Disturbingly common drug increases autism risk by 90 percent

A new Canadian study found women who take one type of blockbuster drug during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy have a nearly 90 percent higher risk of bearing children who develop autism spectrum disorder. Meanwhile, doctors continue to hand out these pills like candy. I’ll tell you about that disturbing study in a moment. But first, let’s back up…

Looking for clues about autism problem

There are a lot of theories about what’s causing the massive increase in autism rates. Many believe childhood vaccines, and the increasing number of them, cause autism.

Another real culprit may be one step removed from the vaccines themselves. As I reported last year, a researcher named William Shaw, Ph.D., published compelling evidence linking autism to acetaminophen (Tylenol), often given to children (inappropriately) along with vaccines to reduce or prevent a fever.  (Of course, children who have a fever should never receive a vaccine in the first place.)

Another possible culprit?

Certain drugs given to women during pregnancy.

When we look at the epidemic of drugs given to pregnant mothers, I can’t help but wonder whatever happened to the old dictum I learned during medical training in the 1970s: The best drugs to give during pregnancy are no drugs at all.

Doctors and pregnant mothers used to bend over backwards to avoid any and all drugs. The mothers suffered and the doctors ruthlessly avoided prescribing all drugs except in the most intractable cases. It just wasn’t worth a lifetime of potential pain and suffering.

During the 1950s, the FDA earned kudos by refusing to approve Thalidomide, which caused birth defects in children of women who took the drug.

Thalidomide is very effective for difficult-to-treat, adult medical conditions — such as rheumatoid arthritis and leprosy. There are no major side effects in adults, unless that adult is a pregnant woman. But its “bad name” still interferes with using the drug where it could really do some good.

Ironically, when it comes to every other drug besides Thalidomide, doctors now throw caution to the wind. In fact, it seems the only thing many doctors know how to do is prescribe more drugs for everyone, pregnant mothers included.

And one of the worst examples is antidepressants.

Antidepressants get a free pass

Doctors seem downright afraid to take a women off an antidepressant during pregnancy. Whereas they should be afraid of the alternative…

In the new Canadian study I mentioned earlier, researchers found women who take antidepressants during pregnancy are more likely to have children with autism. The researchers followed 150,000 children. And they linked selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors — including Celexa, Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft — to an increased risk of autism.

The overall risk of a child in the study developing autism was about one percent of the almost 150,000 babies included the study. (In some populations, the autism rate is even higher than one percent. So other factors are likely involved too.) Yet the children of women who took antidepressants during the second and third trimesters were nearly 90 percent more likely to develop autism compared to the children of mothers who did not take the drugs.

Natural ways to treat depression during pregnancy

Today, most experts argue depression is a serious condition we should treat — even during pregnancy. And I agree.

Just don’t treat it with drugs.

Senior study author Anick Bérard said: “Depression needs to be treated during pregnancy but with something other than antidepressants in the majority of cases. The risk/benefit ratio is clearly leaning towards no use.”

Granted, experts link untreated depression during pregnancy with lower birth weight babies, as well as a higher rate of treatment in neonatal intensive care. Depressed women may not eat well or keep up with prenatal visits and care. Severe cases of depression are associated with suicide. (Although this study made no mention of the evidence linking antidepressants with an increased risk of violence, including suicide.)

But there are many safe and effective natural treatments for depression. For example, many women can manage depression during pregnancy with exercise. Traditional talk therapy — if you can find a therapist who still provides it — also works quite well. In addition, several effective “mind-body” techniques work remarkably well for depression and pain.

To find out which treatment will work best for you, you need to learn your “emotional type.” Take this short quiz to find out about your healing style. You can also read my book with Mike Jawer, Your Emotional Type.

And to learn more about the many other risks involved with antidepressants, see the upcoming March 2016 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. If you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.


  1. “Antidepressant Use During Pregnancy and the Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children,” JAMA Pediatr. 2016;170(2):117-124
  1. “Antidepressants taken during pregnancy increase risk of autism by 87 percent,” Research Gate (www.researchgate.net) 12/14/2015