The Daily Telegraph (London) this week reported on another study linking chemicals in common household products to autism. This time the culprit is a group of insecticides commonly found in pet shampoos designed to kill fleas.
It seems there is increasing acceptance that an interaction between genetics and environmental triggers (including synthetic chemicals) may be the key to understanding autism which now affects around 1 in 150 children in developed countries.
The latest study reported by the Telegraph was carried out by Professor Irva Hertz-Picciotto and colleagues at the University of California, who found that expectant mothers who used pet shampoos containing pyrethrins to kill their pet's fleas were twice as likely to go on to have children with autism.
Pyrethrins are a pair of chemicals that act as insecticides by attacking the nervous systems of insects In terms of human health They have been regarded as one of the safest types of pesticide and their use has increased as that of other dangerous pesticides such as organophosphates and organochlorides has decreased.
This research casts doubt on the safety of these chemicals however. In the study mothers of children with autism were asked to detail any their children may have been exposed to from three months before conception to their first birthday. They were asked to include chemical sources such as insecticides, pet shampoos, and weedkillers.
Use of pyrethrin containing pet shampoos was found to double the risk of having an autistic child. The strongest link was found to be in the second trimester of pregnancy, when mothers with autistic children were 2.6 times more likely than others to have been exposed to the chemical.
According to the Telegraph other research has shown that pyrethrins affect the blood-brain barrier. This is a membrane which protects the brain from chemicals in the blood; controlling which substances are allowed to enter the brain. This could be one possible mechanism by which these chemicals could damage the brain and lead to autism...if indeed the association is confirmed.
What strikes me about all of this is that research such as this which demonstrates the risks of chemicals that people use every day keeps being published...but very little is done about it. The chemical industry has basically had a free ride for too long and as a society we fall for their glamourous advertising campaigns and merrily pay to expose ourselves and our children to what are essentially poisons.
With evidence that chemical products are damaging the health of unborn children it is a particularly sorry story. Especially when safer alternatives are freely available.
Instead of using pet shampoo containing insecticides such as pyrethrins, why not opt for a brand which uses safer alternatives such as neem oil? Flea collars are also available which contain herbal oils which can effectively control fleas.
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