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Prenatal Diet as a Modifier of Environmental Risk Factors for Autism and Related Neurodevelopmental Outcomes

A Correction to this article was published on 02 June 2022

This article has been updated

Abstract

Purpose of Review

Environmental chemicals and toxins have been associated with increased risk of impaired neurodevelopment and specific conditions like autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Prenatal diet is an individually modifiable factor that may alter associations with such environmental factors. The purpose of this review is to summarize studies examining prenatal dietary factors as potential modifiers of the relationship between environmental exposures and ASD or related neurodevelopmental outcomes.

Recent Findings

Twelve studies were identified; five examined ASD diagnosis or ASD-related traits as the outcome (age at assessment range: 2–5 years) while the remainder addressed associations with neurodevelopmental scores (age at assessment range: 6 months to 6 years). Most studies focused on folic acid, prenatal vitamins, or omega-3 fatty acids as potentially beneficial effect modifiers. Environmental risk factors examined included air pollutants, endocrine disrupting chemicals, pesticides, and heavy metals. Most studies took place in North America. In 10/12 studies, the prenatal dietary factor under study was identified as a significant modifier, generally attenuating the association between the environmental exposure and ASD or neurodevelopment.

Summary

Prenatal diet may be a promising target to mitigate adverse effects of environmental exposures on neurodevelopmental outcomes. Further research focused on joint effects is needed that encompasses a broader variety of dietary factors, guided by our understanding of mechanisms linking environmental exposures with neurodevelopment. Future studies should also aim to include diverse populations, utilize advanced methods to optimize detection of novel joint effects, incorporate consideration of timing, and consider both synergistic and antagonistic potential of diet.

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Fig. 1

Change history

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Funding

This work was supported by funding from the NIEHS under grant #R01 ES032469-01A1 (Lyall, Volk) and P30 ES000002 (Hart).

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Conceptualization, design, and initial literature review were performed by Kristen Lyall. The formal literature review was completed and the manuscript was drafted by Megan Bragg. Additional drafting and manuscript revision were completed by all authors. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Kristen Lyall.

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Bragg, M., Chavarro, J.E., Hamra, G.B. et al. Prenatal Diet as a Modifier of Environmental Risk Factors for Autism and Related Neurodevelopmental Outcomes. Curr Envir Health Rpt 9, 324–338 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40572-022-00347-7

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Keywords

  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Nutrition
  • Pregnancy
  • Environmental toxins