This blog summarizes key findings from a study conducted by Lynne P. Heilbrun et al. (2015) titled “Maternal Chemical and Drug Intolerances: Potential Risk Factors for Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).”
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Developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) affect 1 in 6 children in the United States. ASD specifically affects 2% of American children, representing an 8-fold increase since the early 1990s. Factors such as increased awareness, changes in diagnostic criteria, and younger age of diagnosis account for only about a third of this increase.
As developmental disorders have skyrocketed over the decades, a number of questions have been raised by researchers, policy makers, and the public alike. Scientists in particular have begun investigating various environmental suspects, including air pollution, vaccines, medications, pesticides, and other exposures. The verdict is still out as to which exposures are to blame—or whether it’s a combination of many exposures. This study brings us a step closer to understanding the problem—exploring a previously overlooked risk factor that may be of considerable importance; namely, the association with chemical intolerance (CI).
This study examines whether chemically intolerant women are at greater risk for having a child with ASD or ADHD. The research team conducted a case–control study with mothers of children with ASD or ADHD and children without these disorders. Over 600 mothers participated in a validated online survey called the Quick Environmental Exposure and Sensitivity Inventory (QEESI).
Mothers of children with ASD or ADHD were much more chemically intolerant than mothers of controls. Intolerances included insecticides, gasoline, engine exhaust, paint or paint thinner, nail polish or hairspray, tobacco smoke and perfume (ADHD mothers only), tar/asphalt (ASD mothers only), and outgassing from new materials including carpet, shower curtains, or new car interiors. Further, they were more likely to report adverse reactions to drugs. Mothers with high CI scores were three times more likely to report having a child with autism and 2.3 times more likely to report having a child with ADHD. Compared to controls, more of these mothers reported that their children had food or other allergies/intolerances, an adverse reaction to a vaccination, an ear infection, and multiple infections requiring antibiotics. Such children were also reported to have strong food preferences or cravings, and be more sensitive to noxious odors.
The potential association between maternal CI and ADHD or ASD in offspring provides an environmental explanation of the hereditability and/or in utero nature of developing autism—an overlap of genes and the environment that can predispose one to this disorder in the future. This is supported by previous literature that has shown that mothers who are less able to detoxify organophosphorus pesticides because of low paraoxonase enzyme activity are at increased risk of having children with ASD and ADHD. It is important that primary care physicians adopt a precautionary approach, as recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, to encourage women of childbearing age to avoid unnecessary exposures.
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