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Pesticides links to Higher Autism Risk

There is a study that discussed if autism will be developed on the child if the pregnant mother is exposed in pesticide. / Photo by: romasph via 123rf

 

Recently, new research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found a significant correlation between autism and pesticides. In this study, pesticides were linked to an increased risk of babies being born with autism.

What is Autism?

Autism is defined as a complex neurobehavioral disorder that involves deficits in social interaction and the development of speech and communication skills, as well as rigid and repetitive behavior. Due to the variety of symptoms, this condition is now referred to as Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The severity of ASD varies from a disability that somehow limits normal life to a disastrous disability that may require institutional care.

This condition is a developmental disorder that affects one in every 59 children in the United States (US). Until now, medical professionals are still studying the exact cause of autism and how it develops in every child. Since it is widely recognized, there is likely to be a relationship between environmental and genetic factors. To date, there is still little definitive answer for a cure.

Pesticides Associated with Autism

Scientists from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York City, New York, joined forces with researchers from the University of Turku and the National Institute of Health and Welfare, both in Finland, to conduct the study.

The authors of the study set to investigate whether a mother’s exposure to pesticide had an impact on the child. However, they stressed the results only suggest an association between the toxic chemicals and autism, not a causal link.

According to Psychology Today, the specific pesticide studied was dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, also known as DDT. This pesticide was already widely known to be toxic, most specifically as an endocrine disruptor and carcinogen.

This class of toxic chemicals is categorized as persistent organic pollutants, which linger in the environment and accumulate in ecosystems even after they have been banned. The World Health Organization said that the pollutants can then enter human bodies via the food that they eat and the air that they breathe.

According to Newsweek, the researchers studied the levels of DDE (p,p'-dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene), which is created when the banned pesticide DDT breaks down. They used data from the Finnish Prenatal Study of Autism to find out whether DDT is related, at some point, to the development of autism in some children. Their team then assessed the blood samples they took from pregnant women to identify birth defects in 750 children with autism. With that, they found that the risk of developing autism was significantly higher in children whose mothers had higher levels of DDE in their blood. Moreover, the likelihood of a child developing an intellectual disability more than doubled when DDE levels were above the 75th percentile.

 

Researchers found out there is a higher chance that children will develop autism for those mothers who are exposed in high levels of DDE. / Photo by: Olesia Bilkei via 123rf

 

The Harmful Effects of DDT

DDT, which was synthesized in 1874, has been used to kill a wide range of disease vectors. DDT was also used during World War II to combat typhoid and malaria in Europe and the South Pacific. It is a pesticide that is so effective, typhoid fever has almost been eradicated in some parts of Europe.

In 1945, it was widely used in the household and agriculture in the US and other countries. For safety reasons, it was subsequently banned in the US. However, even stopping or banning the use of the chemical has a limited effect on the potential consequences of using DDT, since it takes decades for the chemical to break down in the environment. The chemical has also been known to accumulate in the fatty tissue of many organisms. Even now, the chemical still lingers in human tissues and blood. DDT also has the ability to affect the placenta of mothers, making it possible to build up residual DDT, which can affect the mother's unborn child.

"In pregnant women, they are passed along to the developing fetus. Along with genetic and other environmental factors; our findings suggest that prenatal exposure to the DDT toxin may be a trigger for autism," noted by Dr. Alan S. Brown, the lead author of the study.

Moreover, the researchers also measured levels of an industrial chemical known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). However, based on their study, no relationship has been between PCBs and autism, contrary to earlier studies.

This study shows a correlation of pesticides with autism, but does not prove a connection. It is recommended that the study be repeated, because its findings are likely to have important social implications. Understanding the role of pesticides in autism can help society create the much needed prevention programs, remove DDT from the human body, and treat the chemicals that the human body can absorb with care.

Since short-term exposure to the pesticide is considered safe, it is still used to control mosquitoes and other pests, especially in areas with high rates of malaria, including certain parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

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