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Exposure to Air Pollution During Pregnancy Linked to Increased Autism Risk

Jul. 30, 2013|671 views
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Yesterday I talked about a recent study which concluded that eating mercury-laced fish during pregnancy is NOT linked to an increased risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Fish is a lean, heart-healthy food, rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, so it’s good news that you don’t need to fear eating it in reasonable amounts.


Unfortunately, something you have far less control over—the air you breathe—HAS been linked to an increased risk of giving birth to a child with ASD. The culprit is mercury, among other airborne pollutants. According to a study published recently in Environmental Health Perspectives, prenatal exposure to air contaminated with diesel particulates, lead, manganese, mercury, methylene chloride and other pollutants, was linked to an increased risk that a woman would give birth to a child with ASD. Women who lived in areas with the worst air pollution were twice as likely to have a child with ASD as women living in the least polluted areas.


Previous studies have linked chronic exposure to air pollution to a higher risk of developing breast cancer among premenopausal women. Exposure to contaminants early in life, and around the time a woman has her first child, is linked to alterations in DNA, which increase the risk of breast cancer. Pollutants are thought to alter a gene involved in tumor suppression.



Chen F, Bina WF. Correlation of white female breast cancer incidence trends with nitrogen dioxide emission levels and motor vehicle density patterns. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2012 Feb;132(1):327-33. doi: 10.1007/s10549-011-1861-z. Epub 2011 Nov 11. 


Roberts AL, Lyall K, Hart JE, Laden F, Just AC, Bobb JF, Koenen KC, Ascherio A, Weisskopf MG. Perinatal Air Pollutant Exposures and Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Children of Nurses' Health Study II Participants. Environ Health Perspect. 2013 Jun 18. [Epub ahead of print]


Wei Y, Davis J, Bina WF. Ambient air pollution is associated with the increased incidence of breast cancer in US. Int J Environ Health Res. 2012;22(1):12-21. doi: 10.1080/09603123.2011.588321. Epub 2011 Jun 9.


Tags:  pregnancy, prevention, cancer risks, chemicals beware