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Pollution and Autism?

The chemicals you know are nasty may be risk factors for you and your unborn children in unexpected ways.

December 6th, 2012

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pollution and autism

It’s almost 2013, and by now we know that the chemicals from pollution are a major ager. Think duller, wrinkled skin and arteries and lungs weathered with extra gunk.

New research shows a weak association between  exposure to traffic-related pollution during pregnancy (and their first year of life) and developing autism. This neural disorder now affects 1 in 88 children and impairs social development. Children living within 1,000 feet of a freeway had a weak but greater association with developing autism.  And while this association is weak, it is rooted in science that says staying away from microscopic particulant pollutants make you more beautiful, inside and out.

COLUMN: Inhaling What We Exhale: Is It Slowing Your Brain?

Certain pollutants can disrupt a gene that plays a role in a baby’s brain development. In autistic brains, this gene expression appears suppressed. Pollution can also cause inflammation in the brain. Known as neuroinflammation, it sounds scary—and it is. When a child’s brain can’t grow properly because of the inflammation, they have a higher risk of cognitive deficits.

And it’s not just children! Some research links air pollution-induced neuroinflammation to diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's down the line.

We advise opening your window to let fresh air in your home, if you live in a relatively unpolluted area. If you’re in a high-traffic area or a big city, invest in an air-purification system with a HEPA filter.

MORE: Does Pollution Cause Obesity and Diabetes?

If you’re considering moving, location should be at the top of your list. You don’t have to make a complete city change, but look at its proximity to major highways and industrial factories. A good rule of thumb: Make sure some green’s in sight. Research shows that bushes, trees and even ivy can lower the worst forms of street pollution (nitrogen dioxide and microscopic particulate matter). Get familiar with the EPA’s top tips to reduce air pollution.

Then, you can breath easy—for you and your loved ones.

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