Does Folic Acid During Pregnancy Reduce Autism Risk From Pesticide Exposure?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in folic acid and pregnancy

The Role Of Optimal Nutrition In Prenatal Health

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

autismThere is no question autism rates are skyrocketing. The prevalence of autism in young children has increased 2-fold since 2000, 4-fold since 1996, and as much as 13-fold since 1980. A large part of that increase is simply due to changes in the diagnostic criteria for autism, but there are probably biological and environmental factors involved as well.

The increase in autism has been blamed on vaccinations, cell phones, and GMO foods, but those theories have largely been debunked (I’m not sure anyone really believed that cell phone use by the parents could cause autism in their children).

Does folic acid during pregnancy reduce autism risk from pesticide exposure?

The recent claim that glyphosate exposure may cause autism has proven to be controversial, but that is just the “tip of the iceberg.”  Numerous recent studies have suggested that pesticide exposure during conception and pregnancy may increase the risk of autism in the children. This is at least a plausible hypothesis. Most pesticides are neurotoxins, and animal studies have shown that pesticide exposure during conception and pregnancy can affect neurological development in the offspring.

This is a “bad news – good news” situation. The bad news is we live in an increasingly polluted world and some exposure to pesticides is inevitable. We can reduce pesticide exposure in the food we eat by choosing organic, but even organically-grown produce contains some pesticides . Even worse, a recent study found 217 neurotoxic chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies.

The good news is optimal nutrition during conception and pregnancy may reduce the risk of autism. In a previous study (R.J. Schmidt et al, Epidemiology, 22: 476-485, 2011 q), the authors showed that for mothers with a MTHFR gene defect, a prenatal supplement providing 400 ug of folic acid per day was associated with a 4.5-fold decreased risk of giving birth to a child with autism. That lead them to ask whether optimum folic acid status could reduce the effect of pesticides on autism risk.

[Note: I am not sharing this study with you because it is definitive. It is not. Further studies will be required to confirm these results. I am sharing it with you because, if true, it has some important implications that are not usually discussed in the scientific or popular literature.]

How Was The Study Designed?

folic acid during pregnancyThis study (R.J. Schmidt et al, Environmental Health Perspectives, doi: 10.1289/EHP604) is what is known as a case control study. The mothers in the study were part of the Childhood Autism Risks From Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study. The children in the study were clinically confirmed to have ASD (autism spectrum disorders). The investigators chose 296 families from the CHARGE group for whom maternal folic acid intake and pesticide exposures were known. They compared them to 220 controls that did not have ASD and were matched by age, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

They assessed household pesticide exposure (pet flea & tick products, indoor pesticides, and outdoor sprays or foggers) through telephone interviews. They also used telephone interviews to estimate total folic acid intake from multivitamins, prenatal vitamins and vitamin fortified foods. They assessed agricultural pesticide exposure based on proximity to areas of heavy agricultural pesticide use.

They considered the autism risk of women who were taking 800 ug of folic acid and had no known exposure to pesticides as the baseline. Anything below 800 ug was consider low folic acid intake. Basically, they were looking at the effects of low folic acid intake and pesticide exposure on autism risk.

 

Does Folic Acid During Pregnancy Reduce Autism Risk From Pesticide Exposure?

folic acid during pregnancy during pesticide exposureFor women with low folic acid intake during conception and early pregnancy, pesticide exposure significantly increased autism risk. The breakdown was as follows;

  • Exposure to any indoor pesticides increased autism risk 2.5-fold.
  • Exposure to pet flea & tick pesticides increased autism risk 3.9-fold.
  • Exposure to indoor pesticide sprays & foggers  increased autism risk 2.6-fold.
  • Exposure to outdoor pesticide sprays & foggers increased autism risk 4.1-fold
  • Exposure to agricultural pesticides increased autism risk 2.2-fold.

