A possible connection between Propionic Acid (Calcium Propionate) and Autism

This news flew around the web a bit about a month or two ago, but just in case you didn’t see it, I wanted to rebroadcast it here.

Propionic acid is a relatively common preservative (also known as E208, or Calcium Propionate). It’s an anti-mold/fungal agent that is added to some baked goods and cheeses to increase their shelf life, and also created in the body by some kinds of gut bacteria under specific circumstances. It’s also created naturally in some cheeses, for example Swiss.

This study came out recently, and was published in Nature: Propionic Acid Induces Gliosis and Neuro-inflammation through Modulation of PTEN/AKT Pathway in Autism Spectrum Disorder

It appears to be a potential cause of Autism-like symptoms, and some subset of Autism cases. It triggers the same kind of bad speciation/incorrect migration of neurons seen in the brain in people with Autism, as well as similar inflammatory markers seen in those people.

Most of the news stories on this a month or two ago focused on the fact that Calcium Propionate/propionic acid is a preservative commonly found in food, when the real story is likely that bad gut bacteria create this in-vivo, and it may be causing issues.

There have been previous weak correlations between autism and biliary colic, so it would be interesting to see if the dysbiosis mentioned in this paper is an underlying cause for that condition too - that would be a very elegant result.

Other studies show that it appears to also have bad side effects on blood glucose, but in much larger doses than you’d normally see in food. It’s possible that there’s a genetic component here and some people are less able to metabolize it. (Those people should also avoid Swiss cheese where it occurs naturally).

What does this mean for Autism?

I don’t think this leads to a “cure”, and even if it can be confirmed to be a causative agent, isn’t necessarily the cause of all kinds of autism, but this knowledge may lead to future diagnostic tests that a mother can be given during pregnancy. It may also lead to a list of foods to avoid during pregnancy as a first step. If the correlation becomes strong enough that it becomes an ethical issue not to yell from the rooftops about it, you’ll hear about it very quickly.

As for undoing the damage seen here, I am not aware of any way to undo the effects seen here, and I’d err on the side of no, there’s no good way to “fix” any of this, unless you know a good way to trigger nerve growth - although exercise and weed both seem to be able to under some circumstances. (shrugs)

Something to keep an eye on for the future.

What can you take from this?

If you’re ultra-conservative and a biohacker, my takeaway would be that if you’re in the last two trimesters of your pregnancy, do the following:

  • Avoid all foods, particularly baked goods, which contain Calcium Propionate, and Propionic acid on the ingredient label for yourself until your pregnancy is over. This includes food which contains it naturally, such as swiss cheese.
  • If you’re breast-feeding, avoid the same foods until you stop breast feeding
  • Don’t feed those foods to children under age 7 if at all avoidable

However, at this time there’s very little evidence to support doing the above, given that part of the puzzle appears to be genetic variation + environmental factor = problem, and if you don’t have the genes that cause issues, you shouldn’t have any problems at all. (And we might not even know which genes cause the issues yet).

If you have food intolerances to certain kinds of breads and not others, it might be worth your time identifying if those breads contain calcium propionate and if so, see if all breads with it in cause you problems, such as sluggishness or sleepiness. If they do? Avoid them at all costs from there on out.

Next time: Crohn’s disease is also tied to calcium propionate, so if you have Crohn’s, you may want to avoid it to - or at least watch to see if it can cause flare-ups for you.

About the author

Simon Cooke is an occasional video game developer, ex-freelance journalist, screenwriter, film-maker, musician, and software engineer in Seattle, WA.

The views posted on this blog are his and his alone, and have no relation to anything he's working on, his employer, or anything else and are not an official statement of any kind by them (and barely even one by him most of the time).

facebook comments