May 20, 2022

Paracetamol during pregnancy: a link with childhood depression?

Could there be a link between mothers taking paracetamol during pregnancy and later signs of depression in some of their children?

A study from the University of Auckland shows a “small but significant” statistical association.

Professor Karen Waldie and her colleagues analyzed data from Growing up in New Zealandthe largest longitudinal study in the country, involving 3,925 eight-year-old children and their mothers.

“Women shouldn’t be alarmed, but mounting evidence suggests that it may be wise to use as low a dose of paracetamol as possible for the shortest possible duration during pregnancy,” says the Professor Waldie, of the School of Psychology of the Faculty of Science.

The researchers extracted data from To grow study to investigate statistical associations between women’s health and lifestyle during pregnancy and later incidence of signs of depression in children.

The data came from mothers surveyed during pregnancy and, eight years later, from children surveyed for signs such as low mood, loss of appetite and trouble sleeping. (Most mothers were taking paracetamol.)

Using statistical methods to analyze the information, the researchers found four lifestyle and health factors during pregnancy that appeared to be predictive of later signs of depression in children.

They were:

  • Use of paracetamol (also including Panadol, which contains acetaminophen)
  • Being obese or overweight
  • Smoking
  • Stress

Individually, alcohol consumption, antidepressant use, and smoking during pregnancy were positively associated with childhood depressive symptoms (and folate and multivitamin use were protective). However, in the researchers’ final statistical model, which accounted for a range of variables, these factors did not remain statistically significant.

The study fuels research around the world on how exposure to certain nutrients and chemicals during pregnancy can affect children’s development. This “fetal programming” may work in part by affecting gene expression and function.

In September last year, a group of international scientists called for caution regarding paracetamol during pregnancy, citing epidemiological studies and experimental research suggesting that exposure could alter fetal development, increasing the risk of disorders neurodevelopmental, reproductive and urogenital.

Epidemiological studies have shown statistical associations between paracetomol and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorders, language delay in girls and lower intelligence quotient.

However, nothing is proven. Additionally, there are limited alternatives to one of the world’s most popular pain and fever medications, and the risks to mother and baby if the pain or fever is not controlled.

“We recognize that there are limited medical alternatives to treat pain and fever,” the international scientists said in the journal. Journals Nature Endocrinology. However, “the combined weight of animal and human scientific evidence is strong enough that pregnant women should be cautioned by healthcare professionals against its indiscriminate use, both as a single ingredient and in combination with other medications” .

Professor Waldie says she supports this statement.

A previous study from the University of Auckland reinforced the fact that taking paracetamol during pregnancy may increase the risk of ADHD-like behaviors in children.

The latest research is the first that academics at the University of Auckland are aware of to indicate a potential link between paracetamol and childhood depression.

The prevalence of depression in young people has risen rapidly over the past decade, Professor Waldie and his colleagues wrote in the research paper. “Existing research in the United States indicates that depression affects approximately 1% of preschoolers and 2% of children.”

Young people who suffer from depression are at increased risk for alcohol dependence, suicidal tendencies and impaired academic performance, according to academics.

Honors student Gisela Theunissen was the lead author of the paper.

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