In contrast, high (800 ug) intake of  folic acid during pregnancy (early) and conception significantly decreased the effect of pesticide exposure on autism risk. The breakdown was as follows:

  • 27% decrease in autism risk due to exposure to any indoor pesticides.
  • 59% decrease in autism risk due to pet flea & tick pesticide exposure.
  • 32% decrease in autism risk due to indoor pesticide sprays & foggers.
  • 56% decrease in autism risk due to outdoor pesticide sprays & foggers.
  • 50% decrease in autism risk due to agricultural pesticide exposure.

In short, this study suggests that pesticide exposure during pregnancy increases autism risk and 800 ug of folic acid during conception and early pregnancy substantially decreases the effect of pesticide exposure on autism risk.

What Does This Study Mean For You?

pesticide exposureIf confirmed by subsequent research, this study has several significant implications that deserve serious consideration.

#1:Pesticide exposure is ubiquitous. Nobody wants bugs in their house or on their garden plants, so we spray pesticides everywhere without giving it a second thought. We don’t want to be bothered by mosquitoes so we use foggers on our outdoor areas and spray bug repellents on ourselves when we go outdoors. We want the perfect lawn so we hire someone to spray gallons of pesticides and herbicides on the lawn where we and our children will play. We have pesticides on our food and in our water. If we live in agricultural areas, we breath pesticides. That’s how we end up with 287 environmental toxins (217 of which are neurotoxins) in the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies.

#2: Pesticide exposure is not innocuous. This study suggests pesticide exposure during pregnancy increases autism risk. Other studies suggest pesticide exposure increases the risk of ADHD, birth defects, cancer and much more. None of these studies is definitive by itself. The problem is that most pesticide exposure is at relatively low levels. In addition, nobody is pesticide free so it is difficult to find a good control population. It would require very large population studies to show conclusive effects, and those studies would be extremely expensive. However, when you see study after study suggesting that pesticide exposure may be harmful to our health, it may be time to take notice and ask whether all this pesticide use is essential.

#3: Supplementation may help protect us from environmental toxins. This study suggests that folic acid during pregnancy helps protect against the autism risk from pesticide exposure. Other studies suggest supplementation helps protect against the bad effects of other environmental toxins. We talk about the need of supplementation to fill the nutritional gaps of our bad diets. We talk about how supplementation can help meet the increased needs associated with disease, biological stress and genetic defects. However, we seldom talk about the need for supplementation to help protect us from environmental toxins in our increasingly polluted world.

#4: Flea & tick pesticides for your pets are among the worst offenders. If you are a woman who is pregnant or of childbearing age, have your husband or veterinarian handle the flea & tick medicine. You don’t want to be touching the stuff.

#5: Once again, folic acid was sufficient to do the job, even in women with MTHFR deficiency.

 

The Bottom Line

 

A recent study suggests that pesticide exposure during pregnancy increases autism risk, and that supplementation with 800 ug of folic acid during conception and early pregnancy substantially decreases the effect of pesticide exposure on autism risk.

There are several important implications of this research.

  • Pesticide exposure is ubiquitous. That’s how we end up with 287 environmental toxins (217 of which are neurotoxins) in the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies.
  • Pesticide exposure is not innocuous. This study suggests that pesticide exposure during pregnancy significantly increases autism risk in newborns. Other studies suggest pesticide exposure increases the risk of ADHD, birth defects, cancer, and much more. Perhaps it is time to seriously consider decreasing pesticide usage.
  • Flea & tick medicines for your pets are among the worst offenders. If you are a woman who is pregnant or of childbearing age, have your husband or veterinarian handle the flea & tick medicine. You don’t want to be touching the stuff.
  • Supplementation can help protect us from environmental toxins. This study suggests folic acid can help protect pregnant women against the autism risk from pesticide exposure during pregnancy. Other studies suggest supplementation helps protect against the bad effects of other environmental toxins. We don’t give enough consideration to the need for supplementation to help protect us from environmental toxins in our increasingly polluted world.
  • Once again, folic acid was sufficient to do the job, even in women with MTHFR deficiency.

 

For more details, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Trackback from your site.

Comments (1)

  • bonnie zeman

    |

    Amazing information

    Reply

Leave a comment

Recent Videos From Dr. Steve Chaney

READ THE ARTICLE
READ THE ARTICLE

Latest Article

Should You Avoid Sugar Completely?

