Friday, August 06, 2010
Autism is 4-5 times more common in males than females. This observation led Simon Baron-Cohen to suggest that autism is caused by an extreme “male brain” which is in turn is caused by exposure to high levels of testosterone in utero. Research has shown that both males and females exposed to high levels of testosterone in the womb develop behaviors characteristic of autism. In my opinion, this is the best theory of autism that we have to date. In thinking about studies to test this theory I thought of a study that would test this theory, but was potentially harmful and could not be done. Then, this week to my surprise I read that if was being done--sort of anyway. Lupron is cancer drug, which blocks the body from making testosterone. Taking advantage of desperate parents, a group of doctors in South Florida are giving the drug to children with autism. But this is not a test of the extreme male brain theory. This is an attempt to remove mercury from the body, which is "believed" by some to be the cause of autism. There's no evidence that the Lupron removes mercury or that mercury is excessive in children with autism. Futhermore, there are significant health risk in giving Lupron treatments, which cost around $5000 a month, to children.