MONDAY, Nov. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Children exposed to air pollution from traffic and other sources while in the womb and during their first year may be at an increased risk for autism, a new study suggests.
Infants exposed to the highest levels of air pollution were three times more likely to develop autism than those exposed to the lowest levels, researchers found.
"There is evidence that the immune system might be associated with autism, and pollution affects these same pathways," said lead researcher Heather Volk, assistant professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles.
It is also possible that the toxic chemicals in pollution are related to the increased risk of autism, she said, and these pollutants may trigger a genetic predisposition to the condition.
"We are not saying that air pollution causes autism," Volk said. "But it does appear that this may be one potential risk for autism. We are beginning to understand that pollution affects the developing fetus."
The report was published in the Nov. 26 online edition of the Archives of General Psychiatry.
For the study, Volk's team looked at the connection of autism with exposure to air pollution among 279 children with autism. They compared these children to 245 children without the condition. All the children took part in a California study on autism risks, genetics and the environment.
To estimate the amount of pollution the children were exposed to, the researchers used the mothers' address. Pollution from traffic was estimated using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data on air quality.
Children exposed to the highest levels of traffic air pollution during pregnancy were nearly twice as likely to develop autism as children exposed to the least air pollution, the researchers found. And between birth and 1 year of age, children expos
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