Summary: Women who consume tap water with higher lithium concentrations have a greater chance of having children who are subsequently diagnosed with autism. Researchers discovered that the likelihood of an ASD diagnosis increased along with the percentage of lithium in drinking water.
Higher Lithium Levels in Drinking Water May Raise Autism Risk
According to a recent study performed by a UCLA Health researcher, pregnant women whose household tap water had greater levels of lithium had a slightly higher probability of having children who were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
The research, which was released on April 3 in JAMA Paediatrics, is thought to be the first to link naturally occurring lithium in drinking water to an increased risk of autism.
According to lead study author Beate Ritz, MD, PhD, professor of neurology at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and professor of epidemiology and environmental health at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, “Any drinking water contaminants that may affect the developing human brain deserve intense scrutiny.”
“Groundwater contamination from lithium battery use and landfill disposal could lead to a rise in anthropogenic sources of lithium in water in the future.”
“Our study’s findings need to be repeated in other populations and regions of the world,” the authors write. “They are based on high-quality Danish data.”
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Certain lithium compounds have been used for a long time as a treatment for depression and bipolar disorders due to the mood-stabilizing properties of lithium. However, there is controversy over whether pregnant women can safely take lithium due to mounting data showing it raises the chance of miscarriage and may cause heart anomalies or malformations in babies.
Ritz, whose research focuses on how environmental exposures affect neurodevelopmental disorders and neurodegenerative diseases, said she decided to investigate the potential link between lithium and autism risk after learning that there had been little research in humans about how lithium affects brain growth and development.
But she discovered that some experimental studies suggested lithium, one of several naturally occurring metals frequently present in water, might have an impact on a crucial biochemical pathway related to neurodevelopment and autism.
Zeyan Liew, PhD, MPH, the first author of the study and assistant professor of epidemiology at Yale University School of Public Health, added that this study was crucial because earlier research from Denmark using high-quality medical registry data had already demonstrated that consumption of chronic and low-dose lithium from alcohol can affect the occurrence of adult-onset neuropsychiatric disorders.
Unfortunately, no research has been done to determine whether pregnant women’s water consumption of lithium impacts the neurodevelopment of their unborn child.
Ritz and Liew collaborated with Danish scientists who examined lithium concentrations in 151 public waterworks that serve almost half of the population of that nation.
The researchers analysed address data from Denmark’s extensive civil registry system to determine which waterworks served mothers’ residences at the time of their pregnancies.