Autism remains a hot-button health issue among parents and medical professionals alike, due to a lack of understanding about the neurodevelopmental disorder and its potential causes. New research that suggests a correlation between in-vitro fertilization and an increased risk of autism has sparked additional controversy and concern.
The Doctors are joined by internist and Fox News correspondent Dr. Marc Siegel to weigh in on a Columbia University study, which was published in American Journal of Public Health.
The extensive study focused on nearly 6 million children born in California between 1997 and 2007 and concluded that those conceived via assisted reproductive technology could have a higher risk of developing autism; however, the findings did not prove a cause-and-effect link — only an association.
“This is not proof, and any time you bring autism in, there’s a shock value. Everyone looks at it,” Dr. Siegel says. “The truth is that IVF is extremely helpful, and actually, as part of in-vitro fertilization, they look over the genetics of the egg. I think the take-home message here, which gets lost a lot of the time, is it’s about how many embryos you should put in at one time. They find that with multiple embryos and multiple births, there’s a higher risk of complications.”
OB-GYN Dr. Jennifer Ashton concurs with Dr. Siegel’s assessment and discusses the challenges of verifying adverse health effects of assisted reproductive techniques, particularly with regard to autism. “You don’t know whether it’s the in-vitro process that can potentially introduce these harms or is it what is causing the infertility in the first place, and is that a factor? Association is not the same as causation. That’s so important for people to understand,” Dr. Ashton says.
To clarify, Dr. Ashton stresses that the Columbia study should not be disregarded, but rather further researched. “That’s the first step: Is there an observation? Is there an association? And then, finding out why, and we don’t know why yet,” she says.