, the longer a woman took Clomid, the higher the autism risk. A separate Israeli study found that children conceived using in-vitro fertilization were also more likely to be autistic.
But here's the catch: Fertility treatments are also linked to increased rates of twins, triplets, premature births and low birth rates -- which are all indicators of autism in and of themselves. Also, older moms are more likely to need fertility treatments than younger moms -- and age is another factor in autism. So it's hard to tell whether Clomid and IVF are causing the problem, or whether autism is caused by a combination of factors related to infertility.
"We need to understand how to tease these factors apart," Lisa Croen, senior research scientist with Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif., and director of its Autism Research Program, told Time magazine. (She was not involved in the study.) "This study is addressing a really important question, but we really need more data."
With so many factors to consider, it's hard to know what the root cause is. But infertility affects 10 percent of American women and autism is reaching epidemic proportions, so it's important to find out if Clomid and IVF play a role in the disorder.