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

Megan Bragg, Jorge E. Chavarro, Ghassan B. Hamra, Jaime E. Hart, Loni Philip Tabb, Marc G. Weisskopf, Heather E. Volk, Kristen Lyall

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)324-338
Number of pages15
JournalCurrent environmental health reports
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Environmental toxins
  • Nutrition
  • Pregnancy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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