Circumcision Linked to Increased Risk of Autism in Boys

Sleeping Baby BoyCircumcision rates in the United States decreased by 10 percent across the 32-year period from 1979 through 2010. Now a new study adds to the growing evidence of harm of routine infant circumcision (RIC), finding link between circumcision and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) among boys.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that manifests during the first three years of life. The disorder is characterized by impaired social interaction and verbal and non-verbal communication and by restricted, repetitive, or stereotyped behavior. ASD currently affects one in 68 children in the United States. Circumcision is the surgical removal of the skin covering the tip of the penis, which is routinely performed in many parts of the world without medical necessity.

Using a national, register-based cohort study, researchers in Denmark followed a total of 342,877 boys born between 1994 and 2003 between the ages of 0 and 9 between 1994 and 2013. The researchers specifically collected information on circumcision and autism.

Among the total participants, the researchers found 4,986 ASD diagnoses. Regardless of cultural background, boys who underwent circumcision were more likely to develop ASD than intact boys. The risk was particularly high for infantile autism before age 5.

The researchers also noted an unexpected increased risk of hyperactivity disorder among circumcised boys in non-Muslim families.

Comments lead researcher Professor Morten Frisch of the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen:

“Our investigation was prompted by the combination of recent animal findings linking a single painful injury to lifelong deficits in stress response and a study showing a strong, positive correlation between a country’s neonatal male circumcision rate and its prevalence of ASD in boys.”

Although infants sometimes receive some sort of pain relief during circumcision, the most common interventions do not completely eliminate pain, and some boys endure strongly painful circumcisions. Previous research has linked painful experiences as a newborn with long-term alterations in pain perception, a characteristic prevalent among children with ASD.

Adds Professor Frisch:

“Possible mechanisms linking early life pain and stress to an increased risk of neurodevelopmental, behavioural or psychological problems in later life remain incompletely conceptualised. Given the widespread practice of non-therapeutic circumcision in infancy and childhood around the world, our findings should prompt other researchers to examine the possibility that circumcision trauma in infancy or early childhood might carry an increased risk of serious neurodevelopmental and psychological consequences.”

The researchers suggest that, because of continued widespread use of non-therapeutic circumcision, the findings of the present study warrant additional research into the possible harms of RIC.


Ritual circumcision and risk of autism spectrum disorder in 0- to 9-year-old boys: national cohort study in Denmark:
Ritual circumcision linked to increased risk of autism in young boys:
Trends in Circumcision for Male Newborns in U.S. Hospitals: 1979–2010:

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