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Controversial Study Suggests Circumcision May Double the Risk of Autism

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Posted January 19, 2015

New research has found that circumcised boys are more likely to develop Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD) before the age of ten.

Researchers from Denmark found a link between infant circumcision and autism. Image credit: PublicDomainPictures via pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain.

Researchers from Denmark found a link between infant circumcision and autism. Image credit: PublicDomainPictures via pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain.

The study, conducted by Morten Frisch and Jacob Simonsen, looked at the data on over 340.000 boys who were born in Denmark between 1994 and 2003.

What they found was that circumcision raised the overall chance of ASD before the age of ten by 46 per cent, and if the procedure took place before the age of five, the risk doubled.

Lead author Morten Frisch from the Statens Serum Institut, Copenhagen, said: “Our investigation was prompted by the combination of recent animal findings linking a single painful injury to lifelong deficits in stress response and a study showing a strong, positive correlation between a country’s neonatal male circumcision rate and its prevalence of ASD in boys.”

Despite the fact that most circumcision procedures are now accompanied by pain relieving medication, they could still be painful.

“Today it is considered unacceptable practice to circumcise boys without proper pain relief. But none of the most common interventions used to reduce pain completely eliminates it and some boys will endure strongly painful circumcisions.”

Both animal and human models have shown that early painful experiences are strongly associated with long-term alterations in pain perception – a trait often seen in autistic children.

“Possible mechanisms linking early life pain and stress to an increased risk of neurodevelopmental, behavioural, or psychological problems in later life remain incompletely conceptualized.”

Frisch argues that this data should spur his fellow scientists to look into the possible connections between neonatal circumcision and ASD more closely.

“Given the widespread practice of circumcision in infancy and childhood around the world, our findings should prompt other researchers to examine the possibility that circumcision trauma in infancy or early childhood might carry an increased risk of serious neurodevelopmental and psychological consequences.”

However, results of the study have already been questioned by the medical community and some religious groups.

Professor Jeremy Turk, a psychiatrist at Southwark Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Neurodevelopmental Service, claims that “one cannot draw very strong conclusions from the data” because the study is not causal.

“[… ] many cases of autism are missed until children are older and as there are relatively few cases of autism this could easily skew the data.”

Dr. Rosa Hoekstra from the Open University proposed an alternative interpretation of the data: “Boys with symptoms of autism who undergo circumcision by a medical professional may have their symptoms recognised as autism more often, and at an earlier age, than boys who are not circumcised and who may therefore fly under the radar of medical professionals.”

And Professor David Katz of the University College London claims that “there is a long history of attempts to link autistic spectrum disorders to unrelated practices.” He pointed out that the higher prevalence of ASD in circumcised boys may also be due to a genetic factor within the faith communities or a widespread environmental toxin – neither of which have been taken into account by the researchers.

Findings of the study appeared in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

Sources: study, dailymail.co.uk, telegraph.co.uk.

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