Prevention of cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder, and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder

Med Hypotheses. 2014 May;82(5):522-8. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2014.02.003. Epub 2014 Feb 12.


This hypothesis states that cerebral palsy (CP), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are all caused by an exaggerated central nervous system inflammatory response to a prenatal insult. This prenatal insult may be one or more episodes of ischemia-reperfusion, an infectious disease of the mother or the fetus, or other causes of maternal inflammation such as allergy or autoimmune disease. The resultant fetal inflammatory hyper-response injures susceptible neurons in the developing white matter of the brain in specific areas at specific gestational ages. The exaggerated neuroinflammatory response is theorized to occur between about 19 and 34 post-conception weeks for CP, about 32 and 40 weeks for ADHD, and about 36 and 48 weeks (i.e. 2 months after delivery) for ASD. The exaggerated inflammatory response is hypothesized to occur because present diets limit intake of effective antioxidants and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids while increasing intake of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Oxidation products of the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) limit neuroinflammation while oxidation products of the omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid exacerbate inflammation. Preventative treatment should begin in all pregnant women during the first trimester and should include both DHA and an effective antioxidant for prevention of neuroinflammation. The suggested antioxidant would be N-acetylcysteine, though melatonin could be chosen instead. Combined DHA and NAC therapy is theorized to decrease the incidence of the three disorders by more than 75%.

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / prevention & control*
  • Cerebral Palsy / prevention & control*
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical