Ultrasound exposure and autism? Could there possibly be a connection? This is a question several researchers are looking into now. Even the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is investigating the possibility of a connection between ultrasound exposure and autism, as well as other possible environmental causes of autism.
I interviewed Dr. Manuel Casanova, M.D., former Gottfried and Gisela Kolb Endowed Chair in Outpatient Psychiatry and a Professor of Anatomical Sciences and Neurobiology at the University of Louisville, in October 2011 and spoke to him several times afterwards about ultrasound exposure and autism.
Since 1996, Dr. Casanova has been involved in autism research.
His particular concentration has been on how autistic brains differ from the neurotypical brains and what factors might be triggering the rise in neurological disorders in children in America and so many other countries in the industrialized world.
For the past five years Dr. Casanova, a preeminent neuroscientist in his field, editor and peer-reviewer for several highly respected scientific journals, co-author of over 35 peer-reviewed papers, and a meticulous researcher, has been investigating whether or not ultrasound exposure could be one of the factors triggering neurological disorders.
He argues that ultrasound exposure and autism may be linked.
His research is not easy for the non-scientist to understand and I found myself interrupting him several times during our talks about ultrasound exposure and autism to ask him for clarification.
Below is most of the transcript from our first long interview.
This conversation about ultrasound exposure and autism, as well as about brain structure and function is pretty technical.
But I am publishing it here in its entirety with the hope that you’ll find it helpful.
Manuel Casanova: Initially I had to understand what was wrong with the brain before I could try to attempt to identify risk factors.
So a lot of our initial research was based on neuropathology—trying to study the brain and what is abnormally expressed within the same in patients with autism.
Once I understood the pathology, I could look at potential interventions as well as the causes.
JM: What are the most important things that you now understand about the pathology of the brains in people with autism?
MC: First of all, I approach everything from the standpoint of a neurologist, as a clinician.
When diagnosing a condition, a neurologist first tries to localize the pathology in the brain.
Autism is a condition of the cerebral cortex.
The language defects, socialization, and other deficits found in autism are best localized within the cerebral cortex (the outer rim of grey matter surrounding the brain).
What we found is that the units that provide for information processing within this part of the brain, in the cortex, which are called minicolumns, are abnormal.
JM: I don’t know what minicolumns are.
From the standpoint of systems theory, let’s say you have a system, which in this case I’ll say a car. That car is composed of different modules; it has tires, a transmission, alternator, exhaust, etc. It’s only when you put everything together that you have the emergence of a property that wasn’t there in the individual modules, and that’s locomotion—a nice drive. Okay?
JM: You’re saying there are all these different aspects you can isolate, if you are talking about a car or the brain. But when you take each aspect, whatever it’s doing individually, when you put it together it might do something you don’t expect.
MC: Not predictable, necessarily. If you had a tire by itself and you have never seen a car, you wouldn’t really know what its ultimate purpose was.
Within the brain we have multiple modules that we call minicolumns and depending on how you tie them together you have the emergence of multiple properties, that’s the way we have face recognition, joint attention, that we are able to process visual perception and things of that sort.
JM: Is a minicolumn actually a structure in the brain?
MC: The concept of minicolumns are derived from a very famous neuroscientist named Vernon B Mountcastle, who was an electrophysiologist.
His work was to impale the cortex with microelectrodes and then see the recordings of the cells that he had impaled.
He noticed that when he impaled the cortex perpendicular to the surface of the cortex and went straight down through the gray matter (like a birthday candle on a cake), every time he impaled a neuron, they all shared the same properties: they all had the same terminal fields for sensory perception, and once you stimulated a cell, all reacted together.
They were thus reacting as a unit.
Because they were acting together, as a unit, he decided to give them a name: “mini” because they are microscopic, they span a very small amount of tissue, like 25 microns to 60 microns, and “columnar” because if he impaled them tangentially all of those properties would disappear.
You can only have columns of cells that share the same properties vertically through the extent of the gray matter.
So those are the minicolumns, they are a module of information processing, and depending on how you connect them, it is how you get the emergence of higher cognitive functions: facial recognition, joint attention, theory of mind, you name it.
JM: What is joint attention?
MC: Joint attention is when, for example, you call attention to a child that he should be observing something.
If I am with a child and all of a sudden I notice something within the room, I gaze in that direction.
Because the child sees me, he will gaze his attention to what I am looking at.
It is attention shared between more than one individual.
It can be done reflexively. I can turn my face, look somewhere, and because I did so the child will imitate me. That quality appears to be abnormal in autistic children.
In terms of autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, practically any psychiatric condition—there wasn’t a lot known in regards to the pathological substratum of these conditions.
If you examine the microscopy of the cortex in patients with autism, for example, most people would believe that it’s completely normal. I realized one thing.
