Researchers may have discovered the cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: a neural abnormality that makes the brain not realize it’s not getting enough oxygen until it’s too late.
Most babies will wake up, turn over, and start breathing faster when their carbon dioxide levels rise.
But in babies who die from Sids, defects in the serotonin system may impair these reflexes.
Such circumstances are far more likely to arise if a baby is placed face down in the cot.
While there still isn’t a cure, this lends theoretical credence to the empirical observation that babies are likelier to die if they’re prone rather than supine when they sleep. The only other observations about what triggers SIDS are empirical and apparently unrelated to the new finding: birth weight, prenatal care, small interval between successive births, etc.
But I’m still somewhat skeptical about the research because of its small sample size.
[Link] The researchers, led by Dr. Hannah Kinney, studied the autopsies of 31 babies who died of SIDS and 10 babies who died of other causes. Medulla oblongata nerve cell abnormalities were more common in babies who had died of SIDS than those who had died of other causes.
‘These findings provide evidence that SIDS is not a mystery but a disorder that we can investigate with scientific methods, and some day, may be able to identify and treat,’ Kinney said.
That implies a connection between medulla oblongata and SIDS, but not necessarily a causal one. First, having a sample size of 31 is barely out of the range where it’d be considered a case study. And second, the language used in the article suggests to me that “more common” is a fairly mild difference; compare that with microbial diseases, where there’s no disease without the microbe, and even lung cancer, 90% of the cases of which are traceable to smoking.
(Hat-tip to Evil Fizz)