Rates of autism spectrum disorders have been increasing. In fact, rates have increased 10 times over the past forty years!
According to the organization Autism Speaks, ASD affects more children than diabetes, AIDS, or cancer combined. The increase in diagnoses may be due to better diagnostic tools, but many believe that the increasing rates are caused by increasing levels of environmental toxins during pregnancy.
Current research suggests that what we eat during pregnancy can help to boost our immune defense system to protect our body, and our baby from environmental toxins and may help reduce your baby’s risk of developing autism.
In this article, we will discuss some evidence-based dietary tips that may help in preventing autism during pregnancy.
Before we get into this, I’d like to clarify a few things. Firstly, if you already have a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, this is not to make you feel guilty or to blame. We can all only do the best that we can with the knowledge that we have at the time. And, secondly, whether our children have diabetes or an Autism Spectrum Disorder, or anything, they are still special, unique, and to be loved just the way they are.
There there is now a lot of evidence behind what we eat during pregnancy and our children’s risk of developing autism, so this article is to help empower you so that you have the knowledge to do the best that you can give your unique circumstances.
What is autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorders are a group of conditions mainly characterized by social impairment. Symptoms such as lack of eye contact and lack of facial expressions are usually obvious during infancy. ASD can have a range of side effects though, such as gut problems, difficulties in school, decreased rates of employment, and higher rates of depression. To know more about Autism/ASD click here.
There is no single cause for autism, and given the fact that symptoms and severity differ, it is believed that there are many different causes – especially genetics and the environment that our baby is exposed to during pregnancy. To know more about Autism/ASD causes click here.
Tips to Prevent Autism During Pregnancy
As I mentioned earlier, our diet during pregnancy has a big impact on our baby’s environment during pregnancy, so let’s look at some dietary tips that current research suggests may help in preventing autism during pregnancy.
Eat an antioxidant-rich diet by including plenty of fruit and vegetables each day. A recent Canadian study found that mothers who had more exposure to nitric oxide from traffic pollution during pregnancy had a high risk of having a baby with an Autism spectrum disorder. Antioxidants help to neutralize free radicals from environmental toxins. The best source of antioxidants is vegetables. It’s wise to consume a variety of different colored vegetables during pregnancy to receive a range of different antioxidants.
A range of different antioxidants from different vegetables will help to diffuse free radicals and hopefully minimize the risks of conditions caused by environmental toxins.
Ensure adequate Omega 3 intake during pregnancy. Omega 3 is essential for our baby’s brain development during pregnancy, and it also plays an important role in minimizing inflammation, so research suggests that omega 3 rich foods, such as fish and eggs, may play an important role in fighting infections during pregnancy which could have otherwise increased the risk of autism.
Some people believe that mercury, which can also be found in fish, can also increase the risk of autism, so make sure that you choose low mercury, high omega 3 fish.
Ensure that you maintain adequate levels of vitamin D during pregnancy. An increasing amount of evidence points to vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy being linked with autism spectrum disorders. According to Dr. John Cannell, founder and executive director of the Vitamin D Council, the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders increases in “regions of greater cloud cover and rainfall”, as we get most of our vitamin D from sunlight. Vitamin D plays a key role in regulating our immune system, which is believed to help reduce the oxidative stress that can cause autism, so make sure that you get your vitamin D levels checked during pregnancy.
There has been a range of micronutrient deficiencies that have been linked to increased risks of autism, including vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, and magnesium.
Okay, this highlights the importance of a nutrient-rich diet during pregnancy. There’re not many micronutrients in a chocolate bar, which is why it’s so important for us to focus on eating a nutrient-rich diet during pregnancy.
Optimize your weight – before pregnancy if possible. Mothers who are underweight or overweight during pregnancy are more likely to have babies born with low birth weight, and babies born with low birth weight for age have twice the rate of being born with an autism spectrum disorder. So it’s something that you might not be able to do anything about now, but maybe you could work on before your next baby.
Optimize your gut microbiome (and your baby’s) with pre and pro-biotics. Evidence has been increasing that our gut microbiome, which we pass on to our baby during pregnancy and breastfeeding, may play an important role in our baby’s risk of autism.
So, do your best to optimize your gut microbiome during pregnancy by including plenty of nutritious prebiotic foods such as onions, cashews, garlic, and nectarines.
Smoking and alcohol
Avoid smoking and alcohol during pregnancy. Cigarette smoke and alcohol are toxins to our body, and both cross our placenta, so it’s important to avoid toxins like these during pregnancy.
So, it’s on you how are you going with these dietary strategies? Honestly. Most mothers have great intentions but discover that it’s harder than they thought to eat well during pregnancy – especially when you’re exhausted. That’s why it’s essential to put together a pregnancy meal plan and to get support to keep you on track during this incredibly important time.
And, as this is a really important topic, can I please ask you to share this with any of your friends who are pregnant or trying to conceive? They need to know about this too.