DDT and Autism: Understanding the Associated Pregnancy Risks

Expectant mothers with higher levels of DDT pesticides in their bloodstream during the course of their pregnancy phase are likelier to have children who could be autistic, as per a research involving a study of more than a million pregnant ladies in Finland.

DDT and Autism

As per the recent data estimates available with WHO one in 68 children have autism condition. Nevertheless, autism cannot be attributed to one factor alone rather multiple factors are understood to be responsible for the condition.

Nevertheless, the authors explain that these findings in no way prove a direct relation between DDT and autism. It should also be noted, DDT has been widely banned in many countries owing to the concerns about its direct and indirect effect on the wildlife.

The research team showcases the underlying investigations about the disease and the direct/indirect relations to the overall environmental factors and highlight the necessity of arriving at a mechanism which could be responsible for triggering autism condition.

The research team further observed the relation of autism condition to another set of chemicals which are also known as polychlorinated biphenyls. Interestingly, there did not seem to be any relation between autism condition and PCBs.

These findings deepen the quest to understand whether or not DDT can have a direct/indirect impact on autism condition.

DDT is still used widely in some African countries to combat mosquito menace. This explains why large amounts of DDT could be lingering in water and soils and how it accumulates in animals and plants. Further, PCBs find their way into electronics and building materials, have higher levels of concentration in certain types of fish.

Earlier studies have showcased links between PCBs and DDT to cancerous cells and have suggested these could also be responsible in affecting the brain development of a child. However, the authors highlight many of the earlier conclusions have been made purely on assumptions.

To understand how having a direct exposure affects an individual, Alan Brown, epidemiologist and psychiatrist at the Columbian University based out of New York City turned into a database that had large-information about the blood-serum samples of expectant women dating back to 1983.

The research team analyzed the blood samples from mothers and women whose children had not developed autism condition. The team tried to break down certain chemicals that are produced by the human body when exposed to PCBs or DDT.

Surprisingly, Brown explains, the team did not find any links between PCBs and an increase in autism condition rates. “This explains, it can never be assumed that one toxin can always have a direct relation to other toxins,” explains Brown.

The research team also concludes about the factors being unclear if DDT is directly responsible for autism. Brown suggests two hypotheses as a workaround to understand the implications of DDT:

  1. DDT exposure is seen to be largely responsible for premature births and lower birth rates among infants, which are known risk factors of autism condition.
  2. DDT exposure is also seen to bind proteins (known as androgens) in the body which allows cells to respond to hormones and testosterone.

Research in rodents has shown androgen receptors are responsible in disrupting the fetal brain development in males than in females. This partly explains the higher ratio of autism condition in boys compared to girls.

Nevertheless, the team concludes although there seems to be an underlying link between DDT exposure and autism condition, the overall risk is low even to women with a history of higher exposure to DDT.

DDT and Autism: Understanding the Associated Pregnancy Risks
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DDT and Autism: Understanding the Associated Pregnancy Risks
An insightful read to help one understand the implications of DDT on autism
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