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Prenatal exposure of a girl with autism spectrum disorder to 'horsetail' (Equisetum arvense) herbal remedy and alcohol: a case report

Juan A Ortega García1*, Mario G Angulo1, Elías J Sobrino-Najul1, Offie P Soldin2, Alberto Puche Mira3, Eduardo Martínez-Salcedo3 and Luz Claudio4

Author Affiliations

1 Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit, Neuropediatric Unit, Department of Pediatrics, University Hospital Virgen of Arrixaca, Murcia, Spain

2 Network PregnaTox, Departments of Medicine, Oncology, Physiology, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington DC, USA

3 Neuropediatric Section, Department of Pediatrics, University Hospital Virgen of Arrixaca, Murcia, Spain

4 Division of International Health, Department of Preventive Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY, USA

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Journal of Medical Case Reports 2011, 5:129  doi:10.1186/1752-1947-5-129

Published: 31 March 2011



Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder in which the interactions of genetic, epigenetic and environmental influences are thought to play a causal role. In humans, throughout embryonic and fetal life, brain development is exquisitely susceptible to injury caused by exposure to toxic chemicals present in the environment. Although the use of herbal supplements during pregnancy is relatively common, little information is available on their association with fetal neurodevelopment. This is, to the best of our knowledge, the first report in the literature to associate a new plausible mechanism of neurodevelopmental toxicity with a case of autism spectrum disorder through a vitamin deficiency potentiated by concomitant use of herbal supplements and ethanol exposure.

Case presentation

We describe the pediatric environmental history of a three-year-old Caucasian girl with an autism spectrum disorder. We utilized her pediatric environmental history to evaluate constitutional, genetic, and environmental factors pertinent to manifestation of neurodevelopment disorders. Both parents reported prenatal exposure to several risk factors of interest. A year prior to conception the mother began a weight loss diet and ingested 1200 mg/day of 'horsetail' (Equisetum arvense) herbal remedies containing thiaminase, an enzyme that with long-term use can lead to vitamin deficiency. The mother reported a significant weight loss during the pregnancy and a deficiency of B-complex vitamins. Thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency could have been potentiated by the horsetail's thiaminase activity and ethanol exposure during pregnancy. No other risk factors were identified.


A detailed and careful pediatric environmental history, which includes daily intake, herbal remedies and ethanol exposure, should be obtained from all patients with autism spectrum disorder. Maternal consumption of ethanol and of herbal supplements with suspected or potential toxicity should be avoided during pregnancy. The prospective parents should perform preconception planning before pregnancy.