With the number of children diagnosed with autism on the rise, it is important to find out what causes the disorder.
Previous research has found that autistic children often suffer from gut issues such as irritable bowel syndrome.
In a recent study, researchers from the University of Central Florida found that processed food may hold key to rise in autism. The study is published in Scientific Reports.
They found when neuro stem cells are exposed to high levels of an acid commonly in processed food, molecular changes happen.
The acid is Propionic Acid (PPA). It is is commonly used to increase the shelf life of packaged foods and inhibit mold in commercially processed cheese and bread.
The team found high levels of Propionic Acid (PPA) could reduce the development of neurons in fetal brains.
Several studies have shown a higher level of PPA in stool samples from children with autism. In addition, the gut microbiome in autistic children is different.
This suggests there may be a possible link between the gut and the brain.
The current research found exposing neural stem cells to excessive PPA damages brain cells in several ways, including reducing neuron development and causing inflammation.
Moreover, too much of the acid also shorten and damage pathways that neurons use to communicate with the rest of the body.
This can damage the brain’s ability to communicate and lead to problems such as repetitive behavior, motion issues and inability to interact with others.
These symptoms are often found in children with autism.
The team says that PPA occurs naturally in the gut and a mother’s microbiome changes during pregnancy and can cause increases in the acid.
The study is a big step closer to showing the link between the food pregnant women consume and the effects on a fetus’ developing brain.
The authors of the study are Drs. Saleh Naser, Latifa Abdelli and UCF undergraduate research assistant Aseela Samsam.
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