The well researched January cover story of E Magazine, “The Search for Autism’s Missing Piece: Autism Research Slowly Turns Its Focus to Environmental Toxicity” by Brita Belli, spotlights environmental factors that might contribute to autism; the fastest-growing, most horrifying developmental disability in America today now affects 1 in 100 children according to the CDC. The explosion of autism in one generation screams for an explanation past genetics, but research to date has primarily been centered only on genes. Current research fails miserably to provide answers to halt autism’s continuing rise or to treat those already affected. In fact, some question whether definitive research proving the cause, or causes, of this national crisis will ever come due to money and politics.
Belli’s article discusses the medical community’s reluctance to investigate and identify sources of chemical toxicity affecting children. She explains, “The nonprofit Environmental Working Group, in a detailed report about the neglect of autism research’s focus on environmental factors, points out that ‘Hundreds of studies have explored the genetic roots of the autism epidemic, but none has uncovered a single gene or vulnerability to account for more than a fraction of cases.”
According to Belli, several environmental factors may contribute to autism and need further exploration:
• mercury in vaccinations, dental amalgams, seafood and other sources,
• lead and sulfur dioxide in our air and drinking water,
• arsenic and pharmaceuticals in our drinking water,
• chemicals in plastics – phthalates, Bisphenol-A, and
• flame retardants found in homes and school.
Heavy Metals, Porphyrins and Chelation
Research that does investigate environmental factors is uncovering a strong link between heavy metals and autism. Several studies show more porphyrins (chemical compounds that increase in the blood in response to heavy metal toxicity) are found in the blood of autistic children following chelation than in typical children, suggesting autistic children retain heavy metals rather than excrete them. Chelation is a conventional, yet controversial, medical treatment that uses a drug such as dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA) to extract heavy metals from the body. Re-categorized by some as a questionable holistic biomedical treatment, DMSA remains one of the oldest drugs (around since the 1950s) used as an antidote for heavy metal poisoning.
Other research identifies biological factors that may contribute to autism, and one is the important antioxidant called glutathione. Glutathione is critical in the body for excreting heavy metals because it binds to metals in the body and eases elimination. A pioneering study in 2004, led by Jill James, Ph.D. of the Arkansas School of Medicine, showed autistic children had significantly less glutathione levels than children without autism. Low glutathione increases oxidative stress in the body, and James explains that an, “…increased vulnerability to oxidative stress (endogenous or environmental) may contribute to the development and clinical manifestations of autism.” James proposes some children are genetically predisposed to low glutathione levels, which may make this subset of children susceptible to heavy metal toxicity and display symptoms that lead to a diagnosis of autism. More than ever, heavy metals are found today in a variety of consumer products such as pesticides, furniture, food, children’s toys, and vaccinations.
Beside the combination of high heavy metals and low glutathione found in their bodies, autistic children also often have a history of antibiotic use and gut dysbiosis. A study by Adams, et al, looked at the medical history of children with autism and found they were much more likely to have been given multiple rounds of oral antibiotics as infants, mostly due to increased ear infections. What makes high heavy metals, low glutathione, and the addition of antibiotics a bad mix? The studies author explains, “Oral antibiotics in rats have been shown to greatly decrease the rate of excretion of mercury. So the half-life for excretion goes from 10 days to 100 days in rats on oral antibiotics.” Belli adds, “That toxicity—whether in the form of vaccines, fish, dental amalgams, air pollution, tainted water or other environmental toxins—might provide the “toxic tipping point” to render a child autistic.”
What Can You Do?
Learn. Rates of children diagnosed with autism continue to climb steadily, from 1 in 10,000 children in the 1980’s, to 1 in 500, to 1 in 250, to 1 in 150. Today, autism affects 1 in 100 children, 1 in every 58 boys, and shows absolutely no sign of slowing. As stated earlier, money and politics play an important role in the type of research conducted.
While we wait for conclusive research that points to autism‘s causes, and watch as government and political bodies debate the issue, it is recommended that parents:
• Research all consumer products purchased for or used near children including cleaners, pesticides, toys, furniture, carpeting, food, and vaccinations.
• Review the benefits of these products, read the package labels and inserts, and pay special attention to all the risks.
• Regardless of whether or not your child has autism, find a health practitioner who has not only reviewed research on genetics, but who also has personally read and evaluated the research on chemical toxicity. If he or she has not taken the time to read it for themselves, find another practitioner.
• Be sure to discuss your evaluation, ideas and thoughts with your practitioner.
Ultimately, a parent’s own thorough research, in consultation with a health professional, is the best defense against autism.
Jackie Lombardo is a member of the Sierra Club’s National Toxics Committee and on the Board of Directors for Safeminds.org. She is also founder of Non-toxic Childhood and involved in national projects stressing education, precaution and strong legislation protecting public health through comprehensive chemical policy reform.
Healthy Child Healthy World is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit inspiring parents to protect young children from harmful chemicals. Learn more at HealthyChild.org
Donielle @ Naturally Knocked Up says
For parents who have autistic children, I would highly suggest reading “The GAPS Diet” by Dr. Natasha Campbell. The basis of the book is that the gut dysbiosis is one of the major causes behind autism (and ADD, ADHD, etc.) but she goes one step further and offers a dietary solution to the problem and it also promotes healing within the body. Many, many families have been able to overcome a lot of different health issues following this diet.
