Painkillers Caused The Autism Epidemic?

We all know I enjoy abnormal theories.  Maybe I will one day learn that all theories are not created equal. For now, I will embrace my love for underappreciated theories!

What do you do when the newborn is in pain? Honestly, I feel that Mothers can detect that awful “pain” cry a mile away. If you yelled Acetaminophen, the compound in Tylenol®, then you are correct!!!  Tylenol is given  to newborns after vaccines, when the baby runs a fever, if the baby has a small cough, a sore throat, a cold, the flu, ear infections, when the baby is teething…The list could go on and on. Has anyone ever thought about the ramifications of giving babies that much Tylenol?

In Good (2009), the idea that Acetaminophen overdose could have provoked the Autism epidemic was explored. Good explains that Acetaminophen overdose could insult the liver detoxification system in babies. Apparently people fall asleep when I go into details about these things.   So let me be brief. As explained by Good, Acetaminophine is oxidized to a toxin (N-acetyl-p-benzoquinone imine). This compound is secreted as waste after it is detoxified by a potent antioxidant called glutathione. Fortifying children with Acetaminophine depletes sulfate and glutathione. As a result, children are unable to effectively excrete toxic species from their body. Good also cites evidence on Autistic episodes and how they are triggered by foods high in amines. Compounds like glutathione are required  to detoxify and secrete these amines. If there is a problem in the liver detoxification process then Autistic children would probably have experience exacerbated reactions to these foods. It also seems like these compounds could easily cross the BBB and insult the brain. Furthermore, it is possible that the higher concentration of toxic compounds in the blood would trigger some sort of immune system dysfunction. You all know where this is going, right? Neuroimmune system dysfunction is one symptom of Autism.

This hypothesis could also explain the hyperserotonemic characteristic in some Autistic patients. First off, some of the same compounds (glutathione and sulfur) are involved in other pathways that methylate genes. If genes that encode monomaine oxidases are not turned on, Autistic children become hyperserotonemic. If the serotonin cannot be broken down, this hyperactive state could exacerbate cytotoxic symptoms.

As Good points out, we should also consider situations where the mother takes Acetaminophen during pregnancy. It is a possibility that this drug could make matters worse for babies who have genetic predispositions.

If anything, this theory proves that we are still relatively uncertain about the etiology of Autism. The question remains… Can we blame it on the pain killers?

I leave this theory with a graph:


Think about It!



3 thoughts on “Painkillers Caused The Autism Epidemic?

  1. A new study in Nature states ” Our findings suggest that chemicals and genetic mutations that impair topoisomerases could commonly contribute to Autism Spectrum Disorder and other neurodevelopmental disorders”. Acetaminophen’s toxic metabolite NAPQI is a strong topoisomerase inhibitor. Acetaminophen has a very low therapeutic index, meaning it is easy to overdose and have it convert to NAPQI. Do not take acetaminophen if you are pregnant and do not give it to young children.


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