Chinese Researchers Reveal that Poor Air Quality is Linked to Autism Spectrum Disorder

Chinese Researchers Reveal that Poor Air Quality is Linked to Autism Spectrum Disorder

Pollutants in the air can hamper the neurological development of kids during their early years.

Air pollution is one of the most massive issues in the modern world. It refers to a state where excessive quantities of harmful substances including gases, biological molecules, and particulates are added to the Earth’s atmosphere. A pollutant can come either from a natural process or from human activities. Air pollution is one of the major causes of diseases and allergies in humans. It even leads to death in extreme cases. According to the 2014 report of the World Health Organization, nearly 7 million people lost their lives due to it. It not only affects humans but also does damage to other living organisms like animals, birds, and food crops.

It is no secret that poor air quality has a drastic effect on human health. Despite that, researchers have found it difficult to figure out the environmental causes of developmental problems in kids. Maternal and Perinatal health is considered a vital factor when it comes to preterm birth and low birth weight but the impacts of poor air quality in the early years of a child needs a lot of research. A recent study may prove extremely beneficial in solving this problem. The study, conducted in Shanghai, discovered that exposure to certain types of air pollution in the early years of a child’s life can increase the risk of developing Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), significantly.

A lot of previous studies have shown the effects of air pollution on unborn children but the researchers at the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine of Monash University decided to take a step further. They studied around 1,500 children during their research and found that the neurological development of the child stays at risk from the unnoticed pollutants for the first few years after birth. Yuming Guo, the Lead Author of the study, said,

The serious health effects of air pollution are well-documented, suggesting there is no safe level of exposure. Even exposure to very small amounts of fine particulate matter have been linked to pre-term births, delayed learning, and a range of serious health conditions, including heart disease.”

Inhalable particles that are up to 10 micrometers in size causes most of the air pollution. Some common examples of such molecules include a variety of Sulfur Oxides, fine Carbon, and different Organic Compounds that are produced by the burning of fossil fuels. General disadvantages of these chemicals are common knowledge and authorities try to control their concentrations in order to minimize their harmful effects. They greatly contribute to the pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases around the globe.

On the other hand, some of the risks associated with poor air quality are not that obvious and needs to be studied. Impaired Neurological Development is one of those because most of the studies focus on prenatal exposure to poor air quality while some of them take exposure during the first year of a child’s life into account. Contrary to that, the latest study explains that the characteristics of the disease cannot be observed before the age of 2 or 3 irrespective of the fact that it is caused by fundamental differences in brain structure. Guo stressed about that by saying,

The developing brains of young children are more vulnerable to toxic exposures in the environment and several studies have suggested this could impact brain function and the immune system.”

ASD is an extremely complex mix of behaviors. We know that genes play a substantial role in the development of this disorder but the influence of environmental conditions cannot be neglected. Considering that, the researching team compared 124 children, suffering from ASD, with 1,240 normal children. The ages of all the selected children were between 3 and 12 years. Daily readings of all the regions where these kids lived for the first 3 years of their life were collected to see which of these children were exposed to higher levels of aerosols.

Researchers found a clear pattern that the children who were exposed to 1-micrometer-sized particles during the first 3 years of their life had 86% more chances to develop ASD. Similarly, they found that the risk was greatest during the 2nd and 3rd years. Although the experts were unable to decipher a reason for that, they made it clear that it is an important issue that needs to be addressed on an emergency basis. Guo talked about the criticality of this issue in the following words:

Given that PM1 accounts about 80 percent of PM2.5 pollution in China alone, further studies on its health effects and toxicology are needed to inform policymakers to develop standards for the control of PM1 air pollution in the future.”

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