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Older fathers may be linked to child autism
As many as 20 to 30% of cases of autism and schizophrenia may be because of the father’s advanced age, a new study found.
August 23rd, 2012
05:33 PM ET

Older fathers may be linked to child autism

The Empowered Patient is a regular feature from CNN Senior Medical News Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen that helps put you in the driver's seat when it comes to health care.

Women aren’t the only ones whose biological clocks are ticking: A new study on the genetics of autism finds the sperm of older men may be to blame for many cases of the disorder.

The study, done by researchers in Iceland, indicates that as many as 20-30% of cases of autism and schizophrenia may be linked to the father’s advanced age.  Unlike findings on disorders such as Down Syndrome, this study found that the age of the mother made no difference.

“This is really a paradigm shift,” said Dr. Jamie Grifo, program director of the New York University Fertility Center.

Traditionally, women have borne the brunt of concerns about having a healthy child as they age, while many men have assumed their sperm were no different at 80 than at 20.

“I had my babies at 38 and 39 and I was terrified,” said anchor Ashleigh Banfield on CNN Newsroom. “Honey, you’re in the conversation now. It’s not just me.”

Video: Older fathers may be linked to autism

While older men have an increased risk of fathering a child with autism, the risk is still low – 2% at the most for dads over 40, according to the new study.

The authors looked at random mutations in genes that are linked to autism and schizophrenia. Looking at 78 families, the researchers found that on average, a child born to a 20-year-old father had 25 random mutations that could be traced to the father’s genes. Children born to 40-year-old fathers had 65 mutations.

As men age, "Sperm will have acquired more mutations than when they were younger, which will increase the chance of children they father inheriting a disease-producing mutation,” said Richard Sharpe, who does research on male reproductive health at the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh.

One scientist said men might want to take a tip from some young women who freeze their eggs to use when they’re older.

“Collecting the sperm of young adult men and cold-storing for later use could be a wise individual decision,” wrote Alexey Kondrashov, a professor who studies evolution at the University of Michigan’s Life Sciences Institute.

With autism, no longer invisible


soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. TrueGrissel

    I've believed and have said this for the last 15 years or so. I knew I was right, and autism isn't the only disorder.

    August 23, 2012 at 17:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Untruegrissel

      Yep! You called it! A 2% increase in fathers over 40. Do you have any other miraculous predictions TrueGrissel?

      August 23, 2012 at 18:21 | Report abuse |
    • adasd

      78 patients does not make a pattern only news.

      August 23, 2012 at 21:26 | Report abuse |
    • pelekacz

      The most interesting question is: Who is sponsoring the research? Just because it is done offshore means nothing. Is it a diversion from areal causes of autism, like the preventive shots (flu), the genetically engineered food ridden with chemicals, etc.?

      November 26, 2012 at 19:34 | Report abuse |
  2. Stephen

    The effect of increasing mutations in children may have been an evolutionary advantage at some point given that men, on average tend to die young as the result of warfare and hunting accidents. An increase in mutagenic effects, while leading to an increase in risk for genetic diseases in children, has possible beneficial effects as well. Not all mutations are harmful.

    August 23, 2012 at 18:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Neonator

      Proof? Cancer is mutations as an example, So are genetic diseases. It sounds nice to say mutations are good, but any proof for that?

      August 23, 2012 at 20:39 | Report abuse |
    • Angela Birch

      Actually many mutations have been proven to be beneficial. Cancer is not the only mutation out there. There are mutations that actualy decrease your likelyhood of getting illnesses from AIDS to the ability to diagest milk to resistance to heart disease and Diabetes. There is also a genetic mutation about 20 thousand years old that decreases your liklyhood of becoming alcoholic. Beneifical mutations are mutations that help an organism survive or prosper. Mutations that are not beneficial are mutations that cause things like Cancer hemophelia and color blindness.

      August 23, 2012 at 22:50 | Report abuse |
    • exCONsrtv

      Evolution 101

      August 23, 2012 at 23:44 | Report abuse |
  3. C_Rizescu

    If we were to believe these figures than could we get a closer view over the research and statistics used in it? What was the initial number of cases that were taken in consideration for such study? Looking at the health history of just 78 families and then creating a furor with the finding of it is not what defines statistics!

    August 23, 2012 at 19:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Paul

    Sounds interesting but aren't all Islandic people related so consanguinity is an issue to start with ? After all is a small island with a small population ! It made the news because it has an undertone: stop these libidinous older men marring young brides. But even so the study shows a supposed change with increase paternal age from 28 to 33. Is a 33 years old man OLD ? What was the mothers age? Everybody in the last decades have postpone having children so it is not unusual and it does not mean that there is a danger to society of older man grabbing the craddle.

