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A large study found that using antidepressants during the second or third trimester of pregnancy increases the risk that the child will have autism by 87%,  especially if the mother takes selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). A drawback was that the study looked at associations rather than actual cause (which would have meant randomly assigning women to either treatment or no treatment - which is unethical). From Medical Xpress:

Taking antidepressants during pregnancy increases risk of autism by 87 percent

Using antidepressants during pregnancy greatly increases the risk of autism, Professor Anick Bérard of the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine children's hospital revealed today. Prof. Bérard, an internationally renowned expert in the fields of pharmaceutical safety during pregnancy, came to her conclusions after reviewing data covering 145,456 pregnancies.

"The variety of causes of autism remain unclear, but studies have shown that both genetics and environment can play a role," she explained. "Our study has established that taking antidepressants during the second or third trimester of pregnancy almost doubles the risk that the child will be diagnosed with autism by age 7, especially if the mother takes selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, often known by its acronym SSRIs." Her findings were published today in JAMA Pediatrics.

Bérard and her colleagues worked with data from the Quebec Pregnancy Cohort and studied 145,456 children between the time of their conception up to age ten. In addition to information about the mother's use of antidepressants and the child's eventual diagnosis of autism, the data included a wealth of details that enabled the team to tease out the specific impact of the antidepressant drugs. 

"We defined exposure to antidepressants as the mother having had one or more prescription for antidepressants filled during the second or third trimester of the pregnancy. This period was chosen as the infant's critical brain development occurs during this time," Prof. Bérard said. "Amongst all the children in the study, we then identified which children had been diagnosed with a form of autism by looking at hospital records indicating diagnosed childhood autism, atypical autism, Asperger's syndrome, or a pervasive developmental disorder. Finally, we looked for a statistical association between the two groups, and found a very significant one: an 87% increased risk." 

The findings are hugely important as six to ten percent of pregnant women are currently being treated for depression with antidepressants. In the current study, 1,054 children were diagnosed with autism (0.72% of the children in the study), on average at 4.5 years of age. Moreover, the prevalence of autism amongst children has increased from 4 in 10,000 children in 1966 to 100 in 10,000 today. While that increase can be attributed to both better detection and widening criteria for diagnosis, researchers believe that environmental factors are also playing a part.

"It is biologically plausible that anti-depressants are causing autism if used at the time of brain development in the womb, as serotonin is involved in numerous pre- and postnatal developmental processes, including cell division, the migration of neuros, cell differentiation and synaptogenesis - the creation of links between brain cells," Prof. Bérard explained. "Some classes of anti-depressants work by inhibiting serotonin (SSRIs and some other antidepressant classes), which will have a negative impact on the ability of the brain to fully develop and adapt in-utero".

Two articles which together point out that there are alternative approaches to the treatment of depression.

From Medscape: Patient Expectations Largely Dictate Antidepressant Response

People's expectations about how effective their antidepressant medication is going to be almost entirely predicts their response to it, such that giving patients a placebo pill as active therapy during an 8-week period results in very similar reductions in symptoms, new research shows.

Investigators at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that patients assigned to either active antidepressant therapy or placebo pills had better clinical outcomes than supportive care alone and that there was little difference between outcomes for the medication and placebo groups.

"Supportive interaction with the subject helped them get better, and antidepressant therapy helped them get better, but I think our key finding was that patients' belief in the effectiveness of medication was a unique factor that contributed to them getting well. So belief in the power or effectiveness of the medication may be a contributor to placebo responses in the treatment of depression."

From Science Daily:

Sport, physical activity help against depression

Depression is the most frequently diagnosed mental illness. In the western industrial nations, at least every tenth person suffers from depression once in the course of their life. Depression influences physical health more than diabetes or arthritis, clinicians say. Treatment of depression traditionally occurs with antidepressants and psychotherapy. But as research has shown, sport and physical activity partially encounters the same neurophysiological changes as antidepressants. That is why a large number of meta-analyses showed a positive effect of sport and physical activity on depression.

Sport and physical activity bring about various changes in the brain which are otherwise achieved only through drugs. Similar to sport and physical activity, drugs for treatment of depressions act on the brain's capacity to absorb serotonin. They strengthen the epinephrine activity and ensure the release of various factors for nerve growth. These factors promote cell growth in the brain and prevent the death of cells in the hippocampus which is otherwise caused by depression. Together with these changes, sport and physical activity also lead to a reduced activity of the stress hormone cortisol and therefore have an effect similar to psychotropic drugs.