Autism Linked to Fire Retardants and Phthalates
Yet another reason to avoid fire-retardant chemicals. Yet another reason to avoid phthalates. And yet another set of toxins likely to influence the risk of having a child born with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
A new study has concluded that exposure to these two common classes of chemicals—fire-retardants and phthalates—during pregnancy can contribute to autistic-like behavior in offspring. Although the research was conducted on small mammals, investigators think it’s likely that prenatal exposure to these chemicals affects developing human fetuses as well, with similar consequences.
Unfortunately, these chemicals are common. They’re found in an alarming number of common items, from personal care products and plastics (phthalates), to furniture (fire retardants). Chillingly, it has only been since 1999 that manufacturers stopped adding phthalates to products such as baby pacifiers and rattles, at the behest of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The study was presented recently at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society. Investigators noted that previous research has shown these chemicals individually may contribute to neurological disorders such as attention deficit, and impede normal mental and motor development. “Our research points to potentially preventable causes of autism, which remains a diagnosis with enormous social costs and limited solutions,” said lead author Stephanie Degroote, MSc, in a press release.
Brominated fire retardants and phthalates are endocrine disruptors. They mimic the body’s natural estrogens, binding with receptors for estrogen on cells. This unnatural assault on one of the body’s most delicate signaling systems has a disruptive effect on the body. It can affect everything from nervous system development to reproductive health. “Our research finds that the developing brain is extremely sensitive to chemical additives found in our daily environment, and these chemical can contribute to the development of autism,” Degroote said. “The good news is that these exposures are avoidable, contrary to genetic risk factors, which are almost always not modifiable.”