Pesticide exposure = Autism with Algae Solution

by Mark Edwards

Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S. and Autism prevalence figures are growing. The CDC estimates that one out of every 68 children has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, (ASD). Autism costs a family $60,000 a year on average. Boys are nearly five times more likely than girls to have autism, but scientist do not know why. There is currently no medical detection or cure for autism.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that causes significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from others, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Many people that suffer from ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives. ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, but is almost five times more common among boys than among girls.

The ASD epidemic is brutal and expanding rapidly. ASD is the fastest growing developmental disability in the U.S. with an average 17% growth rate per year. One person is diagnosed with ASD every 20 minutes. ASD costs the nation over $137 billion per year, a figure expected to significantly increase in the next decade.

Recent research shows that pregnant mothers’ exposure to pesticides significantly increases the likelihood that infants will suffer from ASD. Pesticides are designed to kill pests but pesticide residual on food and pesticide pollution near farms increases vulnerability to a host of neurological diseases.


Over 70% of the insecticides applied in the U.S. are organophosphorus (OPs), which were developed by German Scientists during WWII as nerve agents. These compounds use the same action mechanism as sarin nerve gas that blocks the nervous system of insects, which scramble their brains. When insect brains are disrupted, the bugs die, which is great for farmers. OPs are derivatives of phosphoric acid and have replaced the banned organochlorine compounds, where their toxicity lasted too long after application. The over 10,000 OPs on the global market vary substantially in toxicity, residue levels and excretion.

Unfortunately, OPs interfere with the animal and human nervous systems, even with low exposure. Other adverse health effects of individual OP pesticides occur too; some are acutely toxic, some cause development or reproductive harm and others are known endocrine disruptors. Some pesticides deliver all three threats. Recent research shows that pesticide exposure by pregnant mothers can significantly increase the likelihood that the newborn will suffer from autism.

OPs block cholinesterase from its primary job, which is signaling the brain. The pesticide may enter the body through ingestion, inhalation or contact with eyes or skin. Cholinesterase is an enzyme in the human nervous system that breaks down acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that carries signals between nerves and muscles. When cholinesterase is inactivated, acetylcholine builds up in the nerves, which become overactive. Victims of organophosphate poisoning typically die because they cannot breathe. It is a painful way to die because the victim suffocates because the muscles are essentially paralyzed. Twelve children died of OP poisoning after a school lunch in India in 2013.

The CDC reports an average of 23 deaths occur each year with pesticides as the underlying cause of death. Pesticide deaths are hugely underreported as the symptoms and deaths mask the source. The American Association of Poison Control Centers estimates pesticide emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and health care costs of $200 million annually. The National Pesticide Information Center reports pesticides, including flea and tick treatments, are responsible ten of thousands of animal deaths are year.

Pesticide warnings may keep people from the field but not the neighborhood

Pesticide warnings may keep people from the field but not the neighborhood

The EPA classifies most organophosphates as highly or moderately toxic. OPs interfere with the nervous system by inhibiting the enzyme acetylcholinesterase. Under normal conditions, acetylcholinesterase controls nerve impulses – sending chemical signals to halt the nerve impulse to the brain. When organophosphates impede this process, the nervous system becomes severely over stimulated, resulting in immediate neurological dysfunction.

Pesticide application on tea leaves in India

Pesticide application on tea leaves in India

Airplane application

Airplane application

The CHARGE study

A team of researchers combined data from the Childhood Autism Risks From Genetics and the Environment, (CHARGE) study with data from the California Pesticide Use Report. The team investigated how exposure to pesticide drift from spray on nearby fields contributed to autism spectral disorders and developmental difficulties among mothers’ soon-to-be-born children.

The CHARGE study led by Janie F. Shelton at U.C. Davis and a U.N. consultant, compared insecticide exposure from 1997 to 2008 with mental health metrics of the children of nearly 1,000 mothers in California where 200 million pounds of insecticides are sprayed every year.

About a third of the mothers in the study lived, during their pregnancy, within 5,000 feet of a farm where one of the four pesticide classes being studied were sprayed. These mothers were substantially more likely to have kids with autism spectrum disorder, (ASD) or kids who suffer difficulties developing communication, social, and motor skills. These problems affect one out of every 25 American children.

Children with autism spectral disorders were found to have had a 60% greater chance of having had organophosphates sprayed near their mothers’ homes while they were still in the womb. Children with development disorders were nearly 150% more likely to have had carbamate pesticides applied near the home during their mothers’ pregnancy. Both of the associations grew stronger as the pesticide applications encroached more closely upon their mothers’ homes.

This research shows that applications of two of the most common agricultural pesticides (organophosphates and pyrethroids) near the home increases the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders. A large part of the problem is believed to be that the pesticides are neurotoxic—and the tender neuron networks in small children are particularly vulnerable to disruption. The organophosphates function by hyperexciting neuronal synapses. They make neurons fire faster than normal. During child development, these flash-firing neuronal synapses create a thunderstorm of neural activity that is catastrophic to the developing brain.