That we had the wrong paradigm in looking at the cortex.
Thomas S. Kuhn, a historian of science, a philosopher of science, he wrote the book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and he said that, “Science advances by introducing a new perspective at looking at an old problem.”
It’s not by incremental degrees but actually by introducing an ah ha moment, a eureka moment, a paradigm shift. I thought we needed something similar in terms of neuropathology.
We have a very neuron-o-centric approach to neuropathology.
We put the neurons and cells at the center of our diagnostic universe. We call things ‘abnormal’ primarily because cells are lost or diminish in size or stain differently.
What happens if the pathology escapes that level of resolution?
We need a paradigm shift in neuropathology of psychiatric conditions. One that looks at modules, at circuitry, rather than single cells. We therefore decided to study circuitry within the brain of patients with psychiatric conditions, primarily autism.
What we found is that the minicolumns that provide for information processing within the brain in autistic individuals are abnormal: there are more of them in autistic individuals AND they are constructed abnormally.
A lot of this research could not have been done before because in order to analyze the minicolumn, their numbers and size, you really need the eyes of a computer. The amount of reduction that we noticed in a minicolumn was like 10 – 12 percent. That’s something that the human eye cannot discern.
A minicolumn is a network of interconnected cells, maybe 80 to 100 of them, and then all of their connections and their projections.
JM: Is it possible to know where it starts and where it ends?
MC: Yes, but then you have to divide the cortex into Lamina. And then you would probably say that they extend all the way from Lamina 2 to Lamina 6.
JM: Why would there be more minicolumns instead of less, that seems counterintuitive to me?
MC: That’s in part where ultrasound comes into play. May I give you a small introduction to the ultrasound bit?
JM: Of course.
MC: Let’s talk about sound waves.
A sound wave is a wave that conveys a certain amount of energy and when it impinges on your tympanic membrane, it makes it vibrate, and it activates certain mechanisms that allow you to hear.
Ultrasound is a similar type of wave, whose energy deforms cell membranes.
There are certain cells within the body called mechano-sensitive that have a proclivity for being deformed, a vulnerability.
Their membranes are sensitive to deformation.
Ultrasound, this energy wave, preferentially affects those cells.
When it deforms the membrane of the cell, it activates mechanisms that have to do with cell growth and with cell divisions.
These cells tend to be the faster dividing cells within the body.
Many of these mechano-sensitive cells are stem cells. We know that this actually happens. There have been many studies.
You should be aware, for example, that the FDA has approved the use of ultrasound for bone fractures because it accelerates cell division, it accelerates healing of the bone.
So within the brain there is a nidus, a conglomerate, of stem cells in and around cavities which are called the ventricles.
These stem cells usually divide and migrate from the ventricular wall (this cavity in the center of the brain) all the way to the surface of the brain where they form the cortex, the gray matter that we were talking about before.
JM: That’s part of the process of human gestation, that brain cells migrate?
MC: It occurs during gestation.
When they migrate to the cortex, they follow a scaffolding, and they acquire a vertical orientation within the gray matter and from there they form minicolumns.
These cell divisions actually occur within the germinal zone (the germ cells surrounding the ventricles) at a higher rate in autistic individuals, providing for more migration of stem cells to the cortex and more minicolumns.
JM: That’s a hypothesis or that has been shown to be true?
MC: That’s our studies, we have several, one was an international study, that included people from Germany, from the Netherlands, we were all blinded to the results, I provided the analysis.
The study was published in Acta Neuropathologica.
It has all been reproduced and reported within the literature.
Within the brain of autistic individuals there appears to be something that promotes the division of these stem cells that surround the ventricles to divide supernumerary-wise, at a time when they shouldn’t be dividing.
That division provides for daughter cells that migrate to the cortex and acquire a vertical arrangement that we call minicolumns.
There are more minicolumns in the brains of autistic children than in normal but it all stems from the fact that something impinged on the germinal cells and caused them to divide.
JM: Caused them to divide more than they should have?
MC: Minicolumns are compartmentalized.
You have a central or core compartment that is provided by this radial cell migration to the cortex, and these are excitatory cells.
If they divide at a proper time, these cells migrate to the cortex where they mature in synchrony with another type of cell that migrates tangentially, these are inhibitory cells.
So normally you have a radial migration of cells to the cortex which is primarily excitatory and that’s coupled in a very fine ballet-like fashion with inhibitory cells that are moving tangentially through the cortex.
It has been said that these inhibitory cells provide a shower curtain of inhibition to the minicolumn. You know that a shower curtain keeps water inside of the bathtub.
If you have a defect in the shower curtain of inhibition, water will spill out of the bathtub.
