Common Food Fungicides Linked to Autism: Revealing Study Points to Risks

Common Food Fungicides Linked to Autism: Revealing Study Points to Risks

Gene expression after exposure to a relatively new class of fungicides shows a strong similarity to how autism and other diseases of the brain including Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease present, says new research.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, looked at 300 types of chemicals and how they affected the brains of mice. The research team out of the University of North Carolina was able to assess gene expressions in the mice after exposure.

“Based on RNA sequencing, we describe six groups of chemicals,” Mark Zylka, PhD, senior author of the study and associate professor of cell biology and physiology at UNC said of the research. “We found that chemicals within each group altered expression in a common manner. One of these groups of chemicals altered the levels of many of the same genes that are altered in the brains of people with autism or Alzheimer’s disease.”

Those chemicals include the pesticides rotenone, pyridaben, and fenpyroximate, along with a new class of fungicides which includes pyraclostrobin, trifloxystrobin, fenamidone, famoxadone, azoxystrobin, fluoxastrobin, and kresoxim-methyl.

“We cannot say that these chemicals cause these conditions in people,” said Zylka. “Many additional studies will be needed to determine if any of these chemicals represent real risks to the human brain.”

The fungicides are commonly found in conventionally grown leafy green vegetables: lettuces, spinach, and kale, as well as grapes and tomatoes. The researchers noted that some of the chemicals are being more widely used than ever due to their ability to effectively reduce fungal blights and rust that can cripple crop yields.

“Virtually nothing is known about how these chemicals impact the developing or adult brain,” Zylka said. “Yet these chemicals are being used at increasing levels on many of the foods we eat.”

There is no known cause for autism, which affects 1 in 68 children; 1 in every 42 is male.

“Then there are honeybees,” writes Tom Philpott for Mother Jones. “In a 2013 study, a team of USDA researchers found pyraclostrobin and several other fungicides and insecticides in the pollen of beehives placed near farm fields—and that bees fed pyraclostrobin-laced pollen were nearly three times more likely to die from common gut pathogen called Nosema ceranae than the unexposed control group.”

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Child and grapes image via Shutterstock

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.