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Managing your hypothyroidism isn’t just about losing weight and having warm hands and feet. If you’re a woman who could get pregnant, it could play a role in whether you have a child with autism. A 2015 Finnish study that looked at risk factors associated with autism found that women who tested positive for autoimmune hypothyroidism, or Hashimoto’s, were more 80 percent more likely to give birth to a child who developed autism than women who did not.

Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system destroys the thyroid. But Hashimoto’s is only one of many autoimmune diseases. Autoimmunity means the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the very thing it was designed to protect — you. Which organ, gland, tissue, or chemical the immune system attacks depends on different factors, such as genetic predisposition and what triggered the autoimmunity. For instance, certain foods or chemicals are linked with certain autoimmune conditions. Rates of autoimmune disease are skyrocketing and many people go undiagnosed for years or a lifetime despite symptoms.

Similar studies have also made correlations between autoimmune diseases in the mother and increased risk of autism in their offspring. For instance, celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, and inflammatory bowel conditions have also been suggested as links to autism.

Why maternal autoimmunity can cause autism

Why can maternal autoimmunity cause autism in a child? Immune cells, called antibodies, that coordinate attack of the mother’s body in autoimmunity can be passed to the child. This can cause the child to be born with an autoimmune reaction already taking place in his or her body. In some case of autism, they are finding that these children are born with autoimmune attacks happening in the brain.

Evidence of this was demonstrated in a startling way when scientists injected one group of pregnant monkeys with antibodies taken from human mothers with autistic children. Another group of pregnant monkeys was injected with antibodies taken from mothers of neurotypical children. Compared to the control group, the monkeys who received the antibodies from mothers of autistic children gave birth to monkeys who grew to demonstrate atypical social behavior.

Manage autoimmunity before pregnancy

If you’re a woman who would like to get pregnant, it’s important to screen for and appropriately manage any autoimmune condition you may have. For instance, if you have Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, it’s not enough to just take thyroid hormone. If you leave the autoimmune component of your thyroid condition unchecked, it could lead to more autoimmune diseases and you are at risk of passing the autoimmune antibodies to your child.

Managing autoimmunity is a comprehensive dietary and lifestyle approach designed to regulate an overzealous immune system so it does not attack the body. People with unchecked autoimmunity tend to be in very inflammatory states. Autoimmune management involves a comprehensive diet to reduce this inflammation.

Sometimes chemicals or metals can trigger or exacerbate autoimmunity, so it’s good to screen for that as well with the Cyrex Array 11 Chemical Immune Reactivity Screen  This doesn’t tell you the quantity of chemicals or metals in your body like other tests, but rather whether your immune system is reacting to them. This is vital information when you have autoimmunity.

Lifestyle factors such as chronic stress, too little sleep, an unhealthy relationship, a job you hate, and other negative influences can also raise inflammation and provoke autoimmunity. These are important factors to consider as well when managing an autoimmune disease.

It’s vital to shore up your health, balance your immune system, and manage any known or undiagnosed autoimmune reactions before getting pregnant. This will increase the likelihood of having a neurologically healthy child. Ask my office for more pre-conception advice.

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