If the radial migration is not coupled with the tangential migration of inhibitory cells then the minicolumns would have a faulty “shower curtain” of inhibition and information would no longer be kept within the core of the minicolumn, it would be able to suffuse to adjacent minicolumns and have an overall amplification affect. And actually the cortex of autism individuals is hyper-excitable and they suffer from multi-focal seizures.
One third of autistic individuals have suffered from at least two seizures by the time they reach puberty.
What we are proposing is that something impinges on the germinal cells, causes them to divide at a time when they should not divide. Cells migrate to the cortex but because it is at an anomalous time they are not synchronized with inhibitory cells, so there is an excitatory-inhibitory imbalance.
JM: When you say something “impinges” on the germinal cells, what you’re saying is something disrupts them, something changes them, moves them?
MC: It makes them divide when they shouldn’t.
JM: OK. In the normal migratory pathway of brain development, when we have cells that are migrating, they are also coupled with inhibitory cells. I’m not sure I understand this. Those cells are coming along?
MC: The cells meet them there in the cortex during the migration of both. They develop together.
JM: When we get there there’s this welcoming committee of cells that are going to keep us in place and keep us from spilling out to a part of the brain where we don’t want to be.
MC: Exactly. But if you force those cells to migrate when they aren’t supposed to migrate, there’s no welcoming committee.
MC: We have shown this to be true. We have gone as far as to validate the significance of the same.
Facts are only as valuable as you can apply to the patients.
We have used the findings to predict many things about autism that were unknown before and to explain clinical symptoms of the condition that are well known. This hypothesis has been validated scientifically in terms of its explanatory and predictive powers.
JM: OK. So now let’s go back to ultrasound exposure and autism.
MC: The other thing that you should know is that there are many things that may actually cause the germinal cells to divide abnormally.
JM: You mentioned several things in one of the papers I read. You said maternal infection, seizure drugs…
MC: The main thing is that if it was only the effect of genetics, since all the germ cells have the same genetic component, you would probably see abnormal migration everywhere throughout the cortex.
It’s only when you have an exogenous factor, like X-rays, that you see abnormal development and migration in the cortex in different areas of the brain in different organisms.
In terms of autism, you can actually see there is abnormal migration of cells to the cortex.
This group of cells cluster and come to rest where they shouldn’t even before reaching the gray matter. They actually stop their migration within the white matter.
So you have a small island of gray within the white matter (“heterotopias” in medical lingo).
In autism we find those islands of gray within the frontal lobe, but in the next patient it will be within the occipital lobe. The next patient may exhibit them within the cerebellum.
It’s almost like every single patient is different. And that goes along with environmental migration and abnormalities. That’s usually seen when something from the environment is the precipitant for those germinal cells to divide, and because it impinges differently on the germinal cells of different patients, you are going to have a different spectrum in terms of pathology.
But if these were only the effects of the genetics, since all of the germ cells have the same genetic component, you would see the same abnormal migration everywhere throughout the cortex. It’s only when you have an exogenous factor, like X-rays, you see.
In ultrasound, for example, the way I approach the fetus with my probe may actually vary from exam to exam. So the amount of energy that is impinging at any time in the germinal cell layer of the brain will vary.
Those were my initial thoughts about why ultrasound could be of significance in terms of autism.
Then the more you examine ultrasound and its epidemiology, the more proof you can draw of the same as a risk factor for autism.
Populations within the United States that don’t use as much ultrasound are at a lower risk, like the Amish.
The Somalis, where autism is practically unknown in their native countries, when they migrate to developed countries, they acquire a higher risk. This is not a property of being in this country.
Somalis also acquired a higher risk for autism if they move to other developed nations. Obviously, in these new surroundings, they are receiving more ultrasounds.
Many people believe that because having a child with autism confers a greater risk for having a sibling similarly diagnosed, that this is a genetic condition.
However, this could also be explained by ultrasound, as the mothers tend to go to the same OB-GYN practitioners.
Ultrasound may or may not be a risk factor.
That is something that research will tell us in the future.
And I am really not advocating to stop using ultrasound, it is a valuable tool, but rather for practitioners to adhere to existing safety regulations
Studies say that one third of all practitioners do not adhere to safety regulations.
One safety regulation is to never perform an ultrasound study during the first trimester in a non-risk pregnancy. No more than two in a low-risk pregnancy.
Right now one third of practitioners are using ultrasound during the first trimester and they don’t see anything wrong with that.
Alarmingly, about 40 percent of ultrasound equipment presently in use is defective.
One study from around 2009 took 700 machines from about seven different companies and they found defective transducers, the probe that you use to apply the ultrasound was defective in 20 to 70 percent of the equipment depending on manufacturer (the median was 40 percent.)
