Processed foods and effect on developing fetus’ brain: Autism link?

Posted on July 13, 2019

Dr Saleh Naser, Latifa Abdelli and UCF undergraduate research assistant Aseela Samsam have identified the molecular changes that happen when neural stem cells are exposed to high levels of an acid commonly found in processed foods. UCF scientists discovered the high levels of Propionic Acid (PPA), used to increase the shelf life of packaged foods and inhibit mold in commercially processed cheese and bread, reduce the development of neurons in fetal brains.

Dr Naser began this study after reports showed that autistic children often suffer from fastric issues like irritable bowel syndrome. He wondered if there was possible connection between the gut and the brain. Hence, he began examining how the microbiome – or gut bacteria – differed between people with autism and those who do not have the condition.

Scientists found exposing neural stem cells to excessive PPA damages brain cells in several ways. First, the acid disrupts the natural balance between brain cells by reducing the number of neurons and over-producing glial cells. While glial cells help develop and protect neuron function, too many glia cells disturb connectivity between neurons. They also cause inflammation, which has been noted in the brains of autistic children.

Excessive amounts of the acid also shorten and damage pathways that neurons use to communicate with the rest of the body. The combination of reduced neurons and damaged pathways impede the brain's ability to communicate, resulting in behaviors that are often found in children with autism, including repetitive behavior, mobility issues and inability to interact with others.

PPA occurs naturally in the gut and a mother's microbiome changes during pregnancy and can cause increases in the acid. But Drs. Naser and Abdelli said eating packaged foods containing the acid can further increase PPA in the woman's gut, which then crosses to the fetus.

"This research is only the first step towards better understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder," the UCF scientists concluded. "But we have confidence we are on the right track to finally uncovering autism etiology."


Category(s):Child Development

Source material from Science Daily


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