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Almost one in five children born to mothers taking antidepressants during pregnancy have a brain defect – called a “Chiari type 1 malformation” – according to a groundbreaking study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The study, titled Rate of Chiari I Malformation in Children of Mothers with Depression with and without Prenatal SSRI Exposure, was published May 19 in the peer-reviewed journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

The researchers found that “children of depressed mothers treated with a group of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during pregnancy were more likely to develop Chiari type 1 malformations than were children of mothers with no history of depression,” according to their press statement.

So-called SSRI antidepressants encompass almost all of today’s major brands, including Prozac, Paxil, Luvox, Zoloft, Celexa and Lexapro. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010 an astonishing 254 million prescriptions for antidepressants were written for Americans. And between 7 and 13 percent of all pregnant women in the U.S. are currently taking them, even though virtually every study performed to date demonstrates that mothers taking SSRIs – especially in the first trimester of pregnancy – significantly increase the risk of their giving birth to children with autism, as well as other disorders and birth defects.

In a Chiari type 1 malformation (pronounced key-are-ee), brain tissue in the cerebellum – which controls a person’s balance, coordination, muscle movement and some cognitive functions – squeezes out into the spinal canal. While some people never develop noticeable symptoms, others experience symptoms including dizziness, headaches, balance and coordination problems that in serious cases require surgery.

A child with a Chiari type 1 malformation “might fall down a lot, walk unusually, have trouble grasping items, or have poor hand-eye coordination,” according to one advocacy organization, which lists as other possible symptoms: “neck or chest pain; headaches that are brought on by coughing, sneezing, or laughing; difficulty swallowing, which may cause gagging, choking, or vomiting; difficulty speaking; rapid eye movements or vision problems like light sensitivity or blurred vision; hearing problems like a tinnitus (ear ringing) or hearing loss; weakness, numbness, tingling, or other abnormal feelings in the arms and legs; insomnia; and depression.”

In babies, indications of a Chiari malformation could include “irritability when being fed; excessive drooling; weak cry; trouble gaining weight; arm weakness; and developmental delays.”

Regarding the University of North Carolina study, “Our results can be interpreted two ways,” says Rebecca Knickmeyer, Ph.D., lead author of the study and assistant professor of psychiatry at UNC’s School of Medicine. “Either SSRIs increase risk for Chiari type 1 malformations, or other factors associated with SSRI treatment during pregnancy, such as severity of depression itself, increase risk.” Additional research, she adds, “is urgently needed.”

Figure A shows a magnetic resonance (MR) image from a child without a Chiari malformation. The cerebellar tonsils (T) are normally near or above the line marking the junction of the skull and spine (White Line). The brain stem (S) has a normal shape.

Figure B shows an MR image from a child with a Chiari Type I malformation. The cerebellar tonsils (T) are below the line marking the junction of the skull and spine (White Line). The brain stem (S) is squeezed forward and deformed. In some children this can damage some of the important functions of the brain stem, such as swallowing or controlling eye movements. The cerebellar tonsils can also act like a plug, blocking the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid from inside the skull into the spinal canal. In some children this can lead to fluid build up inside the brain (hydrocephalus) or inside the spinal cord (spinal cord syrinx). MRI photos courtesy of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

One prominent expert alarmed, but not surprised, by the study is Adam C. Urato, M.D., a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston and MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Urato, who closely follows research on the effects SSRIs have on mothers and their offspring, spoke with WND.

“This group from UNC did MRI studies on one- and two-year-olds who were exposed to SSRIs (or depression without SSRIs) and they found that 18 percent of the SSRI-exposed children had a brain malformation (Chiari I Malformation). This is the first study of its kind and these results are of grave concern,” he said.

Urato added: “Animal studies suggest that exposure to these SSRI chemicals will lead to changes in the brain and behavior. Now, with this study, we have evidence of increased rates of brain malformation in babies with exposure to SSRIs during pregnancy.”

In the study, researchers analyzed MRI brain scans performed on four groups of children.

Thirty-three children whose mothers were diagnosed with depression and took SSRI antidepressants were compared to 66 children whose mothers had no history of depression. In addition, 30 children whose mothers were diagnosed with depression but did not take SSRIs were compared to 60 children whose mothers had no history of depression.

Bottom line: “Fully 18 percent of the children whose mothers took SSRIs during pregnancy had Chiari type 1 malformations, compared to 3 percent among children whose mothers had no history of depression,” explained the University of North Carolina press statement.

“What’s astounding is that this study is basically receiving no media attention,” Urato told WND. “They even put out a press release on it and no one appears to be covering this groundbreaking study.”

Why no other media coverage? As WND has previously documented in detail, the major media tend to downplay or altogether ignore peer-reviewed studies – and there are many – that document the hazards of antidepressants.

Indeed, the establishment media tend to mirror the viewpoint of the medical establishment and particularly the pharmaceutical companies, as explained by David Healy, M.D., a U.K.-based psychiatrist, psycho-pharmacologist and expert on antidepressants.

In his influential book “Pharmageddon,” Healy describes the effect of “turbo-charged pharmaceutical industry marketing” this way: “The horrors are best caught by the example of the increasing numbers of pregnant women who religiously steer clear of alcohol, tobacco, soft cheeses, or anything that might harm their unborn child, but who are nonetheless being urged by their doctors to take drugs like the antidepressants – now the most commonly prescribed drugs in pregnancy – even as the evidence accumulates that these drugs cause birth defects, double the rate of miscarriages, and cause mental handicap in children born to mothers who have been taking them.”

Read WND’s previous exclusive coverage:

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