Furthermore, the end users do not know what they are doing. When asked to define the thermal index, the mechanical index, they did NOT know where to find it on the machine in order to provide an index of danger to the patient. Right now because it has been deregulated since 1993, people have been using ultrasound with a 7-fold to 8-fold increased energy without having done the proper safety studies.
Now we have a whole industry of 4-D ultrasounds, of fetal colorized reconstructions of babies using ultrasounds.
Now we have patients that buy their own equipment through Amazon and eBay, they are providing reviews for other patients, it’s not the physicians.
They are buying it themselves.
They really do not know what they are buying.
Ultrasound is actually also used in fetal heart rate monitoring. Those are being bought in a non-restricted fashion by the patients themselves.
We should voice some caution about what is happening within our society.
There have been many committees and organizations that have called for safety regulations, and they are not being followed as of present. We need more studies. Ultrasounds are being done without regards to the safety of the patients.
I have been to many ultrasounds.
The techs, who are well mannered and well-educated, at the end of the ultrasound session they ask the patients, “Wouldn’t you like to see more?” “Would you like me to take more pictures?”
They have no idea that they should be getting in and out within a certain defined period of time.
Author’s Note: Since this interview about ultrasound exposure and autism was published online there has been a significant amount of work done on ultrasound exposure and autism, particularly epidemiological studies. Autism may be caused by more than one environmental exposure, including acetaminophen and aluminum, a known neurotoxin. We don’t have definitive answers yet about ultrasound exposure and autism, but ultrasound exposure—particularly early exposure to ultrasound—may play a role in causing autism. The takeaway from this research on ultrasound exposure and autism is to AVOID prenatal ultrasounds as much as possible.
Readers, what do you think? Have you ever heard about this connection between ultrasound exposure and autism? Are you concerned about ultrasound exposure and autism?
Updated: January 2, 2020
I remember with my last pregnancy the at-home ultrasound and 4D imaging services were just beginning to gain popularity. Has the AAP issued any helpful guidelines on ultrasounds?
Brette Sember says
Fascinating. Why then, I wonder, did everyone think autism was linked to vaccines?
Autism is linked to vaccines, Brette, but it’s not the only link. One of my 5 is autistic, and I believe her many ultrasounds left her more vulnerable to the toxins in the vaccines.
Common Sense says
You don’t remember Andrew Wakefield? He was a fraud looking to make money off his “claims”. Hint hint.
Sarcasm? Ironically, other scientists and studies are now finding the very same links as Wakefield. I guess when a person tells the truth and no one believes him, he lets time prove him right. Whistle blowers always take a risk but at least they can sleep at night knowing they have done the right thing in coming forward. It’s just too bad they usually get their careers destroyed in the process.
there is ABSOLUTELY no link between vaccines and Autism. Thoroughly examined and debunked. It started with Wakefield and keeps rising back up like Jason in Friday the 13th movies. Please stop trying to resurrect this nonsense.
That’s not true.
Kathleen Vee says
For those with open minds check out all these doctors who connect vaccines with autism.
Even in light of this new potential information, the overall chemical load and immune response of today’s modern vaccination recommendations shouldn’t be taken lightly, nor the overall risks brushed aside just because it may not be the cause for Autism.
Every one is searching for a cause as it’s ridiculous to think that a subsection of our young spontaneously develop brain damage for no apparent reason, at a similar stretch. Just as many were able to decades later trace Polio to pesticide use, many will eventually discover the underlying conditions that result in ASD and many other previously never before seen on this level childhood problems and disabilities.
I’m sure there are many causes for autism, just like there are many causes for our modern cancer epidemic. I agree that we should use a cautious approach.
Vaccines contain aluminum. If you read this right to the end it says that ultrasound exposure may be just one of several environmental factors that cause autism. Exposure to aluminum may be another. So it may be a case of several triggers being necessary.
a friend’s child has recently been diagnosed with autism. in order to be supportive of them, I am learning more about the condition. while most of what you say here is concerned with prevention, several comments about the nature of autism were helpful to me, and I thank you for asking the doctor such thoughtful questions and reporting on his answers so well.
Then the more you examine ultrasound and its epidemiology, the more proof you can draw of the same as a risk factor for autism. “Populations within the United States that don’t use as much ultrasound are at a lower risk, like the Amish. The Somalis, where autism is practically unknown in their native countries, when they migrate to developed countries, they acquire a higher risk. This is not a property of being in this country. Somalis also acquired a higher risk for autism if they move to other developed nations. Obviously, in these new surroundings, they are receiving more ultrasounds.” The same exact thing can be said about vaccinations.
I would be interested in hearing how Dr. Casanova would hypothesize why the autism rate is 4 times higher in males than females and how ultrasounds might have a connection to that.