Thanks for this post. I always felt science was looking in the wrong direction. Heavy metal body burdens (in utero) and after birth seemed more plausible to me. Mothers are told to eat a lot fish for the Omega 3 benefits and subsequently may be ingesting high amounts of mercury, along with fillings and the other possible culprits mentioned in Belli’s article. I was not aware of the antibiotic use. Fascinating. I agree with Donielle about the GAPS diet working, as well. I know people with celiac have low glutathione levels, too.
I am hopeful that my son won’t be the 1 in 100. My husband and I removed all of our mercury fillings with a specially trained dentist, completed a detox afterwards including NAC and glutathione. Then conceived on our first try. We chose not to vaccinate, purchased only organic bedding products, sleepwear, body products and have reduced a large amount of items with flame retardants in our home. No pesticide use. Organic food. There are things we can do to keep these harmful chemicals away from our children.
Jennifer Lance says
I just watched Temple Grandin’s movie last night. I really don’t recall any children with autism when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, but now, I know so many.
I agree it´s all the toxins around us. In our daily lives. I would also add processed food and all those food additives. In the 70s or 80s is was normal that mom (or dad) cooked every meal, made lunches and a child was happy about eating fruit while playing outside all day long. I believe we are the cause and we are making ourselves sick by not eating natural foods and sitting inside the house with all those nice flame retardants around us turning on the ac instead of opening the windows. We need to get back to a more “simple” and natural live style where children play with dirt instead of colorful plastic toys and families take their time in preparing food and enjoy it together.
there are just as many autistic adults as there are children, back in the 70’s and 80’s there wasn’t enough knowledge about it, so many of us were diagnosed later in life.
Back then parents weren’t so paranoid about developmental delays either.
This article is an abomination, and everything claimed in it is demonstratably false.
replica ugg says
it´s all the toxins around us.
Kowalski, that might be true with the not so severe cases. I am sure a lot more children are diagnosed nowadays who would have just been a little strange back then. But what about the autistic children that don´t talk, cover up their ears when they hear birds singing or can´t stand a shower because the water drops hurt their skin. I grew up in quite a small town where everyone knew each other and I don´t remember even one child with problems like that. Now I know a few cases just among my friends and family. You also have to agree that life has changed or did your mom send you to school with a box of lunchables, bright red juice and a candy bar. I worked for a childcare for a while and out of 30 children there were maybe 2 that had an appropriate lunch with them. One 5 year old came with a can of coke and a king size snickers. 85% of the children had lunchables. Or did your mom wash your toys with Clorox or wipe the handle of a shopping card before using it because she was so afraid of germs? My mom didn´t. I don´t know. I am sure a lot of cases were not recognized back then but I doubt there was 1 in 58 boys affected either.
Laura McCallum says
The study done by Dr. Jill James in 2004 showing increased vunerability to oxidative stress and low glutathione levels is quite interesting. Since glutathione is your body’s master antioxidant, the two conditions are related.
Dr. Jimmy Gutman, world’s most published author on the subject of glutathione, did a call on the subject recently. The summation of call can be found here:
Good Health To You!
How predictable that someone would undiagnose me on the internet.
Gerti, you don’t know me but somehow you think I’m a “milder” case, (whatever that is.) You don’t know anything about me and yet you make assumptions that my autism is different than the autism you describe. You also assume I’m from your country and grew up in a similar culture. You describe the eating habits of YOUR culture and think it applies to me.
The whole discussion is an exercise in anti-intellectualism.
Kowalski, I am sorry I did not mean to undiagnose you in any way. I apologize for that. Of course I don´t know you just as much as you don´t know me. I didn´t grow up in this country either. I am just describing what I am experiencing and I am not the only one who believes in this. Like I said I did not mean to offend you. I am just that so much has changed within the last 30 or 40 years that we should look more into it. And they finally do that. Did you look at the link Laura McCallum attached? Very interesting…
Discussions on the internet are always just an exchange of thoughts between people who don´t know each other and never will.
Jason Sabo says
If this issue is important to you, please take several minutes to join SafePhaseOut.org, a website dedicated solely to the replacement of deca-BDE with environmentally-friendly fire safety alternatives. I just supported the site and had a letter written to my legislator within the week.
gerti, There are plenty of severely autistic adults (and high functioning autistic adults like my 50 year old brother.)
You probably don’t know any because they were institutionalized or kept home by their parents. I recommend reading Boy Alone by Karl Greenfield.
Becky, thanks for the tip. I never said I don´t believe there weren´t autistic people around 30 or more years ago either diagnosed or not. I can see that a lot of them were misdiagnosed or overseen who would now be diagnosed with autism. I have friends who have worked with autistic children and adults since the early 90s. I did not mean to offend anyone and if it seemed like that I really apologies for this misunderstanding! But we seem to have more autistic children than ever and I am just happy to see that now they are looking into different corners to find the cause. That is all.
Toxic chemicals should be banned but that will not happen in the USA. The EPA in America has banned a total of 5 toxic chemicals. They banned a sixth substance (asbestos) but lost in court and today asbestos is still being manufactured and sold in the USA. The EPA in Europe has banned about 1000 chemicals. American products like Tide, Downy, Bounce etc are all banned in Europe. The EPA does not have the power to ban any chemicals, and has not even tried to ban one since the 1970’s. Almost all of our consumer products contain known carcinogens. Just Google “toxic chemicals in consumer products”. I found a web site that only sells non toxic products and their prices are the lowest anywhere. Go to http://www.greenvirginproducts.com