    August 23, 2012 at 19:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Billy Jay

      Paul? I strongly disbelieve that Iceland was a good place to do such a study. I once saw a show about Iceland and there seemed to be a lot of alcoholism there. If a 55-year old man has been getting drunk regularly since he was 12 years old, then naturally his sperms and everything else in his body is going to deteriorate with time. If this study had been done in Sweden or Ireland where most men over 40 are in healthy condition, I can be rest assured that the results of this study would have been much different.

      October 15, 2013 at 13:58 | Report abuse |
  5. dina

    I am a spec. ed. teacher of 10 primary autistic students. All of my students have parents aged 24 to 31. Hmmmmm .....

    August 23, 2012 at 20:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • HeavenLeigh

      Yep I find this study very inaccurate as my son is autistic and myself and my husband were 23 when we had him. Also knowing a few friends of autistic children the fathers were also very young.

      August 23, 2012 at 20:58 | Report abuse |
    • Lab Rat

      Whenever the word "study" is used, it must be taken with a grain of salt.Most often, a "study" is just another name for a scam and some very porr scientists that need to justify their research grants.

      August 23, 2012 at 21:33 | Report abuse |
    • Angela Birch

      Actually the study does not say that all austic children have older parents but just that the chances go up if the father is older.

      August 23, 2012 at 23:00 | Report abuse |
    • Billy Jay

      Yeah, Dina. It's junk science like a lot of other pseudo-intellectual garbage that comes out in the media in our country (the United States of America).

      October 15, 2013 at 14:04 | Report abuse |
  6. onlineposter

    Why can't mutations ever result in anything good, like superior strength, longevity, invisibility :)

    August 23, 2012 at 20:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Angela Birch

      They do result in longer longevity and strength, not invisibility unfortunately.

      August 23, 2012 at 23:09 | Report abuse |
  7. Carlos

    Oh boy, still trying to take the blame away from mercury, aluinium and all sorts of genetic material that they are throwing into vaccines.

    August 23, 2012 at 20:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JeremyH6

      Well, since those have been proven false, it would make sense to look elsewhere...

      August 23, 2012 at 22:40 | Report abuse |
  8. um facts

    The control group was a solid 78 families. From Iceland where everyone is related. It was irresponsible to spread this without having solid numbers behind it.

    August 23, 2012 at 21:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JeremyH6

      Almost as irresponsible as Wakefield's publications...

      August 23, 2012 at 22:41 | Report abuse |
  9. kojak555

    Makes sense to me, old sperm that has recycled more than usual will probably decrease the quality of the sperm. In other words men who ejaculate quite frequently via sex or masturbation will restart the recycling process of sperm replenishment in their bodies over and over again, this increases the chances of genetic mutations that may lead to birth defects and emotional disorders. As a man who's lived quite a full life with kids and has noticed friends and families with similar disorders when there is an older man in a relationship with a woman, I believe there is alot of truth to these findings. Bottom line is IMO, men who want to have kids after forty, should consider freezing their eggs in their twenties that can be used later in life to decrease the chances of the unwanted effects of these unhealthy disorders. Old school Players who are roamin the country acting like johnny appleseed should take heed in these findings.

    August 23, 2012 at 21:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • scarfyrre

      You have no idea how the human body works, do you? And BTW, men do not have eggs.

      August 23, 2012 at 21:30 | Report abuse |
    • kojak555

      Scarfyrre....Yes that was meant to be frozen sperm not eggs, glad your own top of things and in the future try not to be so over dramatic with your extreme perceptions. You should have gotten the point of my comment regardless.

      August 23, 2012 at 21:45 | Report abuse |
    • bioinf

      i got the same theory about that, but i coudnt find any paper about this in ncbi.

      June 25, 2013 at 14:57 | Report abuse |
    • Billy Jay

      It seems to me like this study is just another ego trip for all the social prima donnas in the American culture who had the luck of everything positive happening with them early in life. Kind of like a Mike Huckabee fixation that Americans have. If this study is supposed to be so accurate, then why didn't we hear about this in the 1970s? Even now I've heard nothing negative about David Letterman's child, Rene Angelis's youngest children, or Rod Stuart's youngest kid. Somehow American society thinks it's better for a young man to knock up his girlfriend at age 17 and then procreate children for them to be trapped in a vicious cycle of crime and poverty than for a man to wait until his forties or fifties to get married and have a family when he's more established as so many men do in England and in other English-speaking nations. I guess it's idiots like these scientists who are greatly responsible for close to half of our country being on welfare. Americans are fools to take any stock in these so-called experts. Never mind what they did in a laboratory. The evidence at wide is just not there.