Males brains develop later. So although parents typically receive ultrasounds in specific window of gestation, male children will be developmentally behind females neurologically. This actually makes PERFECT sense as to why ultrasounds could be at the root of male fetal developmental problems as males at 4times higher for ASD, as well as ADHD, ADD, dyslexia and a host of other developmental disorders.
Thank you. I wasn’t even sure what group of words to use to narrow down a google search.
Male and female brains do develop differently in utero, perhaps that could explain it?
While I do agree we are causing damage with EMF and ultra-sounds are not good for a developing fetus, I cannot agree this is a sole cause of the epidemic we are seeing in Autism.
While it could be contributory, I am not convinced this explains the many facets of this condition. Correlate a graph of the rise in Autism cases against the increases of various suspects such as toxic water, air, clothing, chemicals, metals, vaccine quantities given, number of ultrasounds, etc.
The physician is not claiming that ultrasound is the only factor and is also not advocating banning all ultrasounds. He’s merely advocating better regulation of the practice considering the positive evidence of ultrasound being one possible cause of autism. The numbers of ultrasounds done in the USA is absurd. It’s used for reasons that have nothing to do with the health of the child, but to satisfy curiosity. I seldom hear of a newly pregnant woman these days who hasn’t already gone and had an early routine ultrasound though she has no indication of a problem. Practically speaking, the overuse of ultrasound, and other unnecessary medical tests, is also causing health care costs to rise
Common Sense says
Yet do you see the Amish or Somalis as CEOs of corporations, professional athletes, government officials, lawyers or doctors? Maybe after they move to a more industrialized community and get prenatal ultrasounds that their second or third generations may accomplish such greater accomplishments.
Considering there is more proof of phenomenal increase, and
degradation of mental and physical anomalies in ‘first world’ countries, in comparison to extremely rural areas, I would conclude the entire opposite – we need to be more cautious and demand more testing of the many scientific and medical advancements that have apparently shot European civilisation into a seemingly different dimension in the future.
One cannot deny that there is a clear increase of certain medical issued that have arrived along with these brilliant – but, still relatively new, scientific advancements. (Autism Spectrum, ADHD, bipolar, schizophrenia, … You rarely hear of these mental diseases in 3rd or 4th world countries.)
One should also note that, as with many large pharmaceutical companies, doctors are often paid more when they make use of a Sonar/Doppler. They have an incentive to turn a blind eye.
They already do, with so many dangerous medications that they get paid to prescribe and basically promote.
Nevertheless, I have lived in a 4/5th world country for 4years now, my 3 sons are unvaccinated, and they are thriving.
That might be God’s Grace, or it might have something to show for over-vaccinated 1st/2nd world nations and their increase in Autism and ADD… Etc.
There is a problem with spinal eruptions – but I’m sure more folic acid will help in prevention of this. Yet, the locals do not enjoy vinegar. Which is something Europeans use quite regularly.
Common Sense says
I would tend to believe the vitamin D deficiency theory that causes autism more than this ultrasound theory. Have you come upon this in your research for autism?
I don’t personally believe that someone will ever be able to prove that X is the only cause. It’s ASD for a reason as the overall symptoms can vary. I believe that this will be traced back to a variety of colluding problems such as Vit D, ultrasounds, vaccinations, prenatal toxicity, folic acid, paternal MTHFR genetic defects, prenatal food additive exposure, ect.. with each playing a role to the overall prognosis of the baby.
Could it be that there is a cumulative affect on babies? Babies are exposed to many things including vaccines (via mom or at birth), Pitocin in labor, ultrasounds and environmental toxins. The Amish also have home births and do not vaccinate, in addition to not receiving ultrasounds. They are probably less exposed to GMOs and environmental toxins as well. I think parents can start by only doing what is necessary for their child. More than one u/s is not usually necessary. Breastfeeding and spacing out vaccines. Avoiding drugs in labor unless medically indicated and eating organic foods are all a great start. Something is affecting our kids and the important thing is to ask questions. It is frustrating when parents are ridiculed for asking questions.
Natalie B. says
I really like your response. I do feel like people are ridiculed for simply asking questions and wanting a dialog with the medical community. People want to shrug off some of these concerns, claiming that there are so many factors outside of our control that it’s pointless to try and do anything about any of them. If autism, or cancer or other health issues are a result of death by a thousand paper cuts, then why wouldn’t we try to avoid as many cuts as we can? Maybe taking the steps you suggest will have an overall (statistically) positive effect. I don’t understand why some people are so hostile to that idea.
Frango Mint says
Regarding the comparison of autism risk in Somalia vs developed countries – what are the chances of ANY child being diagnosed with autism in Somalia, where there is relatively little access to pediatric care in general? Of course there will be more diagnoses when a family moves to a more developed country. Developed countries have a lot of things that Somalia doesn’t have, including ultrasound (and microwave ovens and high speed internet and air conditioning and my personal favorite, clean drinking water) but that doesn’t mean those things are responsible for causing autism.