Posted October 24, 2017 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Is It The Sugar, Or Is It The Food?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

Should we avoid sugar completely?  Almost every expert agrees that Americans should cut down on the amount of sugar we are consuming. However, for some people this has become a “sugar phobia”. They have sworn that “sugar shall never touch their lips”. Not only do they avoid sugar sweetened sodas and junk food, but they also have become avid label readers. They scour the label of every food they see and reject foods they find any form of sugar listed as an ingredient. Is this degree of sugar avoidance justified?

 

Should We Avoid Sugar to Keep it From Killing Us?

 

Let me add some perspective:

  • If you just take studies about the dangers of sugar at face value, sugar does, indeed, look dangerous. Excess sugar consumption is associated with increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. However, when you look a little closer, you find that most of these studies have been done by looking at the correlation of each of these conditions with sugar sweetened beverage consumption (sodas and fruit juices).

A few studies have looked at the correlation of obesity and disease with total “added sugar” consumption. However, 71.6% of added sugar in the American diet comes from sugar sweetened beverages and junk food. None of the studies have looked at the sugar from healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. That’s because there is ample evidence that these foods decrease the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

  • For example, if apples had a nutrition label, it would list 16 grams of sugar in a medium 80 calorie apple, which corresponds to about 80% of the calories in that apple. The sugar in an apple is about the same proportion of fructose and glucose found in high fructose corn syrup. Apples are not unique. The nutrition label would read about the same on most other fruits. Does that mean you should avoid sugar from all fruits? I think not.

Avoid Sugar or Avoid Certain Foods

 

avoid sugar from junk foodsThe obvious question is: “Why are the same sugars, in about the same amounts, unhealthy in sodas and healthy in fruits?” Let’s go back to those studies I just mentioned—the ones that are often used to vilify sugars. They are all association studies, the association of sugar intake with obesity and various diseases.

The weakness of association studies is the association could be with something else that is tightly correlated with the variable (sugar intake) that you are measuring. Could it be the food that is the problem, not the sugar?

If we look at healthy foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) they are chock full of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, and (sometimes) protein. Fiber and protein slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. As a result, blood sugar levels rise slowly and are sustained at relatively low levels for a substantial period of time.

In sodas there is nothing to slow the absorption of blood sugar. You get rapid rise in blood sugar followed by an equally rapid fall. The same is true of junk foods consisting primarily of sugar, refined flour and/or fat.  Avoid sugar from those types of foods.

Another consideration is something called caloric density. Here is a simple analogy. I used to explain the concept of caloric density to medical students in my teaching days. There are about the same number of calories in a 2-ounce candy bar and a pound of apples (around 278 in the 2-ounce candy bar and 237 in a pound of apples). You can eat a 2-ounce candy bar and still be hungry. If you eat a pound of apples you are done for a while. In this example, the 2-ounce candy bar had a high caloric density (a lot of calories in a small package). Perhaps a more familiar terminology would be the candy bar was just empty calories.

Are Sodas and Junk Foods Killing Us?

avoid sugar from candyPutting all that together, you can start to understand why the foods the sugars are in are more important than the sugars themselves. When you consume sugars in the form of sugar sweetened beverages or sugary junk foods, your appetite increases. We don’t know for sure whether it is the intense sweetness of those foods, the rapid increase and fall in blood sugar, or the high caloric density (lots of calories ina small package) that makes us hungrier. It doesn’t matter. We crave more food, and it isn’t usually fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates we crave. It’s more junk. That sets in motion a predictable sequence of events.

