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Eating Processed Foods While Pregnant Linked To Autism, Study Says

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A new study has found a potential link between pregnant women eating processed foods and the risk of their children developing autism.

According to researchers from the University of Central Florida, high levels of propionic acid (PPA) can have a negative effect on the nervous system of a still-developing fetus.

PPA is a substance used to extend the shelf life of many processed foods and scientists concluded that exposing unborn babies to it may be one of the "possible precursors for autism."

"Studies have shown a higher level of PPA in stool samples from children with autism and the gut microbiome in autistic children is different," lead researcher Dr. Saleh Naser said. "I wanted to know what the underlying cause was."

The UCF team added that they've seen a pattern between children with autism who also suffer from intestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome.

The study, published on June 19 in the Scientific Reports, found that exposing human stem cells to levels of PPA cut the number of cells that changed into neurons found in the nervous system.

Too much PPA in the system also reportedly increases the number of glial cells in the nervous. Although glial cells are said to be a key part of the body, too many of them can cause inflammation in the brain – another symptom seen in children on the autism spectrum.

"This research is only the first step towards better understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder," UCF researchers added. "We have confidence we are on the right track to finally uncovering autism etiology."

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