      October 15, 2013 at 13:32 | Report abuse |
  10. Andy

    Who came up with this ridiculous study???? Not true in my sons case!! My husband was under 35!! Last time I checked that's not old!!
    Our son displayed the signs of autism at age 18 months. Right after his MMR shots...he had a bad reaction to it...but the mercury in the shots doesn't cause autism...yea, maybe it's the old dads fault!! (sarcasm)

    August 23, 2012 at 21:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • scarfyrre

      Most children that are autistic show at around 18 months because that's when they start to communicate with more than grunts and pointing. Children that haven't been vaccinated are autistic, too.

      August 23, 2012 at 21:32 | Report abuse |
    • kojak555

      Would never rule the vaccinations factor out...however, genetics, environmental etc may ALL play factors with autism.

      August 23, 2012 at 21:37 | Report abuse |
    • newsqueen123

      No one knows yet exactly what causes autism. It's still being studied. Paternal age could very well be a factor. Once upon a time, we only thought HIV was spread through sexual contact, while blood donations weren't screened because we didn't know then it could also be spread through blood...and later we learned breastmilk too. There are likely MANY factors that can cause autism, just because this one wasn't what caused your kids doesn't mean it didn't cause someone elses.

      August 23, 2012 at 22:32 | Report abuse |
    • Jcr

      "Not true in my son's case!"

      The only thing this study claimed is an increased probability. Your son's "case" is completely irrelevant. Take a stats class please.

      August 24, 2012 at 09:48 | Report abuse |
  11. cutedog2

    The study can spew out whatever drivel it wants, as long as people will start vaccinating their kids again.

    August 23, 2012 at 21:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. rick

    It makes sense that men are causing the Autism epidemic. The epidemic will be easy to solve. Men are microwaving their reproductive cells at close range, causing massive DNA fragmentation which in turn causes autism and a spectrum of disorders in their babies. How are men doing this? By keeping their mobile phones in their front pockets in the days before conception. See the science at:

    http://www.whyautismhappens.com

    Women, if you want healthy children, have your partner keep his cell phone away from his private area for at least 30 days before you try. Those 30 days can make the difference of a lifetime.

    August 23, 2012 at 22:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Billy Jay

      Rick? I have never used cell phones. Therefore, I guess I will have a better chance of fathering healthy children when I'm 57 or 67 years old, then these 21 to 35-year old men who spend 99 percent of their life on their cell phone. It might explain why we never heard about this so-called study back in the 1970s or anything of the sort happening.

      October 15, 2013 at 13:38 | Report abuse |
  13. Mike

    I looked on Wikipedia to see what causes Autism. Here's what they have so far Genetics, Prenatal environment, Infectious processes, Environmental agents, Other maternal conditions, Other in utero, Perinatal environment, Postnatal environment, Opiate Theory, Mercury, Vaccines, Thiomersal, MMR vaccine, Autoimmune disease, Viral infection, Excessive hygiene, Oxidative stress, Amygdala neurons, Locus coeruleus–noradrenergic system, Lack of Vitamin D, Lead, Leaky gut syndrome, Paracetamol, Rain, Refrigerator mother, Social construct, Evolutionary psychology, and now we have "Older Fathers may be linked to Autism"... Can you say "Quackery"...

    August 24, 2012 at 02:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • katesisco

      I looked at cord clamping on WIKI and it said: medical industry recommends delayed cord clamping, and I thought, Good, Wiki is coming out with the position of natural blood flow until the placenta stops pulsing, but NO, reading further I see that the quoted delay is 3 minutes. That is not a delay, it is merely pushing the baby's feet out of the way to cut the cord.
      I would like to see the medical industry forbidden to use the word 'delay' in cord clamping unless it applies to over 60 minutes. This co-opting of the word 'delay' kicks the legs out from under the opposition advocating natural childbirth as delaying cord cutting until the placenta is birthed or the cord stops pulsating is norm.
      Medical infor is on the web giving information as to the amount of blood collected by medical intervention of the birth process. The blood needed for the child is stolen for profitable medical research as even Wiki admits that the amount is insufficient to help the child as adult. The purpose? Experimentation.

