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.

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  • bonnie zeman

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    Amazing information

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Latest Article

Omega-3 Benefits: Lower High Blood Pressure

Posted July 16, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

What Does the FDA Say About Omega-3 Benefit Claims?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

 

Among omega-3 benefits is lower high blood pressure.  That claim can be made according to the FDA. 

lower high blood pressureHeart Disease is still the number 1 cause of death in this country. And, while deaths from heart disease have been declining in recent years, deaths due to high blood pressure have been increasing.  That is concerning because:

High blood pressure is a killer! It can kill you by causing heart attacks, strokes, congestive heart failure, kidney failure and much more.

High blood pressure is a serial killer. It doesn’t just kill a few people. It kills lots of people. The American Heart Association estimates that high blood pressure directly or indirectly caused 410,000 deaths in 2014. That is almost 1 person every second and represents a 41% increase from 2000. It’s because high blood pressure is not a rare disease.

  • 32% of Americans have high blood pressure, also called hypertension, (defined as a systolic blood pressure of 140 mm Hg or more or a diastolic blood pressure of 90 mm Hg or more).
  • Another 33% of Americans have prehypertension (systolic blood pressure of 120-139 mm Hg or diastolic blood pressure of 80-89 mm Hg).

That’s over 65% of Americans with abnormal blood pressure!

High blood pressure is a silent killer. That’s because it is a very insidious disease that sneaks up on you when you least expect it. Systolic blood pressure increases 0.6 mm Hg/year for most adults over 50. By age 75 or above 76-80% of American adults will have high blood pressure.  Even worse, many people with high blood pressure have no symptoms, so they don’t even know that their blood pressure is elevated. For them the first symptom of high blood pressure is often sudden death.

Blood pressure medications can harm your quality of life. Blood pressure medications save lives. However, like most drugs, blood pressure medications have a plethora of side effects – including weakness, dizziness, fainting, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, diarrhea or constipation, heartburn, depression, heart palpitations, and even memory loss. The many side effects associated with blood pressure medications lead to poor compliance, which is probably why only 46% of patients with high blood pressure are adequately controlled.

You do have natural options. By now you are probably wondering whether there are natural approaches for controlling your blood pressure that are both effective and lack side effects. The answer is a resounding YES! I’ll outline a holistic natural approach for keeping your blood pressure under control in a minute but let me start with the FDAs recent approval of what they call “qualified claims” that omega-3s lower blood pressure.

 

What Does the FDA Say About Omega-3 Benefits?

omega-3 benefitsIn my book “Slaying The Supplement Myths” I talk about the “dark side” of the supplement industry. There are far too many companies who try to dupe the public by making outrageous and unsubstantiated claims about their products.

Only the FDA stands between us and those unscrupulous companies, and they take their role very seriously. That is why it is big news whenever the FDA allows companies to make health claims about their products.

Even then, the FDA is very cautious. They allow what they call “qualified” health claims. Basically, that means they are saying there is enough evidence that the health claim is probably true, but not enough evidence to say it is proven.

Of course, if you understand the scientific method, you realize there will always be some studies on both sides of every issue. That is why the only health claims the FDA allows are qualified health claims.

With that background in mind, let’s look at the qualified health claims the FDA allows for omega-3 benefits.

  • Since 2004 the FDA has allowed the qualified claim “Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”
  • A few weeks ago, they added five qualified health claims about omega-3s and blood pressure. The 5 claims are very similar, so I will only list two below for the sake of brevity.
  • “Consuming EPA and DHA combined may reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of hypertension, a risk factor for CHD (coronary heart disease).”
  • Consuming EPA and DHA combined may reduce the risk of CHD (coronary heart disease) by lowering blood pressure.
  • Of course, they add the usual wording about the evidence being inconsistent and inconclusive.

 

Omega-3 Benefits?

measure omega-3 benefits levelWe’ve known for some time that omega-3 fatty acids help lower blood pressure, but two recent studies were instrumental in convincing the FDA to allow these qualified health claims. These studies have highlighted just how strong the effect of omega-3s on lowering blood pressure is.

The first study was a meta-analysis of 70 randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials of long chain omega-3 (EPA + DHA) supplementation and blood pressure (Miller et al, American Journal of Hypertension, 27: 885-896, 2014 ).

This study showed:

  • In the group with normal blood pressure at the beginning of the study EPA + DHA supplementation decreased systolic blood pressure by 1.25 mm Hg.
  • Given that systolic blood pressure rises an average of 0.6 mm Hg/year in adults over 50, the authors estimated that omega-3 supplementation alone would delay the onset of age-related high blood pressure by 2 years.
  • In the group with elevated blood pressure not taking medication at the beginning of the study, EPA + DHA supplementation decreased systolic blood pressure by an impressive 4.51 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 3.05 mm Hg.
  • The authors noted that this decrease in systolic blood pressure could “prevent an individual from requiring medication [with all its side effects] to control their hypertension” or decrease the amount of medication required.