Living in a very rural village which has now grown to a small town, in Africa, I can tell you that I have seen far more mentally disturbed people and children in developed countries.
Yes, there are cases of mental illness, which is most often result of FAS. Working alongside missionaries and meeting with people of many villages has given me a picture that depicts less mental and physical degradation, compared to US/UK.
And you could argue that this is due to lower population, yet, it is clear to me that, within my internet ‘birth groups’ from my three sons, alone, that there is a higher number of anomalies in the developed world vs undeveloped.
Infant deaths are high here due to malaria, dengue, and such… But, mental illness is vary rare.
Even in the hospitals and prisons.
Nevertheless, I would like to bring this up in conversation, with the chief, when I see him again. We touched on this subject last time we spoke, and he was also of the opinion hay most of (although still quite rare) cases of mental illness, was due to FAS. A growing issue here in rural Africa.
Lee Maurice says
I found this article to be very interesting. I work with a company, Nikken, that has become a “Trusted Partner” with Autism Speaks. Nikken has products, namely their alkaline water from their water system, the Waterfall & their Sleep System, comprised of a magnetic sleep pad that is laid upon a mattress, a special magnetic blanket & a magnetic pillow that have helped children with speech & sleeping issues. Nikken makes no medical claims. However, when non-verbal, sleep challenged autistic children use these technologies over a period of a few weeks many of them begin to speak measurably better & sleep more normally. The Nikken products are amazing & have helped improve the health of many people for more than 35 years! Everyone should be aware of the benefits these products provide.
I know of a woman, personally, who has 5 (FIVE) boys with Autism. She has never had a single ultrasound. She had natural home-births with all 5 boys and has never stepped foot in an OB-GYN office. Tell me, then, how all of her children have autism if ultrasounds cause it and she never had one???
David Blake says
While autism occurs without ultrasound exposure, ultrasound could potentially promote symptoms that lead to the eventual diagnosis. It has been proven that ultrasound can alter fetal development, although to what extent remains to be further investigated. If there is a link with autism, research must be performed.
Coincidentally, there are serious shortcomings in ultrasound regulation that need to be addressed for safety reasons. There’s a petition at this website that discusses this more — please consider reading it if you are interested in this subject:
Dr. Carol Phillips says
Was your friend monitored at each office visit with a Doppler? (that’s ultrasound) Did she get monitored during labor and deliver with an EFM? (that’s ultrasound)
Was her mother monitored during her delivery? (that would have ultrasounded her little ovaries and all of her eggs for all future generations-the 5 boys)
Did she ever have an ultrasound of her ovaries by a GYN? (that was ultrasound).
Has she read “Healing the symptoms of Autism” by Kerri Riveria…..could change their lives!
Will take a look at the book mentioned.
I wonder if ‘Wi-Fi’ could cause the same disruption?
Works with the same principal of sound waves..
Off to do some research 🙂
Jennifer, what is your motivation for posting this kind of thing? You must realise that some gullible women will actually believe it, forego their ultrasounds, and have their babies pay the price.
Is it because the autism-vaccine link has been so thoroughly debunked that even you can’t keep on beating that dead horse, so you feel the need to move on to the next thing?
It’s the same as with the vaccines: 99.9% of doctors believe in ultrasounds. I had 3 official ones during my pregnancy, and several more off the record, done myself or by friends/collegues. Every doctor and doctor’s wife I know had ultrasounds and vaccinates.
You may find this hard to believe, but we doctors are all real human beings just like you. We want only the very best for our children, and that’s why we vaccinate and have ultrasounds.
Which do you believe to be more likely: that we are all capable of knowingly harming our children to serve a dark conspiracy, or that we do these things out of love because we honestly believe they are for the best?
You can’t cover up these facts by interviewing the 0.1% on your blog and presenting their word as gospel.
The vaccine-autism link has not been “thoroughly debunked”.
For anyone who has multiple ultrasounds and fully vaccinated children who go on to be perfectly healthy: that is an awesome and wonderful thing. However, there is, obviously, a subset of more vulnerable children. Whether it’s due to mitochondrial dysfunction, autoimmune issues or other factors, the horse is far from dead. http://healthimpactnews.com/2013/30-scientific-studies-showing-the-link-between-vaccines-and-autism/
Ratiomom, what is your motivation to so completely dismiss ultrasound as being a cause of harm to a fetus? Why do you categorize women that forego ultrasound exams as gullible? Most often, no harm whatsoever will come to the baby for having foregone an ultrasound exam.
