Study Suggest Link of Autism to Prenatal and Early Life Exposure to Lead

In a study published in the Journal of Nature Communications, and funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) which is part of the National Institute of Health (NIH), it was found that baby teeth taken from children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) contained more lead than the teeth of typically developing children (TD). Lead is a known neuro-toxin which has no known benefit in human development and which causes neuro-cognitive damage in children.

The study utilized twins from Sweden. The use of twins was utilized to control for genetic factors. The study measured a temporal profile of how the lead varied in teeth over time. This allowed for a window into the developmental time when uptake was strongly linked with autism risk.

The researchers were able to retrospectively observe the time of lead intake as the study utilized laser ablation of the dentin. The data mapped the uptake time.

The study found that there was a higher level of lead uptake between children with autism spectrum disorder and typically developing children during the months just before birth and shortly thereafter. It also found that there was a lower uptake of manganese in children with ASD both before and after birth. Manganese levels were consistently lower in ASD cases and this was statistically significant over two critical developmental windows; between 10 weeks prenatally until birth and then postnatally at week 15 when cases had a 2 ½ lower manganese than their corresponding twin. Similar discrepancies of uptake of manganese was found at 7 weeks before birth. There was also a lower uptake at various times of zinc in children who developed ASD.

This study appears to be the first that utilized twins in order to adjust for genetic variability. The study suggests that lead has a link to autism spectrum disorder.

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