Processed Food Additive Linked to Autism: New Study

Here we go again with the food additive Propionic Acid (PPA), a commonly used preservative in processed foods, and the potential for serious health outcomes.  This time the link concerns the developing fetal brain.  In a new study scientists have discovered that high levels of Propionic Acid (PPA), used to increase the shelf life of packaged foods and inhibit mold in commercially processed cheese and bread, reduce the development of neurons in fetal brains.

Study specifics

The scientists found exposing neural stem cells to excessive PPA damages brain cells in several ways. First, the acid disrupts the natural balance between brain cells by reducing the number of neurons and over-producing glial cells. While glial cells help develop and protect neuron function, too many glia cells disturb connectivity between neurons. They also cause inflammation, which has been noted in the brains of autistic children.

Excessive amounts of the acid also shorten and damage pathways that neurons use to communicate with the rest of the body. The combination of reduced neurons and damaged pathways impede the brain’s ability to communicate, resulting in behaviors that are often found in children with autism, including repetitive behavior, mobility issues and inability to interact with others.

Previous studies have proposed links between autism and environmental and genetic factors, but this study is the first to discover the molecular link between elevated levels of PPA, proliferation of glial cells, disturbed neural circuitry and autism.

What is next?*

This study marks just the beginning of the investigation into the link between this food additive and fetal neurodevelopment problems, including autism.  There are more scientific studies needed to examine the link between the food additive  Propionic Acid (PPA) and fetal brain development with a variety of populations under a variety of conditions and settings. In the meantime, those individuals who are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant should avoid commercially processed foods and stick to a diet of meals and snacks they prepare themselves using clean, fresh, whole ingredients, organic where possible.


*CFL offers a Life Cycle coaching and consulting program specially designed for pregnant women: Chemical-Free-Mothers-to-Be


Journal Reference: 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, 2019; 9 (1).

Study overview / Study DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-45348-z