Pesticides are ubiquitous in modern industrial agriculture. Pesticides put not only producers and consumers at severe health risk but also threaten rural communities.

Algae solutions

Algae offer medical solutions to the pesticide residues that are linked to ASD.

  1. Some algae species contain compounds that can operate as cholinesterase inhibitors and allow infant brains to develop normally.
  2. Algae compounds that moderate the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders.

Algae have the potential to produce cholinesterase inhibitors and other compounds that may help developing brains develop normally.

Algae inhibitors?

Several compounds found in algae are known to moderate the symptoms of ASD and ADHD. No algae compounds have yet been found that have been proven to moderate the flash-firing neuronal synapses or to cure autism or ADHD. However, certain compounds that have not yet been extracted from algae may help manage both neuronal synapse development in fetus and infant life and slow synapse collapse in later life.

Cholinesterase inhibitors have been used with modest success to treat Alzheimer’s disease and dementia symptoms. The Alzheimer’s Association notes that three cholinesterase inhibitors are commonly prescribed:

  • Donepezil (Aricept) is approved to treat all stages of Alzheimer’s.
  • Rivastigmine (Exelon) is approved to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.
  • Galantamine (Razadyne) is approved to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.

Most current cholinesterase inhibitors are derived from compounds found in plants. For example, Boswellia trees and shrubs grow in West Africa and have an outer bark that peels in parchment flakes, a greenish inner bark, watery aromatic resins and wood with milky latex. Frankincense, or olibanum, is the oleogum resin harvested from Boswellia latex. The word frankincense is derived from the ancient French name “frankincense,” meaning “pure incense.” Frankincense is also known in Arabic as “luban,” which means “white” or “cream” in Greek as “libanos” in Ethiopia as “etan.” Olibanum (frankincense) has been used as incense since ancient times as medicine and cosmetics. Frankincense provides anti-inflammatory, sedative, anti-hyperlipidemic, and antibacterial activities in Unani (Islamic) and Chinese traditional medicines.

Cholinesterase inhibitors also may be useful to moderate pesticide poisoning in fetus or infant life. A smart algae company or lab may do some algae bioprospecting to find cholinesterase inhibitors that could be tested on animals and then humans. Theoretically, expecting mothers who are exposed to pesticides may benefit from algae-based cholinesterase or other inhibitors. The team that develops an algae production system for the active compounds found in frankincense will deserve Algae Industry Magazine’s highest award!

While algae bioproducts may moderate developing and aged brains, algae nutraceuticals and medicines are already recommended for treating infants, adolescents and adults with brain problems such as autism and ADHD.

(L) Cholinesterase inhibitor molecule, (R) Cholinesterase screening sign

(L) Cholinesterase inhibitor molecule, (R) Cholinesterase screening sign

Algae autism therapeutics

Medical research on early brain development has demonstrated repeatedly the high value of the long chained polyunsaturated fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid, (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid, (DHA). These nutraceuticals, often marketed as fish oil, actually come from the fish diet of algae. Several companies including Algae2Omega culture algae and harvest the omega 3s for the nutraceutical industry.

Algae 101 presents my theory that omega-3 fatty acids are probably responsible for making us human. Our ancestors drank and ate algae with high levels of omega 3s, which encephalizedtheir brains. Between two and 1.5 million years ago, human brains increased 4x compared to our closest cousins, the chimpanzees. The spark that ignited human brainpower was probably algae macro and micronutrients, especially the omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements have been shown in several studies to moderate the symptoms of autism, ADHD and similar disorders. While these algae compounds do not reverse autism, they essentially moderate the thunderstorm disturbances in the neurological synapses and brain.

Andrew Stoll at McLean Hospital studied omega-3 fatty acids in bipolar disorder. Dr. Stoll found that patients who took concentrated capsules of omega-3 fatty acids had longer remissions between episodes of mood dysregulation. Joseph Hibbeln at the NIH has published several research studies notes that “In the last century, Western diets have radically changed and we eat grossly fewer omega-3 fatty acids now. We also know that rates of depression have radically increased by perhaps a hundred-fold.” Captain Hibbeln and team were the first to establish a link among military personnel between low omega-3 levels and suicide risk. Suicide risk was greatest among service members with the lowest levels of DHA, the major omega-3 fatty acid concentrated in the brain.

A recent review has shown omega-3 fatty acids to be useful as add-on therapy in bipolar depression. Since there is an increased prevalence of bipolar disorder in the extended families ASD patients, omega-3 has been proposed as a treatment for mood stabilization in patients with ASD. Other studies have shown that omega-3 supplements can decrease hyperactivity children with ADHD.

Omega 3 fatty acids are natural products and induce no side effects, which makes them a first choice for ASD treatment over pharmaceutical drugs with significant side effects.

Path forward

Additional autism research will uncover mechanisms and pathways that occur in fetal and infant life that are responsible for the development problems. New insights will create the opportunity for new algae-based compounds that better manage and possibly reverse not only autism spectrum disorders but also dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Organizations Promoting Bans, Restrictions and Alternatives to Pesticides: