Saturday, 28 June 2014

Pesticide Exposure During Pregnancy May Cause Autism

A study by researchers at UC Davis suggests that pregnant women living near farmland sprayed with pesticides are 60% more likely to have a child with autism than other women. The chance of autism development is especially high if the pesticide exposure occurs during a woman's second or third trimester of pregnancy. The word "autism" is very often - but not always - used as a synonym for the term "autism spectrum disorder (or disorders)", also known as ASD.

Autism is a brain development disorder. Researchers have found that people with the disorder have differences in brain structure and function compared to people without the disorder. Even so, autism is a poorly understood condition.

Photo of a wheat field by Larisa Koshkina,
public domain image
Autism involves a wide range of symptoms related to social behavior and communication. The disorder may also involve unusual or repetitive behavior. The list of symptoms is often different in different people, and the symptoms themselves range from mild to severe. Interestingly, some people with autism have enhanced abilities in areas such as math, music or art.

The cause or causes of autism are unknown. Leading theories include a genetic problem and exposure to a specific chemical. It's possible that a developing baby may have a genetic tendency to develop autism but needs to be exposed to an environmental trigger before the condition actually develops.

Previous research has already suggested that autism is linked to pesticide exposure. The latest research at UC Davis reinforces this idea. This conclusion isn't based on clinical trials, since nobody would want to try to deliberately trigger autism in a child. Instead, the evidence was gathered from population surveys.

970 Californian women were involved in the UC Davis study. The researchers obtained their information about the location of pesticides use from the California Pesticide Use Report. They then linked this information to the addresses of families involved in the Childhood Autism Risk from Genetics and the Environment (or CHARGE) study. Some of the families contained children with autism while others had children without this disorder. The researchers analyzed the results of the survey and discovered a link between women living close to pesticides during pregnancy and the development of autism in the child.

The UC Davis researchers want to do more research to determine whether babies of women with a particular background are more susceptible to pesticide damage. Still, the lead researcher in the study says that pregnant women should try to avoid chemical pesticides whenever possible. Based on the recent discoveries, this certainly seems like a good idea.