The cause of autism is still unknown, but we are definitely closer to figuring it out. A new study published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology, from researchers at the University of Chicago revealed that autism and intellectual disability (ID) rates are linked with exposure to harmful environmental factors during congenital development.
“Essentially what happens is during pregnancy… there are certain sensitive periods where the fetus is very vulnerable to a range of small molecules – from things like plasticisers, prescription drugs, environmental pesticides and other things. Some of these small molecules essentially alter normal development. Autism appears to be strongly correlated with rate of congenital malformations of the genitals in males across the country, this gives an indicator of environmental load and the effect is surprisingly strong. The strongest predictors for autism were associated with the environment; congenital malformations on the reproductive system in males.” (1) - Andrey Rzhetsky, professor of genetic medicine and human genetics at the University of Chicago
The team analyzed data that covered more than one third of the U.S. population. Data from individual states and more than 2,100 counties were used. Fetuses, particularly males, are sensitive to multiple toxins such as environmental lead, medications and a wide variety of other synthetic molecules, like pesticides, mercury and more. Exposure to these toxins during critical stages of development is thought to explain a large portion of congenital reproductive malformations.
“It’s really a very significant study, and should trigger the medical community, the scientific community and the government, looking at this especially interesting avenue for the prevention of autism. We know that one of the ways to show that there is a problem with pollution is to show through the presence of these reproductive defects and we know that there is a relationship between the presence of these defects and the presence of autism related disorders” Dr. Harbut, Providence-St John Environmental Medicine Expert