Could modern day human lifestyle be responsible for the remarkable increase in the rate of autism? Science thinks so. This post from Collective Evolution highlights the possible causes of autism pointed to by science.
There is no single known cause for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but it is widely accepted by the scientific community that it is triggered by abnormalities in brain structure and function. This has been established in studies which illustrate the differences in the shape and structure of the autistic brain compared to those seen in the brains of neurotypical children. There is also a decent amount of evidence to support the theory that some children are born with a susceptibility to autism, but scientists have yet to identify this “trigger.” This is why researches have theorized that irregular segments of genetic code may be the root cause of autism.
In recent years, however, a wealth of information has emerged that was once never even considered. Despite the fact that the cause for autism isn’t certain, and that it’s highly unlikely researchers will ever find that ‘one’ cause of autism, scientists are now realizing that autism could be the result of the modern day human lifestyle. There are a number of significant studies that should be ringing alarm bells in the medical and scientific communities in this regard.
I’d also like to mention that autism is a large spectrum, some of what we are seeing here are in no way a ‘disability.’ Some may be due to malformations at critical stages of development due to the factors mentioned in this article. Other cases could be a gift, a slight evolutionary leap or an ability to access other parts of the brain. I just want to make it clear that the spectrum is huge, and many children who are diagnosed with ASDs do not have their brain scanned, much of the time they are diagnosed strictly through observation and social tendencies.
Since autism is strongly correlated with malformations during critical stages of development, especially in fetal states, scientists are finding that some of the strongest predictors for autism are associated with the environment. At particular stages of pregnancy the fetus is extremely vulnerable to whatever toxins the mother is exposed to, such as plasticers, prescription drugs, and environmental pesticides.
As Andrey Rzhetsky, Professor of Genetic Medicine and Human Genetics at the University of Chicago points out, “some of these small molecules essentially alter normal development.” A couple of years ago he published a study in the journal PLOS Computational Biology with researchers at the University of Chicago; it revealed that autism and intellectual disability (ID) rates are linked with exposure to harmful environmental factors during congenital development. His team looked at data that covered one third of the United States population, as well as more than 21 countries. They found that environmental lead, medications, and a large variety of other synthetic molecules (like pesticides, mercury, aluminum and more) all wreak havoc on the fetus. These substances were also linked with congenital malformations of male genitalia – which is strongly correlated with autism. (source)(source)
This is one out of many significant studies which should really be signalling to the medical and scientific community that preventative measures are crucial in the fight against autism; parents who want to decrease their risk of bearing a child with autism need to be educated in such measures.
“It’s time to start looking for the environmental culprits responsible for the remarkable increase in the rate of autism.” – Irva Hertz-Picciotto, Epidemiology Professor at University of California, Davis. (source)
It should be clear that autism goes well beyond a genetic problem. Our environment is full of neurodevelopment toxins, which are substances that alter how the brain grows. Polychlorinated diphenyl, lead, mercury, aluminum, brominated flame retardants, and pesticides are a few out of many examples.
There is a reason why, in the United States alone, autism rates have risen from 1;10,000 in 1981 to 1;68 in 2014. It’s time to look at our environment.
If we were to focus on just one (out of dozens) of these environmental toxins that we are exposed to on a daily basis, it would not be difficult to see how it could significantly increase the chances for autism. Throw in the dozens of other toxins that are equally as problematic, and the picture becomes much clearer.
Let’s take a look at pesticides, if only because billions of tonnes of these chemicals are sprayed on food and in our environment each year. In the United States alone, over 1 billion pounds of pesticides are sprayed every year, and approximately 5.6 billion pounds are used worldwide. It’s also disturbing to note, as emphasized by multiple publications, that all commercial formulations of pesticides are very complex mixtures of active and other ingredients. These “other” ingredients “include a wide variety of substances which are added to increase the efficacy of the product in a cost-effective manner. Information regarding these other compounds is considered proprietary business information and is not publicly available.” (source)
That being said, the information that we do have about the active ingredients in pesticides still paints a shocking picture.
For example, a study coming out of the University of California, Davis, determined that pregnant women who live in close proximity to land and farms where chemical pesticides are/were applied experience a two-thirds increased risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder or some other developmental disorder.
The study examined associations between pesticides — including organophosphates (a main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide) — that were applied during the participants’ pregnancies and a later diagnosis of autism or developmental delay in their children.
