Researchers at the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando say a preservative found in many packaged and processed foods like certain cheeses and baked goods may be linked to the rising rate of autism in the United States. In a recent study, the scientists at UCF “exposed human neural stem cells to high levels of the food preservative Propionic Acid (PPA) and found that it reduced the development of neurons.”
While this study does not say that this preservative causes autism directly, it does possibly mean “consuming too many foods that contain PPA during pregnancy can affect the development of the brain of the fetus or newborn and increase the risk of autism.” Because the research was confined to laboratory experiments, it’s much too soon to tell what these recent findings mean for humans and autism. If nothing else, the study does show the importance of eating healthy, even homemade foods during pregnancy.
Vaccines and Autism
For decades, people have believed that autism is caused by vaccines given to infants and toddlers and because of that belief, many women and men choose to forego vaccinations, which puts their children (and those people that come into contact with their children) at risk for deadly diseases including mumps and measles.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a “developmental disability caused by differences in how the brain functions. People with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in different ways. Recent estimates from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network found that about 1 in 59 children have been identified with ASD in communities across the United States.”
The CDC asserts that there is absolutely no link between children receiving vaccines and developing ASD. One vaccine ingredient that has been studied specifically is thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used to prevent contamination of multi-dose vials of vaccines; research shows that thimerosal does not cause ASD. In fact, between 1999 and 2001, thimerosal was reduced or altogether removed from all childhood vaccines except for some influenza vaccines. In 2019, the only childhood vaccines that contain thimerosal are flu vaccines packaged in multi-dose vials.
Autism and Processed Foods
Dr. Saleh Naser, lead researcher of the aforementioned study and professor of medicine at the UCF College of Medicine, said “Food containing PPA should be avoided during pregnancy.” The 18-month study done by Naser and his team can be read in its entirety in Scientific Reports; the next step for this team is to conduct experiments with PPA and neural stem cells in laboratory mice.
While it’s still not clear what causes autism, it’s believed that the disorder results from a combination of several factors, including genetic predisposition, maternal immune system abnormalities in early pregnancy, and certain environmental triggers.