Key reason for autism increase



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Washington: According to a recent study, processed foods may be key to increasing autism. With the number of children diagnosed with autism on the rise, the need to find what causes the disorder becomes more urgent each day. With the results of this study, the researchers suggest that they are now one step closer to showing the link between the food that pregnant women consume and the effects on the developing brain of the fetus.

As part of the study, a team of researchers identified the molecular changes that occur when neural stem cells are exposed to high levels of an acid commonly found in processed foods. In the study published June 19 in the scientific journal Scientific Reports, scientists have discovered how high levels of propionic acid (PPA), used to increase the shelf life of packaged foods and inhibit mold in commercially processed cheese and bread, reduce the development of neurons in fetal brains.

Saleh Naser, a specialist in gastroenterology research at the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences at the School of Medicine, began the study after reports showed that autistic children often suffer from gastric problems such as irritable bowel syndrome. He wondered about a possible connection between the intestine and the brain and began to examine how the microbiome or intestinal bacteria differed between people with autism and those who did not.

"Studies have shown a higher level of PPA in stool samples from children with autism and the intestinal microbiome in autistic children is different. I wanted to know what the underlying cause was," explained Naser.

In the lab, scientists have found that exposing neural stem cells to excess PPA damages brain cells in a number of ways. First, the acid disrupts the natural balance between brain cells, reducing the number of neurons and producing overproduced glial cells.

While glial cells help to develop and protect the functions of neurons, many glial cells disrupt connectivity between neurons. They also cause inflammation, which has been observed in the brains of autistic children.

Excessive amounts of acid also shorten and damage the pathways that the neurons use to communicate with the rest of the body. The combination of reduced neurons and damaged pathways impairs the brain's ability to communicate, resulting in behaviors often found in children with autism, including repetitive behavior, mobility problems, and inability to interact with others.

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