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New Study Links Plastic Chemical Exposure During Pregnancy to Increased Risk of Autism Traits

Exposure to chemicals known as phthalates during pregnancy may lead to a higher risk of autism-like behaviors in boys, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Massachusetts. Phthalates are found in many household products, such as cosmetics and plastics. The study found that exposure to phthalates resulted in a higher risk of displaying social impairment, repetitive behaviors, and restricted interests (all of which are hallmark traits of autism) by age three or four. Youssef Oulhote, the study’s lead author, said that folic acid supplements during pregnancy can protect against these risks. Oulhote believes the effectiveness of these supplements in offsetting the effects of phthalates is the study’s most important finding. While phthalates have been removed from many household items, they can still be found in fragrances, shampoos, detergents, and other products. For their study, researchers reviewed data on approximately 2,000 women across 10 Canadian cities from 2008 – 2011. All of the women were in their first trimester of pregnancy. The women were asked about their folic acid intake, and their urine samples were analyzed for 11 phthalate compounds. The researchers found that preschool boys whose mothers had higher phthalate exposure while pregnant faced a higher risk of developing traits associated with autism. That heightened risk was not seen among boys whose mothers had adequate folic acid supplementation during pregnancy. Oulhote believes that girls might not be affected by phthalates due to the hormonal differences between males and females. He also acknowledged the complexity of autism, adding that “there may be other environmental factors interacting with genetic susceptibility to yield autism and its associated traits.” He suggested that expectant mothers “try to lower their fragrance and cosmetics use, avoid plastic food packaging when possible, and especially not warm food in plastic packaging.”


The results of the study were published on February 19 in Environmental Health Perspectives. Sources: https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/news/20200219/common-plastics-chemicals-linked-to-autism-traits-in-young-boys#2

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