AUTISM ALERT! PHTHALATES DURING PREGNANCY LINKED TO AUTISTIC TRAITS. FOLATE SHOWN TO PROTECT AGAINST THE NEGATIVE EFFECTS.
While there are many potential contributors to autism, medical science is increasingly looking at environmental exposures as a potential culprit. This new study adds to a growing body of evidence that prenatal exposure to certain chemicals may impair social development. Importantly, folate may protect against the harmful effects of phthalates. The research focused on boys since autism is four times more common in boys.
Phthalates are widely used in certain plastics, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, food packaging, and medical devices. They act as endocrine disruptors, altering the proper functioning of hormones. It's possible the chemicals could impact mothers' thyroid function or reduce the production of androgen hormones during pregnancy—both of which are crucial for babies' brain development.
In addition, some phthalates have already shown anti-androgenic effects. Androgen hormones regulate the development of male traits and reproduction. Phthalates can also reduce testosterone in baby boys, which would help explain the difference seen between the sexes when it comes to autism.
The new study adds to the conclusions of previous ones. A 2009 study of 4,779 children found that those who lived in homes with polyvinyl chloride flooring, a source of phthalates, were more likely to be diagnosed with autism. A 2010 study found links between higher levels of certain phthalate metabolites during mothers' third trimester and autism traits in 137 children ages 7 to 9.
The good news from the new study is that it reinforces prior research, confirming that mothers who took recommended doses of supplementary folate during their first trimester were less likely to have boys who later exhibited autism traits.
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