Rsearch published this week in Environmental Health Perspectives supports the theory that agricultural pesticide exposure during pregnancy may increase the risk for autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
Researchers at the University of California, Davis, looked at the medical records of 970 participants and found that pregnant women living within a mile of an area treated with three different pesticides were at a two-thirds higher risk of having a child with ASD or developmental delays. Parks, golf courses, pastures and roadsides were among the areas considered, CNN Health reports. The study investigated three classes of pesticides: organophosphates, pyrethroids and carbamates. Women who had pesticide exposure during the second or third trimesters were even more likely to have a child born with developmental delays or autism.
Janie Shelton, a study author and a graduate student at UC Davis, advises pregnant women to limit pesticide exposure as much as possible, including pesticides in the home, according to CNN Health. “I would suggest that women who are pregnant or in the process of becoming pregnant avoid using chemicals inside the home,” Shelton said. Alycia Halladay, senior director of environmental and clinical sciences for Autism Speaks, said, “This is the third epidemiological study from California that has shown that prenatal pesticide exposure is associated with ASD.”
The mother’s genes may also play a role in the increased risk associated with exposure to pesticides. A study published this week in Pediatrics found a link between race and autism spectrum disorders. In examining more than 7,500 people, the researchers found that children of foreign-born black, Central and South American, Filipino and Vietnamese mothers were at higher risk of developing autism than children of white mothers born in the United States, according to CNN Health.
“It can be very scary for parents when they hear such high degree of association, but they should also keep in mind that this research is only showing some association and not cause,” according to an email from William Sharp, director of the Marcus Autism Center and assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine. (Sharp was not involved with either study.) Many factors could play a part in increasing the autism risk, including stress on mothers who have relocated to the U.S., nutritional deficiencies, and/or a lack of access to treatment and diagnosis.