Mothers With Autistic Children Are At Risk Of Developing Heart Disease

First Posted: Sep 22, 2016 03:52 AM EDT

Parents have joked about the effects taking care of children has on them. But, according to recent reports, mothers raising children with autism and those with complaints of chronic stress were more at risk of having high levels of "bad" cholesterol and lower levels of protective progenitor cells compared to mothers of "neurotypical" children, which are two factors that can increase their chances of developing heart disease.

According to, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, which has already killed about 300,000 in 2013.

"Children with autism are more likely to engage in behaviors that can be emotionally stressful for mothers, like becoming unpredictably aggressive, biting or hurting themselves, or expressing little affection," said Aschbacher, assistant professor in the UCSF Department of Psychiatry. "Even knowing the challenges these mothers face, we were surprised by the differences in cardiovascular risk."

For the study, researchers looked at the cardiovascular risk factors among healthy non-smoking women between the ages 20 and 50 with at least one child from age 2 to 16. The mothers were divided into 2 groups that have similar age and body mass index (BMI), and factors that are both risk factors for heart disease.

One group composed of 31 mothers with chronic stress and raising a child with autism spectrum disorder. These mothers were compared with a second group consisting of 37 mothers, who reported low to moderate stress levels, with neurotypical children, meaning those who do not have autism.

Researchers, led by Kirstin Aschbacher Ph.D. of UC San Francisco, discovered that 30 percent of the mothers with children with autism had levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or the so-called bad cholesterol which are equal to or higher than the moderate risk benchmark of 130 mg/dL. On the other hand, the researchers found that 8 percent of mothers of neurotypical children had LDL equal to or above this benchmark, reported

Meanwhile, researchers say that although there are still no sure methods for lowering the levels of stress, mothers who reported having more positive family interactions in a week had more progenitor cells, an implication that less stress can help the body repair itself. UPI reported Aschbacher saying, "It's clear that stress can contribute to chronic disease, but fixing stress is not as simple as taking a deep breath or an occasional yoga class."

They also said, "Our study shows that the damaging aspects of stress can happen in families in everyday life. We don't know enough about how to treat stress from a family systems perspective."

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