Where does the statistic that 99.9% of doctors believe in ultrasound come from? I am not even certain what it means to believe in ultrasound. In one study on sensitivity of the exam, ultrasound was able to detect major fetal malformations about 1/3 of the time before the fetal age of 22 weeks. By 32 weeks that detection rate increased to about 2/3 of the time. Ultrasound images are not as clear as those you take with your I Phone; if seeing is believing, there is a lot that cannot be seen with ultrasound.
Just remember that an ultrasound is the result of sending sound energy into someones body and making images from energy being reflected back. The energy that is not reflected back, is absorbed by the person’s body. What happens to that energy is the question that Dr Casanova has raised. When you realize that ultrasound has been approved by the FDA for treatment of Parkinson’s disease by destroying certain brain cells with focused ultrasound, it does not take a great leap in understanding to conclude that ultrasound energy has the potential to cause damage. What if it just nudges a germinal matrix cell out of its designated place? Will it return where it should have been? Will the new location/environment cause it to behave differently from how it would have in its proper place? Perhaps a messenger molecule inside the cell is dislodged from where it should be, what then?
I agree that we doctors are human beings and we want the best for our children. That’s why this radiologist, (who makes a living interpreting ultrasound exams), limited his kids’ ultrasound exams and delayed them into later pregnancy. In retrospect, knowing that in the study mentioned earlier, only about 3% of ultrasound exams were abnormal, I would likely skip the exam altogether unless there were some other reason to suspect a problem. If it were necessary I would make certain that the exam be done observing the As Low As Reasonably Achievable, (ALARA), ultrasound energy dose.
Better fix the misspelling of ‘shift’.
This article leads one to wonder what other developing fetal organs are affected by ultrasonography. Intestines, for instance, especially structures related to food sensitivities.
David Blake says
Hormone regulatory sites are a potential target. Since a common use for ultrasound is sex determination, this could affect testosterone levels as the gonads are tied to its regulation.
This paper discusses ultrasound treatment affecting testosterone levels of rats:
Thanks, I read through this last night. Quite interesting
Can you provide the link please?
Alisa Bowman says
I remember all the 3/4D “peek inside and see your baby” type things becoming in vogue when I was pregnant. Rather than using it as a diagnostic tool, these were clearly used more for sight seeing. I think there are probably some good reasons to ultrasound, but it also can be mis-used and can lead to misdiagnosis, especially when it’s used to judge the size of things. For instance, the docs kept telling me that my baby had a big head due to the ultrasound results. This could have been interpreted as a sign that my baby had Downs. I ignored them every time they told me the head was too big. I gave birth to a perfectly normal baby with a perfectly normal head–not too big, not downs, not anything out of the ordinary. On the other hand, a friend’s baby’s heart condition was diagnosed in the womb (I think) with ultrasound.
Thank you, Jennifer, for a very interesting post. I find it particularly interesting given Dr Russell Baylock’s research on the effects of aluminum, an excitotoxin, on the developing brain. Please continue your informative pieces. For far too many things, as a society we are quick to assume they are good, necessary and benign, even though we actually don’t know it to be true. Change from the status quo can be frightening and scary, even if that change is for the better. As for doctors, I don’t believe they do intend harm, however far too few question the protocol put forward by their respective organisations – they follow the party line and given the many influences on these organisations, that can be dangerous. Thank you for providing information that helps us to ask important questions and thus make informed decisions.
Jim West says
Yes, statistics show no greater result for ultrasound vs no-ultrasound. However, ultrasound gives the opportunity for an early, more facile, and more ethical abortion. That may be the crux argument for ultrasound. How can that be handled?
That is debatable. The fact that you cannot hear the child (or ‘fetus’ for legal maleability of past laws/ human rights degradation/ moral deflection) scream, doesn’t make it ethical.
Jim West says
PREFERRED VERSION: Yes, statistics show no greater result for ultrasound vs no-ultrasound. However, where there is a severely defective fetus, ultrasound gives the opportunity for early detection, and then a more facile, and more ethical abortion. That may be the crux argument for ultrasound. How can that be handled?
Interesting article. I am sceptical when it comes to ultrasounds because of these reasons.
Could anyone possibly point me to a website or give me info regarding what type of questions to ask my doctor regarding his equipment and what is the alloted amount of time to be spent on one scan? I am up for my ” fetal assessment at 20 weeks” next week. Hmmmmm.
Any advice will be welcomed.
Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D. says
Sorry for the delay in responding Dominique. There are these three videos on YouTube done by a scientist named David Blake: https://youtu.be/wuxu3pc3f7k I think they are very helpful. A chapter of my book, Your Baby, Your Way, concerns ultrasound and it will also give you a good sense of what is at stake and what kind of questions to ask. The Kindle version is here: http://www.amazon.com/Your-Baby-Way-Pregnancy-Childbirth-ebook/dp/B008J4KZH2/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=
Someone needs to write an article like the one you are looking for! I don’t know of any that have been written yet. I wish I had time to do this before your 20-week scan. If you find something helpful, please come back and share it with us. And if you end up generating your own list of questions, I would love to see it.