  • We overeat. Those excess calories are stored as fat and we become obese. [Note: The low carb enthusiasts will tell you our fat stores come from carbohydrates alone. That is incorrect. All excess calories, whether from protein, fat, or carbohydrate, are stored as fat.]
  • It’s not just the fat you can see (belly fat) that is the problem. Some of that fat builds up in our liver and muscles. This sets up an unfortunate sequence of metabolic events.
  • The fat stores release inflammatory cytokines into our bloodstream. That causes inflammation. Inflammation increases the risk of many diseases including heart disease and cancer.
  • The fat stores also cause our cells to become resistant to insulin. That reduces the ability of our cells to take up glucose, which leads to hyperglycemia and type 2 diabetes. [Note: The low carb enthusiasts will tell you carbohydrates cause type 2 diabetes. That is also incorrect. It is our fat stores that cause insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Our fat stores come from all excess calories, not just excess calories from carbohydrates.]
  • Insulin resistance also causes the liver to overproduce cholesterol and triglycerides and pump them into the bloodstream. That increases the risk of heart disease.
  • Sugar sweetened beverages and sugary junk foods also displace healthier foods from our diet. That leads to potential nutrient shortfalls that can increase our risk of many diseases.

However, none of this has to happen. The one thing that every successful diet has in common is the elimination of sodas, junk foods, fast foods and convenience foods. You should avoid sugar from those foods as much as possible. Once you eliminate those from your diet,you significantly enhance your chances of being at a healthy weight and being healthy long term.

 

What About Protein Supplements And Similar Foods?

Of course, the dilemma is what you, as an intrepid label reader, should do about protein supplements, meal replacement bars, or snack bars. They are supposed to be healthy, but the label lists one or more sugars. Even worse, the sugar content is higher than your favorite health guru recommends.  So, should you avoid sugar from supplements and the like?

In this case, a more useful concept is glycemic index, which is a measure of the effect of the food on your blood sugar levels. Healthy foods like apples may have a high sugar content, but they havea low glycemic index.

avoid sugar and consume protein to slow absorbptionThe same is true for the protein supplements and bars you are considering. Rather than looking at the sugar content, you should be looking for the term “low glycemic” on the label. That means there is enough fiber and protein in the food to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream and stabilize your blood sugar levels.

What Does This Mean For You?

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating for unlimited consumption of sugar. We should work on ways to avoid sugar or reduce the amount of sugar in our diet. On the other hand, we don’t need to become so strict that we and our family need to eat foods that taste like cardboard. We also don’t want to replace natural sugars with artificial sweeteners. I have warned about the dangers of artificial sweeteners previously.

We can go a long way towards reducing sugar by just eliminating sodas, other sugar sweetened beverages, junk foods, fast foods, convenience foods, and pastries from our diet. When considering fast foods and convenience foods, we should check the label for hidden sugar. For example, some Starbucks drinks are mostly sugar. When considering foods that are supposed to be healthy, we should look for the term “low glycemic” on the label.

So we don’t have to avoid sugar completely, but we should reduce sugar from sugar sweetened beverages and junk food.

 

The Bottom Line

 

We need to keep warnings about the dangers of sugar in perspective:

  • The studies showing that sugar consumption leads to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease have all been done with sodas and junk foods.
  • Many fruits have just as much sugar as a soda. They also contain about the same proportion of fructose and glucose as high fructose corn syrup. Yet we know fruits are good for us.
  • Diets rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains decrease our risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
  • That is because the sugar in whole foods is generally present along with fiber and protein, which slows the absorption of sugar and prevents the blood sugar spikes we get with sodas and junk foods.
  • In the case of prepared foods like protein supplements, you should look for “low glycemic” on the label rather than sugar content. Low glycemic means that there is enough fiber and protein in the product to slow the absorption of sugar and prevent blood sugar spikes.
  • Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating for unlimited consumption of sugar. We should all work on ways to avoid sugar from junk foods or to reduce the amount of sugar in our diet. On the other hand, we don’t need to become so strict that we and our family need to eat foods that taste like cardboard. We also don’t want to replace natural sugars with artificial sweeteners.
  • We can go a long way towards reducing sugar by just eliminating sodas, other sugar sweetened beverages, junk foods, fast foods, convenience foods, and pastries from our diet. When considering fast foods and convenience foods, we should check the label for hidden sugar. When considering foods that are supposed to be healthy, we should look for the term “low glycemic” on the label.

For more details, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

UA-43257393-1