Bad at math? Blame your mom’s pregnancy hormones.

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Low math scores at school? Science says you can blame it on your mom. A recent study published in the European Journal of Endocrinology suggests that pregnant women who showed lower levels of thyroid hormones birthed children who later struggled with arithmetic.

The study follows up earlier research that linked a decrease in maternal thyroxine, a thyroid hormone, to poor mental development during infancy. Until now, scientists have been unclear how such a finding would play out later in life.

This latest research, conducted at the VU University Medical Centre in The Netherlands, followed 1,196 healthy children from birth to age 5. During the study, the team collected data on each mother’s thyroxine levels at 12 weeks of gestation. Years later, the researchers returned to study the children’s testing scores when they turned five years old. The team focused on both language and math. Interestingly enough, the language scores were completely unaffected. Math, however, told a different story.

The data showed that children born to moms with very low thyroid hormones were 1.9 times more likely to score low marks on math tests than children born to moms with higher levels of the hormone. The team then took family history, socioeconomic background, and the child’s health at birth into account, adjusting the data accordingly and settling on 1.6 – meaning the first group of kids was 60 percent more likely to score low marks on math tests than the second group.

“Whether these problems persist into adulthood remains to be seen. We will continue to follow these children to answer this next big question,” said Dr. Martijn Finken, lead author of the study.

What good does the team hope their research accomplishes? For one, a way to help bridge the gap in the classroom. Hormone tests could one day help identify children who may need additional support at school. Talk about early intervention!

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