Remember that ultrasound–like every intervention during pregnancy–is optional. It is your choice. If you do not want to do it, you do not have to. You can simply say, “No, thank you,” or you can choose to do it and ask to have it done as quickly as possible.
What type of ultrasound is used for non stress test? Is it pulsed doppler or something else? How dangerous is it? It typically lasts 20-30 minutes and is requested weekly for high risk moms (sometimes 2x week).
Manuel Casanova says
The so called non stress test has medical indications for its use. In some cases the baby may be overdue or not moving. Considering that it is usually done after 28 weeks and it does not focus on the brain (having stem cells surrounding the ventricles) the benefits seem to outweigh any potential side effects.- Answer by Manuel
Ratiomom, what is your motivation to so completely dismiss ultrasound as being a cause of harm to a fetus? Why do you categorize women that forego ultrasound exams as gullible? Most often, no harm whatsoever will come to the baby for having foregone an ultrasound exam.
Where does the statistic that 99.9% of doctors believe in ultrasound come from? I am not certain what it means to believe in ultrasound. In one study on sensitivity of the exam, ultrasound was able to detect major fetal malformations about 1/3 of the time before the fetal age of 22 weeks. By 32 weeks that detection rate increased to about 2/3 of the time. There were 3.5% of the babies with abnormalities – more than 96% were normal. Ultrasound images are not as clear as those you take with your I Phone; if seeing is believing, there is a whole lot that cannot be seen with ultrasound, a lot to not believe in.
Just remember that an ultrasound is the result of sending sound energy into someones body and making images from energy being reflected back. The energy that is not reflected back, is absorbed by the person’s body. What happens to that energy is the question that Dr Casanova has raised. When you realize that a treatment, approved by the FDA for Parkinson’s disease, uses focused ultrasound energy to destroy certain brain cells, it does not take a great leap in understanding to conclude that ultrasound energy has the potential to cause damage. What if it nudges a germinal matrix cell out of its designated place in a first trimester baby? Will the cell return to where it should have been? Will the new location and chemical environment cause the cell to develop differently from how it would have in its proper place? Perhaps a messenger molecule inside the cell could be dislodged by that energy from where it should be, improperly stopping or starting a chain of developmental events, what then?
I agree that we doctors are human beings and we want the best for our children. That’s why this radiologist, (who makes a living interpreting ultrasound exams), limited his kids’ ultrasound exams and delayed them into later pregnancy. In retrospect, knowing that in the study mentioned earlier, only about 3% of ultrasound exams were abnormal, I would possibly skip the exam altogether unless there were some other reason to suspect a problem. If it were necessary, I would make certain that the exam be done observing the As Low As Reasonably Achievable, (ALARA), ultrasound energy dose principle.
When I was pregnant with my second child, I read a study that showed that prolonged exposure to high energy ultrasound caused brain damage to rat fetuses. There were no such studies in humans (obviously) but it made me worry and therefore I avoided ultrasound scans with my baby boy. I went for one anomaly scan – they tried to do one of those 3D/4D scans but I know that those use higher energy than normal 2D scans, so I insisted on a 2D scan and also spoke with the radiologist beforehand to share my concerns. She understood me perfectly and did a very quick 5 minute scan, focusing only on things that could be addressed e.g. if the baby has 6 toes on one foot, it doesn’t make a difference to me so I asked her not to check. Ultrasound is a form of energy and energy can be transferred from one form to another. Therefore, ultrasound can cause heating which I believed was the mechanism of of damage, but now I see there may be other ways of causing damage.
In the 5 minute scan, my 20week baby, who was nice and calm beforehand, started jumping around like crazy, and didn’t stop for the next few days. I felt that the ultrasound was painful to him in some way. I regretted getting the ultrasound as my pregnancy had been low risk. There was nothing wrong with my baby. He’s perfect. If I ever get pregnant again, there will be no ultrasound scans unless necessary. He’s almost 3 now and no signs of autism. He’s completely unvaccinated also (my older child suffered a side effect from a vaccine and we stopped after that).
Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D. says
Thank you for sharing this story. It’s hard for us, in the very medicalized culture we live in now, to trust our intuition. There is very little reason for a low-risk mom to have an ultrasound. Wombs don’t come with a view. If it’s clinically necessary, there will almost always be an indication that something is wrong (slow fetal growth, spotting, pain, etc.) But ultrasounds have become so normalized that women who don’t want them are seen as almost crazy…