The Truth About SIDS Deaths Linked to Serotonin Levels.
It seems there has been a rash of news articles recently stating that SIDS deaths are linked to serotonin levels in infants.
The idea that SIDS deaths are linked to serotonin levels in infants is not new. Researchers out of Boston Children’s Hospital found that 40% of infants who died of SIDS had low serotonin levels in their brain stem.
A new study, reported in recent news, points to elevated levels of serotonin in the blood serum of 30% of SIDS victims studied.
Both studies point to an abnormality in serotonin levels.
So, what does this mean? I am seeing some very disturbing interpretations on how these abnormal serotonin levels cause SIDS. One comment by a bereaved SIDS mom was, “The serotonin is causing the infant’s blood to become toxic.” Others have commented that these abnormalities in serotonin levels cause an infant to sleep so deep they just die.
Serotonin is the chemical that delivers signals together with and between nerves. An infant’s serotonin levels, just like an adult's, will fluctuate with normal challenges such as being hungry or fatigued.
So how are SIDS deaths linked to serotonin levels? It is not the “serotonin” levels that are causing infants to die. The abnormality in the serotonin levels is causing a “mix-up we could say” in the infant’s ability to respond to a potentially lethal situation. It is believed that without this abnormality, an infant will fight to get a blanket off their face, or they will turn their head to get fresh oxygen if they are on a solid surface for example. If you think about it, when we are sleeping face down on our pillow and our nose becomes blocked, even without waking up, our natural response would be to turn our head so we can get more oxygen.
Researchers believe the abnormal levels of serotonin in the infant that dies of SIDS means the brain fails to kick in with the self-preservation response that would allow the baby to get more oxygen. Since the baby fails to turn his or her head, the unfortunate result is an infant rebreathing their own exhaled “bad” air. Rebreathing this bad air (carbon dioxide) will suppress the infant’s need to breathe, and they will eventually asphyxiate.
The back to sleep campaign is credited with saving infants' lives because when an infant is on his/her back, there is nothing to block the infant’s intake of fresh oxygen.
The hope with discovering SIDS deaths linked to serotonin levels is that someday there will be a simple blood test to let us know what infants have these abnormal levels of serotonin so we can put into play actions that will keep these babies safe. Until then, we must assume all infants are vulnerable and do everything we can to make sure a sleeping infant has oxygen rich air flowing to their face always.
Here is a little unknown fact: In accordance with California law Chapter 955, Statutes of 1989 (SB1069), autopsy tissues from infants with sudden death can be used for research without direct parental permission.