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Unravelling the Mystery of Autism


E! Magazine: AutismE Magazine’s cover story this month, “The Search for Autism’s Missing Piece: Autism Research Slowly Turns Its Focus to Environmental Toxicity” by Brita Belli (the editor of E), focuses on the environmental factors that might contribute to autism — and about how slowly the medical community has come around to acknowledging all the sources of toxicity that are affecting children today. The burgeoning rates of incidence — autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability in America today, with more pediatric cases than cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined — beg for an explanation beyond genetics. The article lists possible environmental factors contributing to autism: mercury in vaccinations, dental amalgams, seafood and other sources, lead and sulfur dioxide in our air, arsenic and pharmaceuticals in our waters, and phthalates, Bisphenol-A or BPA, and flame retardants (polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs) found in the home and school environments.

Belli reveals:

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.’

But the research that is taking up the environmental challenge is uncovering surprising answers—particularly in relation to the link between heavy metal toxicity and autism. Some of this research focuses on porphyrins: chemicals that increase in the blood in response to heavy metal toxicity. Turns out that autistic kids have more porphyrins in their blood following chelation—a detoxing process done by administering a drug such as dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA) used to treat lead poisoning—than do typical kids. The antioxidant glutathione—critical for the body to excrete metals—plays a role, too. Glutathione typically works by binding to heavy metals, which the body then knows to eliminate. In 2004, researcher Jill James, Ph.D., of the Arkansas School of Medicine, led a pioneering study that showed autistic kids had significantly less glutathione than typical kids—which put their bodies in a state of “constant oxidative stress.” In other words, autistic kids were genetically predisposed to have low glutathione levels, making them particularly susceptible to heavy metal toxicity. 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…

…Adams’ findings point to more than just the fact that autistic kids seem less able to excrete mercury and heavy metals, although that’s part of the problem. He also found, looking at the medical history of autistic kids, that they were much more likely to have been given multiple rounds of oral antibiotics as infants, mostly due to increased ear infections. And that impacts mercury excretion, too. ‘Oral antibiotics in rats have been shown to greatly decrease the rate of excretion of mercury,’ says Adams. ‘So the half-life for excretion goes from 10 days to 100 days in rats on oral antibiotics.'”

It’s a great article for the layperson unfamiliar with the world of autism that summarizes where the two autism camps stand — on one side with conventional medicine, pharmaceuticals, and behavioral therapies and the other with holistic “biomedical” treatments like heavy metal chelation, diet, and lifestyle changes — but offers no real surprising or new information to those who have been fighting the daily battle of environmental illness in the trenches for years. Still, it’s a good idea for adults with similar toxicity issues as children with autism — high heavy metal levels, problems detoxing chemicals, a history of antibiotic use, gut dysbiosis, etc. — to stay tuned to the autism channel to see what new treatment plans are being used by parents of autistic children. There is a lot more money, research, and focus going toward children with autism than adults with environmental illness but the similarities in symptoms, exposure history, test results, and treatments between these two groups might provide some unexpected answers for adults with severe toxicity levels combined with weak or damaged detoxification systems, or at least a clearer direction.

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Comments

  • H Dewinter

    January 6, 2010 at 3:57 am

    I do not believe there is a rise at all in cases of ASD.
    Severe cases of Autism were always the same but just mistaken for other conditions and High Functioning/Aspergers were not diagnosed at all as they were not even recognised as is the case today.
    I have two cousins in their forties, who would definatly be diagnosed as on the autistic spectrum had they been kids now, relatives ask why do they behave like that, it really doesnt occur to them that they are on the spectrum and I only know because my own young son has been diagnosed as having HFA, a few years ago no one would have understood him and he would have been labelled a naughty boy.

  • Tony Bateson

    January 6, 2010 at 9:10 am

    There is absolutely beyond doubt a real rise in the prevalernce of autism. As the father of an autistic woman born in the mid sixties I have become aware of a relentless increase in the numbers of people I come into contact with who have autistic children in their families.

    As I have worked for autism causes since 1969 I have met many hundreds of severely disabled autistic people, as well as the smallish proportion of less severely disabled. By contrast in the UK we had to move five hundred miles so as to gain access to a special school able to help my daughter when she reached school age.
    In 1968 hardly any doctor or educationist knew anything at all about autism.

    Today many people in the street know about autism and most also know someone who has an autistic child. The proportion of kids with special needs around 20% seems to be much the same but I would bet that autistic people take up a much larger part of that group than before.

    Tony Bateson, Oxford UK

  • Stan

    January 6, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    A very good summary of an excellent-sounding article. It draws together a lot of the important pieces to this puzzle. Eg, vaccines can suppress the immune system; ‘anecdotal evidence’ (where are the hard studies that have been called for for years, dammit) has shown that very often, infectious conditions like otitis media/glue ear follow in their wake, from opportunistic bacteria; the child is given oral antibiotics for that condition – and the downward slope is well and truly on, with both the brain and the gut bearing the brunt of the assault.

    Glutathione levels is indeed a major key to this whole matter. Heavy metal toxicity can come from many sources. ‘Toxic tipping point’ indeed. Let’s get cracking on the environmental front – the WHOLE of the environmental front – stat. And let the chips fall where they may.

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