The study was published online this summer in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.(1) It concluded that proximity to organophosphates alone, at some point during gestation, was associated with a 60% increased risk for ASD:
This study validates the results of earlier research that had reported associations between having a child with autism and prenatal exposure to agricultural chemicals in California. While we still must investigate whether certain sub-groups are more vulnerable to exposures to these compounds than others, the message is very clear: Women who are pregnant should take special care to avoid contact with agricultural chemicals whenever possible. – Janie F. Shelton, a UC Davis graduate student who now consults with the United Nations, lead author of the study (source)
Many people like to mention that correlation does not mean causation, but they fail to use the Bradford Hill Criteria and consider just how much information correlates with the evidence at hand.
“How could we have ever believed that it was a good idea to grow our food with poisons? . . . As part of the process, they portrayed the various concerns as merely the ignorant opinions of misinformed individuals — and derided them as not only unscientific, but anti-science. They then set to work to convince the public and government officials, through the dissemination of false information, that there was an overwhelming expert consensus, based on solid evidence, that GMOs were safe.” – Jane Goodall
The study cited above found that organophosphates applied over the course of pregnancy were associated with an elevated risk of autism spectrum disorder. The study also found that exposures to insecticides for those living near agricultural areas may be problematic, especially during gestation, because a developing fetal brain is more vulnerable to such chemicals than an adult’s.
Because these pesticides are neurotic, in utero exposures during early development may distort the complex processes of structural development and neuronal singling producing alterations to the excitation and inhibition mechanisms that govern mood, learning, social interactions and behaviour.
“Because of the observed associations in humans and direct effects on neurodevelopmental toxicity in animal studies, caution is warranted for women to avoid direct contact with pesticides during pregnancy.”(source)
These pesticides are not just potential factors for the development of atusim, The active ingredient in Roundup is Glyphosate, which was recently linked to cancer by the World Health Organization (source). It was also found to be 125 times more toxic than regulators claimed. (source)
Pesticides sprayed on our food have also been linked to birth defects. (source) A paper published in the journal Pediatrics found that prenatal exposure to some of the pesticides sprayed on our food could impair the anthropometric development of the fetus, reducing the birth weight, length, and head circumference. (source)
There are a number of studies that have examined pesticide-induced diseases in fetuses. You can view some of them here.
Canadian research has also identified the presence of GMO-associated pesticides in maternal, fetal, and non-pregnant women’s blood. They also found the presence of Monsanto’s Bt toxin. The study was published in the journal Reproductive Toxicology in 2011. (source)
The study concluded that, apart from pesticides, Monsanto’s Bt toxins are clearly detectable and appear to cross the placenta to the fetus. The study pointed out that the fetus is highly susceptible to the adverse affects of xenobiotics (foreign chemical substances found within an organism that are not naturally produced). This is why the study emphasized that knowing more about GMOs is crucial, because environmental agents could disrupt the biological events that are required to ensure normal growth and development.
Here is another study that shows glyphosate can cause abnormalities. It was published in 2010 by the American Chemical Society; the research was conducted at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“The direct effect of glyphosate on early mechanisms of morphogenesis in vertebrate embryos opens concerns about the clinical findings from human offspring in populations exposed to GBH in agricultural fields.”
In late 2013, the European Food Safety Authority determined that pesticides may negatively affect the development of neurons and brain structures in unborn babies.
“Given the ubiquitous exposure to many environmental toxicants, there needs to be renewed efforts to prevent harm. Such prevention should not await detailed evidence on individual hazards. . . . Toxic exposure to chemical pollutants during these windows of increased susceptibility can cause disease and disability in childhood and across the entire span of human life.” (source) – From the world’s foremost pediatricians, toxicologists, environmental scientists, and epidemiologists at a conference held in 2007
“Chemical pollution represents a serious threat to children and to Man’s survival.” (source) – The Standing Committee of European Doctors
As you can see above, environmental toxins are of big concern. Just to reiterate, we are talking about multiple toxins found in a variety of products that have found their way into the human lifestyle. Air fresheners, pesticides, prescription drugs, fluoride (neuro-toxin), and a host of other contaminants could all be contributing factors for autism. This is probably why scientists have not been able to identify one specific cause. Considering how many environmental toxins we are regularly exposed to, it becomes clear that we are dealing with multiple instigators which, in combination, represent serious cause for concern.
There are some within the medical/scientific community who scoff at the idea that vaccines could potentially be contributing to the rise in autism rates that we’ve seen over the past few decades. As with anything else, we can’t claim to have discovered one single, direct link to autism, but it remains important to identify the multiple factors which are working together to make this disorder so prevalent.
Despite this skepticism, there are many doctors who think vaccines are worth looking into.
