While the number of children with autism increases—currently we’re at one in 50—researchers are trying to determine what factors contribute to its development. In a recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, researchers found that the risk of autism was increased by 43 percent in mothers with C-reactive protein (CRP) levels in the top 20 percent, and increased by 80 percent in mothers with CRP levels in the top 10 percent (the highest of the high).

CRP is a marker of inflammation. This new study suggests that an overactive immune response may affect fetal brain development during pregnancy. “Elevated CRP is a signal that the body is undergoing a response to inflammation from, for example, a viral or bacterial infection,” stated lead researcher Alan Brown, MD. “The higher the level of CRP in the mother, the greater the risk of autism in the child.”

They make sure to note that just because a pregnant women has elevated CRP doesn’t mean her child will develop autism, but only that it may increase risk. There are a number of factors that contribute to the development of autism, many of them still under investigation (and some of them controversial).

“The vast majority of mothers with increased CRP levels will not give birth to children with autism,” stated Brown. “We don’t know enough yet to suggest routine testing of pregnant mothers for CRP for this reason alone; however, exercising precautionary measures to prevent infections during pregnancy may be of considerable value.”

I talk about the role of silent inflammation in relation to a wide range of health conditions, and I like to highlight the gut as a main source of this inflammation. Indeed, intestinal infections and digestive symptoms are common in autism. And there is even more to the complex story underlying autism and its many contributing factors, inflammation being a common thread uniting many of these factors. Studies like these help to uncover the real story behind this troubling condition.