Researchers now believe there is a link between consuming processed food in pregnancy and autism
Unless you have been living under a rock of late, you will have heard about just how important experts and researchers are now saying our gut really is, and the vital importance gut health plays for our entire spectrum of health and wellbeing.
The problem? Our current diet and lifestyle is doing little to promote a healthy, thriving gut.
From skin issues to depression and autoimmune diseases, so many health issues are being linked to problems inside our intestines and gut, and there is now denying that what we eat and how we live are part – if not most – of the problem.
And now researchers at the University of Central Florida (UCF) College of Medicine in Orlando have reason to believe that even when it comes to autism spectrum disorder (ASD), there is a link between highly processed foods and ASD.
According to the new research, published online in Scientific Reports, consuming processed foods during pregnancy exposed the unborn baby to an acid that changes nervous system development in the fetal brain.
In the report, the researchers link high levels of propionic acid (PPA) – used to extend the shelf life of processed foods – to "possible precursors for autism.”
As part of their experiments, researchers found that exposing human fetal nervous system stem cells to high levels of PPA disrupted the delicate balance of brain cells and caused an overabundance of glial cells. This disproportion could lead to inflammation, which was seen in the brains of children with ASD.
"The combination of reduced neurons and damaged pathways impede the brain's ability to communicate, resulting in behaviours that are often found in children with autism, including repetitive behavior, mobility issues and inability to interact with others," the researchers explained in a news release.
Lead researcher of the UCF study, Saleh Naser, PhD., explains:
"This would fall in line with other recent studies that have shown that the gut microbiome is a potential factor in the development of ASD, and that autistic children lacked certain beneficial strains of bacteria while having increased levels of other bacteria."
Speaking with Medscape Medical News, Nasar said he wanted to understand why children with autism disorders often have gastrointestinal disease and that he was “intrigued" by reports linking digestive system problems with high levels of PPA in children with ASD.
"I wanted to know more about the role of the microbiome and GI disorders, if any, with brain development."
And although urging caution citing the early stages of the study, Naser and his team say they are encouraged by their unique discovery. "This is an intriguing finding and a first in the field," they wrote. "There are good reasons to suggest the gut-brain axis is a potential culprit” in autism disorders."