For example, there are a number of studies that outline the current concerns over vaccine ingredients. A study published in the Journal of Toxicology by scientists from the University of British Colombia, Louisiana, and MIT outlines how aluminum, up until the 1820s — when the industrial extraction of AI made it possible to bring it into our food, manufacturing, medicines, and more — was almost completely absent from the biosphere. The paper outlines how aluminum is harmful to the Central Nervous System (CNS), “acting in a number of deleterious ways and across multiple levels to induce biosemiotic entropy.” (source)
A study published in the Journal Current Medical Chemistry in 2011 stated that:
Aluminum is an experimentally demonstrated neurotoxin and the most commonly used vaccine adjuvant. Despite almost 90 years of widespread use of aluminum adjuvants, medical science’s understanding about their mechanisms of action is still remarkably poor. There is also a concerning scarcity of data on toxicology and pharmacokinetics of these compounds. In spite of this, the notion that aluminum in vaccines is safe appears to be widely accepted. Experimental research, however, clearly shows that aluminum adjuvants have a potential to induce serious immunological disorders in humans. In particular, aluminum in adjuvant form carries a risk for autoimmunity, long-term brain inflammation and associated neurological complications and may thus have profound and widespread adverse health consequences. In our opinion, the possibility that vaccine benefits may have been overrated and the risk of potential adverse effects underestimated, has not been rigorously evaluated in the medical and scientific community. We hope that the present paper will provide a framework for a much needed and long overdue assessment of this highly contentious medical issue. (source)
The paper points out how aluminum could be a culprit in the development of a wide body of neurodegenerative diseases, one of them being autism.
Here is a statement I took from the paper. For links to the specific citations you can look at the actual paper:
The issue of vaccine safety thus becomes even more pertinent given that, to the best of our knowledge, no adequate clinical studies have been conducted to establish the safety of concomitant administration of two experimentally-established neurotoxins, aluminum and mercury, the latter in the form of ethyl mercury (thimerosal) in infants and children. Since these molecules negatively affect many of the same biochemical processes and enzymes implicated in the etiology of autism, the potential for a synergistic toxic action is plausible [31, 47]. Additionally, for the purpose of evaluating safety and efficacy, vaccine clinical trials often use an aluminium-containing placebo, either containing the same or greater amount of aluminum as the test vaccine [48-51]. Without exception, these trials report a comparable rate of adverse reactions between the placebo and the vaccine group (for example, 63.7% vs 65.3% of systemic events and 1.7% vs 1.8% of serious adverse events respectively ).
The same authors as above also published a paper in 2011 that was approved for publication in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry. It stated:
We show that Al-adjuvanted vaccines may be a significant etiological factor in the rising prevalence of ASD. . . . According to the FDA, vaccines represent a special category of drugs as they are generally given to healthy individuals . Further according to the FDA, “this places significant emphasis on their [vac- cine] safety” . While the FDA does set an upper limit for Al in vaccines at no more than 850 μg/dose , it is important to note that this amount was selected empirically from data showing that Al in such amounts en- hanced the antigenicity of the vaccine, rather than from existing safety data or from the basis of toxicological considerations . . . . Nonetheless, given that the scientific evidence appears to indicate that vaccine safety is not as firmly established as often believed, it would seem ill advised to exclude pediatric vaccinations as a possible cause of adverse long-term neurodevelopmental outcomes, including those associated with autism. (source)
I included these particular authors because they are the most recent examples, but there are many which demonstrate that certain elements of vaccines could be a cause for concern.
A fairly recent Meta-Analysis published in the journal Bio Med Research International found that:
As seen in this review, the studies upon which the CDC relies and over which it exerted some level of control report that there is no increased risk of autism from exposure to organic Hg in vaccines, and some of these studies even reported that exposure to Thimerosal appeared to decrease the risk of autism. These six studies are in sharp contrast to research conducted by independent researchers over the past 75+ years that have consistently found Thimerosal to be harmful. As mentioned in the Introduction section, many studies conducted by independent investigators have found Thimerosal to be associated with neurodevelopmental disorders. Several studies, for example, including three of the six studies covered in this review, have found Thimerosal to be a risk factor for tics [10, 17, 24, 25, 34, 35]. In addition, Thimerosal has been found to be a risk factor in speech delay, language delay, attention deficit disorder, and autism [10, 11, 15–17, 24, 25, 34].
Considering that there are many studies conducted by independent researchers which show a relationship between Thimerosal and neurodevelopmental disorders, the results of the six studies examined in this review, particularly those showing the protective effects of Thimerosal, should bring into question the validity of the methodology used in the studies. (source)
There are many reasons why vaccination rates have been dropping, and we must seek to understand the parents who are listening instead of lashing out at them. Most of the “pro-vaccine” community is not even aware of why parents are choosing not to vaccinate. The article below examines their reasoning: