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D.iet & H.ealth : C.hildren & W.omen Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Older fathers more likely to have autistic children
By Ben Wasserman
Sep 4, 2006, 17:21

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The paternal age may have a significant effect on a child’s risk of developing autism. Children fathered by older men are more likely to develop autism or related disorders than those fathered by younger men, a new study found.

According to the study, children fathered by older men were six times more likely to develop autism or related conditions than those by men younger than 30. Those fathered by men aged 30 to 39 were still at a four- times higher risk of autism than those fathered by men younger than 30.

The study "provides the first convincing evidence that advanced paternal age is a risk factor for autism spectrum disorder," the authors from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, and the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London were cited as saying.

In the study, published in the in September's Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers went through draft data on 130,000 Israeli young men and men at age 17 who were born in Israel during the 1980s that recorded any psychiatric disorders diagnosed by Israel draft officials.

While the father’s advanced age is linked to an elevated risk of autism, the mother’s age was not significantly associated with the risk. Nonetheless, a small effect from advanced maternal age can’t be excluded, according to the authors.

Autism spectrum disorder includes a group of developmental disabilities defined by significant impairments in social interaction and communication and the presence of unusual behaviors and interests, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in every 200 American children now suffer this condition, which was rare a couple of decades ago in the US.

Health advocates claimed that mercury loaded vaccines are the cause of autism. Observational studies found Amish children, who do not use vaccines, rarely have autism. But many medical experts even though not all of them dispute such an association.

The researchers of the current study suggested genetic mutations may attribute to the effect of paternal age on autism risk in a child. In earlier studies, other researchers observed mutations in sperm of older men. But not all older men necessarily have mutations in their sperm. Previous studies by others have also found that advanced paternal age was linked with lower intelligence scores and with schizophrenia, according to the Associated Press.

The results of the study are not the definitive answer for the high incidence of autism in the United States as it reflects merely an association between paternal age and autism risk in children. If this association proves in further studies to be a cause-effect relationship, then one question remains: Why autism was not as common in the past? Is it because of too much environmental pollution that promotes genetic mutations? Or something else?

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