However, the doses of omega-3s used in these studies ranged from 1 to over 4 grams/day (mean dose = 3.8 grams/day). That sparked a second study (Minihane et al, Journal of Nutrition, 146: 516-523, 2016) to see whether lower levels of omega-3s might be equally effective. This study was an 8-week double-blind, placebo-controlled study comparing the effects of 0.7 or 1.8 grams of EPA + DHA per day (versus an 8:2 ratio of palm and soybean oil as a placebo) on blood pressure.

This study showed:

  • In the group with normal blood pressure at the beginning of the study, EPA + DHA supplementation caused no significant decrease in blood pressure. This could be due to the smaller number of subjects or the lower doses of EPA + DHA used in this study.
  • In the group with elevated blood pressure not taking medication at the beginning of the study, EPA + DHA supplementation decreased systolic blood pressure by 5 mm Hg and, the effect was essentially identical at 0.7 grams/day and 1.8 grams/day.
  • The authors concluded “Our data suggest that increased EPA + DHA intakes of only 0.7 grams/day may be an effective strategy for blood pressure control.”

 

A Holistic Approach to Lower High Blood Pressure

holistic approach to lower high blood pressureThe FDA’s allowed claims about omega-3s are good news indeed, but that’s not the only natural approach that lowers blood pressure. You have lots of other arrows in your quiver. For example:

  • The DASH diet (A diet that has lots of fresh fruits and vegetables; includes whole grains, low fat dairy, poultry, fish, beans, nuts and oils; and is low in sugar and red meats) reduces systolic blood pressure by 5-6 mm Hg. [Low fat, low carb and Mediterranean diets also lower blood pressure, but not by as much as the DASH diet].
  • Reducing sodium by about 1,150 mg/day reduces systolic blood pressure by 3-4 mm Hg.
  • Reducing excess weight by 5% reduces systolic blood pressure by 3 points.
  • Doing at least 40 minutes of aerobic exercise 3-4 times/week reduces systolic blood pressure by 2-5 mm Hg.
  • Nitrates, whether derived from fresh fruits and vegetables or from supplements probably also reduce blood pressure, but we don’t yet know by how much.

If you’ve been keeping track, you’ve probably figured out that a holistic lifestyle that included at least 0.7 grams/day of long chain omega-3s (EPA + DHA) plus the other omega-3 benefits in the list above could reduce your systolic blood pressure by a whopping 18-22 mm Hg.  What

That’s significant because, the CDC estimates that reducing high systolic blood pressure by only 12-13 mm Hg could reduce your risk of:

  • Stroke by 37%.
  • Coronary heart disease by 21%.
  • Death from cardiovascular disease by 25%.
  • Death from all causes by 13%.

 

A Word of Caution

While holistic approaches have the potential to keep your blood pressure under control without the side effects of medications, it is important not to blindly rely on holistic approaches alone. There are also genetic and environmental risk factors involved in determining blood pressure. You could be doing everything right and still have high blood pressure. Plus, you need to remember that high blood pressure is a silent killer that often doesn’t have any detectable symptoms prior to that first heart attack or stroke.

My recommendations are:

  • Monitor your blood pressure on a regular basis.
  • If your blood pressure starts to become elevated, consult with your doctor about starting with natural approaches to bring your blood pressure back under control. Doctors are fully aware of the side effects of blood pressure medications, and most doctors are happy to encourage you to try natural approaches first.
  • Continue to monitor blood pressure as directed by your doctor. If natural approaches are insufficient to bring your blood pressure under control, they will prescribe the lowest dose of blood pressure medication possible to get your blood pressure where it needs to be.
  • Don’t stop making holistic lifestyle choices to reduce blood pressure just because you are on medication. The more you do to keep your blood pressure under control with a healthy diet and lifestyle, the less medication your doctor will need to use (That means fewer side effects).

 

The Bottom Line

Heart Disease is still the number 1 cause of death in this country. And, while deaths from heart disease have been declining in recent years, deaths due to high blood pressure have been increasing. That is why anything we can do lower blood pressure naturally is important. What does the FDA say about omega-3s and blood pressure?

  • Since 2004 the FDA has allowed the qualified claim “Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”
  • A few weeks ago, they added qualified health claims about omega-3s and blood pressure. For example, they now allow the following claims.
  • “Consuming EPA and DHA combined may reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of hypertension, a risk factor for CHD (coronary heart disease).”
  • Consuming EPA and DHA combined may reduce the risk of CHD (coronary heart disease) by lowering blood pressure.

For more information on the studies that convinced the FDA to allow claims about omega-3s and blood pressure and for a discussion of holistic natural approaches for lowering blood pressure, 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.

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