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Too Much of This Acid Could Affect Neuronic Development During Pregnancy
Propionic acid is found both in the body and in food. These researchers say high levels of it during pregnancy could lead to the baby having autism spectrum disorder.
September 20, 2019
Diet is extremely important during pregnancy because what you put into your body is, by extension, being put into your baby’s body as well. But, sometimes, it can be difficult to determine what, exactly, is in the food that you are eating, especially due to the many chemicals present in modern-day food.
Researchers from the University of Central Florida recently determined that high levels of propionic acid—a common preservative found in foods—could impact the formation of neurons in a fetus’s brain, leading to autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
In food, PPA is used to extend shelf-life and can be found in cheeses, baked goods, bread, and packaged goods. There are no limits when it comes to the use of PPA in food production because the US Environmental Protection Agency has deemed it safe for consumption.
However, an excessive level of PPA in the body can be harmful or even toxic. The accumulation of too much PPA in the blood can cause seizures, movement disorders, gastrointestinal issues, and overall delays in development.
ASD and Neuronic Development
Though ASD affects one in 59 children, researchers are still uncertain what causes it. However, studies have found that the brain of a person with ASD is different than that of someone who is neurotypical.
When the researchers exposed neural stem cells to potent amounts of PPA, they found molecular changes in the cells, including fewer neurons, shortened communication pathways, and inflammation.
In its summary of the study, Science Daily notes that 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.”
The body’s chemical balance is altered during pregnancy, and this can cause increases in acids like PPA. However, the researchers explain that eating more processed foods can also contribute to higher levels of PPA.
More Research Needed
The results of the study have mandated further research in order to establish clinical conclusions. The team at the University of Central Florida will continue to test their theory by moving onto animal testing. Their next step is to determine “if a high PPA maternal diet causes autism in mice genetically predisposed to the condition.”
The researchers are hopeful that their work will help medical professionals to better understand ASD and provide more nuanced treatment for the condition.
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