Medical experts may just have discovered the cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, which has boggled many for causing fatalities among babies.
Babies who have died from SIDS have been found to have dramatically lower levels of serotonin than babies dying from other causes. Serotonin, also known as the “happy hormone,” is a neurotransmitter associated with the body’s functions, among these, the sleeping cycle, and regulating breathing as well as body temperature.
When a baby has low amounts of serotonin, it impedes the infant’s ability to wake up, the safety of whom is compromised by lack in oxygen or other reasons, explains Rachel Y. Moon, a pediatrician, SIDS researcher and associate chief of the division of general pediatrics and community health at the Goldberg Center for Community Pediatric Health at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
"We think a lot of it has to do with arousal, and how babies can wake up when they are asleep," said Moon. "If you have a baby who gets into a compromised situation and they are becoming hypoxic (a deficiency in the amount of oxygen in tissues –ed.), there are some babies who are sleeping so deeply or have an arousal defect that they can't wake up."
According to the American SIDS Institute (ASI), SIDS is “the sudden death of an infant under one year of age which remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation, including performance of a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene, and review of the clinical history.” (Willinger et al, 1991).
SIDS is the primary cause of death among babies less than one year old. It is also commonly called “crib death,” as it is connected with sleep in most cases.
Experts suspect that SIDS is a result of a birth defect in babies, leading to the lack in serotonin, said Laura Reno, vice president of public affairs for First Candle.
Serotonin plays a vital role in a baby’s arousal system, said Reno. It is like the baby’s “alarm” which wakes up the baby when its health is put at risk.
"In these babies, the alarm doesn't sound," said Reno. "They continue to sleep even if there is a challenge in their environment, which then causes them to die."