Maternal DDT exposure reported to cause Autism in children

Here is a new study finding that tells that the mothers exposed to increased levels of DDT pesticides during pregnancy are at greater risks of developing autism. The link between pesticide exposure and autism has been under discussion for many years.

Now a study has finally found and confirmed that the ladies who have higher levels of pesticide, DDT in particular, during their pregnancy, are more likely to give birth to the children who are diagnosed with autism. DDT is an acronym for Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane. It is a colorless, tasteless, and almost odorless crystalline chemical compound.

If you don’t know, it was one of the first chemicals to be developed as a pesticide. It was used on farms and to help stem insect-borne diseases e.g. typhus and malaria etc. However, due to its environment un-friendly outcomes, it had been banned in the USA. The United States’ Environment Protection Agency (EPA) prohibited the use of DDT in 1972.

Though DDT had been banned by the US environment agencies and government, unfortunately, it is still showing up in our food today. One possible reason could be its slower breakdown over the course of several decades. Even EPA admits that DDT is a very persistent chemical in the environment.

DDT can be found in the meat, fish, vegetables, and dairy products that we consume. The worst part of the story is that it is found to cross the placenta in greater concentrations.

The American Journal of Psychiatry has published a study carried out by an international group of researchers led by the scientists from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. They observed over a million of pregnancy cases in Finland and studied the maternal serum samples for more than 700 children with autism. They compared the control cases, of children without autism with similar ages and genders, to the autistic cases.

The mothers with high levels of DDE, a metabolite of DDT, in their blood were discovered to have children whose risk of autism with intellectual disability was twice as high. Comparing the overall samples of autistic children revealed that the children of mothers with elevated levels of maternal DDE were at one-third higher risks of developing autism.

The statistics were proposed after taking into account the factors like psychiatric histories and maternal ages of the subjects.

The researchers also studied another class of environmental pollutants called PCBs. No significant association was found between maternal PCBs and autism. Two theories were put forward by the researchers which explained the fact that why does DDE cause autism in children whereas PCB doesn’t.

The respective theories stated that DDE is associated with a low birth weight which serves as a promoting factor for autism. On contrary, PCB exposure hasn’t been linked to low weight at the time of birth. Moreover, DDE was linked to inhibiting the neurological developmental processes like androgen receptor binding which potentially caused autism.

PCBs, on the other hand, raised the transcription of androgen receptors. This evidence served as the first biomarker-based verification of the fact that high maternal pesticide exposure is associated with autism in their offsprings.

Scientists further state that more study and research is still needed to understand the mechanism of pesticides’ action that leads to the disease. The World Health Organization estimates that one out of every 160 children around the world is autistic.

Moreover, DDT is still used in Africa and certain areas to control mosquito populations. It may linger in the water and soil for years and find their way into the living beings when they consume that water or crops grown on the affected soil.

People should understand the harmful impacts of such chemicals and minimize or totally avoid their use for a better and safer future.


  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3535520/
  • https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/08/180816081500.htm

Areeba Hussain

Areeba is an independent medical and healthcare writer. For the last three years, she is writing for Tophealthjournal. Her prime areas of interest are diseases, medicine, treatments, and alternative therapies. Twitter @Areeba94789300

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