Researchers Believe The Recent Rise In Autism Diagnoses Is Due To The Processed Food Pregnant Women Eat

Time and time again we hear researchers in the science community talk about how processed food can have a negative effect on our overall health and wellbeing. Now, researchers have found yet another reason we should give up processed foods, especially during pregnancy. A new study has found a link between the rise in autism diagnoses and processed foods.

Research scientists at the University of Central Florida have identified a molecular change that occurs in the stem cells in some children because of their exposure to processed foods. The study, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports on June 19, found that high levels of a preservative commonly found in bread and cheese in order to extend their shelf life, might be the cause of autism in fetuses.

The preservative is called Propionic Acid (PPA) and Doctors Saleh Naser and Latifa Abdelli — and their respective teams — were the ones who discovered the reduction of the development of neurons in fetal brains, is due to PPA. Dr. Naser was the scientist who started the study after he read a report that showed that autistic children often suffer through gastrointestinal issues like irritable bowel syndrome.

This link in children with autism having gastrointestinal issues led Naser to consider the other link between a child’s brain and their gut, or microbiome, and how the microbiome of a child on the spectrum differs from the microbiome of a neurotypical child. After some initial studies, researchers found that there is a higher level of PPA in the stool samples of kids on the spectrum versus neurotypical children.


During testing researchers also found that exposing neural stem cells to high levels of PPA damages brain cells in many ways. To begin, the acid disrupts the natural balance between brain cells by reducing the number of neurons and over-producing glial cells. Glial cells help develop and protect neuron function at a normal level but too many glial cells disrupt the connectivity between neurons. This also causes inflammation in the brain which is common in children with ASD.

Too much of this acid also works to shorten and damage pathways that neurons use to communicate with the rest of the body. This could lead to a reduction in neurons and damage to the pathways that allow the brain to communicate, which leads to behaviors that are common in children with autism including repetitive behaviors, mobility issues and difficulty interacting with other people.

PPA is naturally occurring in a person’s gut and because of the fact that a woman’s microbiome changes when she is pregnant, PPA levels in her system may increase during this time naturally and even more so if she is overindulging in processed foods. This can affect the way a baby’s brain develops. Still, more research needs to be conducted to see if this high level of PPA in a mother’s diet actually results in autism in a fetus or if it’s just a coincidence.

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