Families of autistic children experience high physical, mental and emotional burdens
Data were from the CCCEH Mothers and Newborns longitudinal birth cohort study in Northern Manhattan and the Bronx, which includes many participants who self-identify as African American or Dominican. Mothers wore an air monitoring backpack during the third trimester of pregnancy to measure exposure to air pollutants in their daily lives. When their children were 5 years old, mothers reported on stress in their lives, including neighborhood quality, material hardship, intimate partner violence, perceived stress, lack of social support, and general distress levels. Mothers then reported on their child's psychiatric symptoms at ages 5, 7, 9 and 11.
The combined effect of air pollution and early life stress was seen across several measures of thought and attention problems/ADHD at age 11. (Thought problems included obsessive thoughts and behaviors or thoughts that others find strange.) The effects were also linked to PAH-DNA adducts--a dose-sensitive marker of air pollution exposure.
The researchers say PAH and early life stress may serve as a "double hit" on shared biological pathways connected to attention and thought problems. Stress likely leads to wide-ranging changes in, for example, epigenetic expression, cortisol, inflammation, and brain structure and function. The mechanism underlying the effects of PAH is still being interrogated; however, alterations in brain structure and function represent possible shared mechanistic pathways.
Earlier studies making use of the same longitudinal cohort data found that prenatal exposure to air pollution combines with material hardship to significantly increase ADHD symptoms in children. A separate study found a combination of air pollution and poverty lowered child IQ. Source:
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health Journal reference:
Pagliaccio, D., et al. (2020) Prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons modifies the effects of early life stress on attention and Thought Problems in late childhood. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry . doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.13189 .
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