The term “Autism” refers to a broad range of disorders including difficulties with social skills, repetitive activities, speech, and nonverbal communication. This is related to the functioning of the brain and body. The condition frequently coexists with other sensory sensitivity difficulties as well as health problems like seizures and gastrointestinal problems.2
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that the prevalence of ASD increased dramatically from 1 in 150 children in 2000 to 1 in 59 children (15%) in 2018.2,6 This raises the question, can consuming processed foods during pregnancy increase the chances of developing autism in childhood?
The researchers, who are gastroenterologist, conducted a study that showed different gut microbiomes and higher levels of propionic acid (PPA) in stool samples from children with autism compared to normal children.5 The study began after reports showed that autistic children often suffer from digestive and gastric problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhoea and stomach pain.5,6 This suggests that there may be a connection between the gut and brain in autistic children.5
Propionic acid is a naturally occurring short-chain saturated fatty acid with anti-fungal properties. Additionally, it is created chemically to flavouring commercially packaged and processed products.2,6 Scientists have found that high levels of PPA in the body can damage and disrupt the natural balance between brain cells.1,2,3,4
Propionic acid levels may rise if a pregnant woman eats a lot of processed food. By inhibiting the growth of neurons, which instruct other body cells how to operate, excessive PPA has an adverse effect on a foetus’s brain. Additionally, it has the potential to harm neurons' internal communication systems. With the decreasing number of neurons, the neurons must work harder to send messages to the body.2,3,4 Glial cells are overproduced in response to high PPA levels. These cells serve to safeguard neuronal activity, but an excess can impair neuronal communication and lead to inflammation in the brain and other parts of the body.2 Propionic acid also causes inflammation that is present in children with ASD.5 The brain's ability to communicate is inhibited by the combination of fewer neurons and damaged pathways, leading to behaviours that are frequently seen in autistic children, includes recurring behaviours, issues with mobility, and a lack of social interaction.5
Propionic acid-containing foods, such as bread, baked goods, processed cheeses, dried fruits, and packaged juices, are typically categorized as instant foods. Propionic acid elements that are often written on the food packaging include: sodium propionate/propanoate, calcium propionate/propanoate, and methyl propionate/propanoate.2
Understanding the possible relationship between Propionic Acid (PPA) and autism can give parents, especially mothers, options to eat healthy foods during pregnancy for optimal foetal development and growth. The relationship between gut health and brain function is also shown, providing significant new information. Keep in mind that the body naturally produces propionic acid (PPA), and that is only in excessive amounts that PPA has the potential to disrupts normal brain development.
1. Suhtling Wong-Vienneau. Processed Foods May Hold Key o Rise in Autism. University of Central Florida Education. 20 Juni 2019. Tersedia di :
2. Nicole Dudenhoefer’17. Processing Risk Childhood Autism. PEGASUS The Magazines of The University of Central Florida. Fall 2019. Tersedia di :
3. Elisa Cinelli. Is There a Link Between Processed Foods and Autism. Family Education Update 12 Fberuari 2020. Tersedia di :
4. Latifa S. Abdelli, Aseela Samsam & Saleh A. Naser. Propionic Acid Induces Gliosis and Neuro-inflammation through Modulation of PTEN-AKT Pathway in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Scientific Reports. Published. 2019.9:8824. Tersedia di :
5. Suhtling Wong Vienneau. Processed Foods and Effect on Developing Fetus brain : Autism Link?. University of Central Florida. Sceince Daily, 20 Juni 2019. Tersedia di :
6. Ana Sandoiu. What is the Link Between PPA and Autsme? Medical News Today pada 24 Juni 2019. Pemeriksaan Fakta oleh Jasmin Collier. Tersedia di :