Scientists are still struggling to unravel the causes of autism, a mysterious, developmental disease that’s increasing in frequency among children. Although there seems to be a genetic component to autism, genetics don’t act along. It’s likely that environmental factors also play a role in this disease. Scrutiny has recently been placed on vaccines as a cause of autism, but there’s no real proof of this, and it remains an area of debate. Now, scientists believe they have uncovered a possible link between air pollution and autism.
Pollution and Autism: Do Environmental Pollutants Cause Autism?
Researchers at the University of Southern California looked at data on 563 children, some of whom had autism and some who didn’t. They observed that children born to moms who lived near a highway were more likely to deliver a child who developed autism than moms who lived further away. In fact, kids born to moms living closest to a highway were 86% more likely to have autism than moms living a greater distance from a heavily traversed freeway. The risk was more than doubled in moms who lived within 1,000 feet of a busy freeway.
Could some other factor explain this association between pollution and autism? Possibly, but the researchers were careful to control for factors such as the mom’s lifestyle habit, education, ethnic origin, age and other factors that affect the risk of autism in a child.
Air Pollution as a Possible Cause of Autism
Researchers are proposing that moms who live near a highway during pregnancy breathe in chemicals and toxins that may trigger autism in their unborn child. If a child was genetically susceptible to autism, this environmental trigger might be enough to activate the disease.
It’s too early to take the leap and say air pollution and autism are related. There could be some other trigger associated with living near a freeway such as the noise or stress. On the other hand, some research suggests that autism is associated with brain inflammation – and scientists point out that chemicals released from car and truck exhaust can cause free radical damage and inflammation.
Air Pollution and Autism: The Bottom Line?
More research is needed to find out whether air pollution is a cause of autism. If so, it likely acts in conjunction with genetics to bring about the problems with development, language and social skills that autistic children experience. Hopefully, further research will clarify the role that air pollution plays in autism so that moms-to-be can make more informed decision on how far to live from a highway.
Medscape.com. “Fast Lane to Autism: Living Near Freeways”