      January 14, 2013 at 10:21 | Report abuse |
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    August 24, 2012 at 13:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Timothy Turner

    At this stage of my life, I am presently 52 years old. Ten years ago, my wife and I conceived our son. As you might surmise, my son suffers from autism. He has Asperger's Syndrome and we work very hard to see to it that he has the best we can provide. My son is happy and loves his parents. Over the past several months, I have followed with interest the studies that are beginning to point to the age of men like me, as one POSSIBLE cause of my son's condition.

    The purpose of my comments today is to express my absolute outrage at the conversation that took place yesterday, between Dr. Cohen and Ashley Banfield, in regards to this subject. I cannot believe the flippant tone that was used by these people in this discussion. I left this conversation, being led to believe, that since it is now science that my son's condition is entirely my fault that it is now ok for women who conceive, in their 40's and 50's, to never worry again.

    Prior to this so called discussion, I already possessed guilt over whether I may somehow be responsible for my son's condition, and the things he will no doubt experience as he ages. Now, thanks to these ladies, I must now feel bad because I was unable to see through a crystal ball, when I was in my 20's, and have enough forethought to freeze my sperm back then, because this would have never happened to my son if I had.

    In addition, the implication provided by Dr. Cohen, is that, should I choose to have another child, at my age, I need to stop that thought, immediately, so as not to create another child with a developmental condition. Apparently, this discussion is based on the concept that every child with autism, past and present, were born to older fathers, correct? I'd like to see that science.

    Thanks Dr. Cohen! Thanks Ashley! You took a frank and highly sensitive topic and trivialized it so that I now can take additional guilt with me to my grave, feeling that my son's quality of life was solely affected by me. All for ratings.

    As an educated person myself, I will continue to follow accurate scientific studies that may provide me with insight as to why my son will have to suffer his entire life, with lower paying jobs and other social ills. My wife and I will continue to love our son, dearly, and pray for his future.

    However, thanks to you, I will know better than to search for this information on CNN. Remember ladies, "it's not what you say, it's how you say it." Effective communication is the responsibility of the speaker, not the listener.

    August 24, 2012 at 16:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Billy Jay

      Mr. Turner? The abomination of this so-called study is probably why our nation should not elect someone like Mike Huckabee as president, because then more scientific pseudo-intellectuals like these will come out of the woodwork. That is, Mike Huckabee is one of those glamor boys who got married at age 19 and lived the white picket fence fantasy; and as he believes others should follow his example, he would promote dingdongs like these scientists every way he could. On the other hand, he and his supporters continue to live in complete denial of global warming and the deterioration of our ozone layer, which could very well be the cause of kids being born with birth defects. Somehow in his world, it's more noble to blame individuals than to hold corporate moguls at fault who are destroying our environment.

      October 15, 2013 at 13:48 | Report abuse |
  16. Andy

    Hi Elizabeth,

    I agree with your post because I was told by my father that, autistic kids were born in to our family 50 years ago. They were my paternal uncles. My grand father was more than 45 years old when they were born and they did not live beyond 10 years. My father keeps telling us about this often because he witnessed their deaths.Such, experiences are seen in many places across the world.

    Regards,
    Andy

    August 25, 2012 at 03:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Adrian Holmes

    Older men? Older women, genetics, diet, certain vitamins (or lack of), environment, vaccinations, and the list goes on- face it, you don't what causes autism. So, until they have something definitive the general media should stop reporting the numbers game giving hope, or doing harm, to people just so they can sell news.

    August 26, 2012 at 07:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Rebecca Messner

    The rate of autism in the United States is 1 in 88 but what few people know is that military families have a more alarming rate: 1 in 67 and these are children of YOUNG men with youthful sperm. The military and their families also have a very high vaccination rate. Amish communities in the USA with low rates of vaccination and autism is 1 in 10,000.... Why is it so hard for many to see the obvious connection and MAJOR cause of autism? Age may be a factor but it does not fit the majority of cases. ALL contributors to autism should be considered if we truly want to find answers.

    August 29, 2012 at 12:35 | Report abuse | Reply
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  22. Tawana Stsauveur

    Every year, one child in every 800 to 1,000 births will be born with a condition known as Down syndrome. Down syndrome is a disorder in which the child has extra genetic material. This extra genetic material causes the baby to develop differently in the womb. This abnormal development occurs during the early stages of cell division, soon after conception.-

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    February 12, 2013 at 05:52 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.