The cause of autism is still unknown, but we are definitely closer to figuring it out. A new study published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology, from researchers at the University of Chicago, has revealed that autism and intellectual disability (ID) rates are linked with exposure to harmful environmental factors during congenital development.
“Autism appears to be strongly correlated with rate of congenital malformations of the genitals in males across the country, this gives an indicator of environmental load and the effect is surprisingly strong. The strongest predictors for autism were associated with the environment; congenital malformations on the reproductive system in males… Essentially what happens is during pregnancy there are certain sensitive periods where the fetus is very vulnerable to a range of small molecules – from things like plasticisers, prescription drugs, environmental pesticides and other things. Some of these small molecules essentially alter normal development.” (1a)(1b) – Andrey Rzhetsky, professor of genetic medicine and human genetics at the University of Chicago
The team analyzed data that covered more than one third of the U.S. population. Data from individual states and more than 2,100 counties were used. Fetuses, particularly males, are sensitive to multiple toxins such as environmental lead, medications, and a wide variety of other synthetic molecules, like pesticides, mercury, and more. Exposure to these toxins during critical stages of development is thought to explain a large portion of congenital reproductive malformations.
“It’s really a very significant study, and should trigger the medical community, the scientific community and the government, looking at this especially interesting avenue for the prevention of autism. We know that one of the ways to show that there is a problem with pollution is to show through the presence of these reproductive defects and we know that there is a relationship between the presence of these defects and the presence of autism related disorders.” Dr. Harbut, Providence-St John Environmental Medicine Expert
This isn’t the first time that scientists have linked autism to the environment. In 2009, Hertz-Picciotto and Lora Delwiche of the UC Dais Department of Public Health Sciences analyzed 17 years of state data that tracks developmental disabilities.
“It’s time to start looking for the environmental culprits responsible for the remarkable increase in the rate of autism in California.” (2) – Irva Hertz – Picciotto, epidemiology professor at University of California, Davis
Our environment is full of neurodevelopmental toxins, which means they alter how the brain grows. Mercury, polychlorinated diphenyl, lead, brominated flame retardants, and pesticides are a few of many examples. And let’s not forget about insecticides and herbicides.
Another recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine compared brain autopsies of autistic children who had died from unrelated causes to those of normal ones. The autistic brains demonstrated abnormal patches of disorganized neurons that disrupted the usual distinct layers in the brain’s cortex. The study suggests that abnormalities occurred in utero during key developmental stages between 19 to 30 weeks gestation. It’s not just the toxin, it’s the timing of the exposure as well.(3)
In the United States alone, autism rates have risen from 1:10,000 in 1981 to 1:68 in 2014. Again, multiple studies point to the prevalence of toxins in our environment as the culprit, and there are toxins in many things. It seems we might not be looking at one cause for autism, but rather multiple factors associated with how we choose to live our lives on a daily basis.
So, let’s take a look at some of these toxins that could be linked to autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.
One factor I’d like to touch upon first is the fact that autism rates in Europe have remained pretty steady over the last decade. This coincides with the fact that in more than 60 countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or complete bans on the production and sale of GMOs and the pesticides that go with them. In the United States, government agencies have approved massive amounts of pesticides, completely ignoring the fact that they are linked to numerous health ailments. Not long ago, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently raised the allowable concentrations of Monsanto’s glyphosate, also known as “Roundup,” on food crops, edible oils, and animal feed (you can read more about that here). Although we don’t know for sure, it’s important to at least consider the large increase in Genetically Modified Organism (GMOs) and the massive amount of chemicals (pesticides and herbicides) that are dumped on them every year. These pesticides have been linked to many significant health problems.
A group of scientists put together a comprehensive review of existing data which shows how European regulators have known that Monsanto’s glyphosate causes a number of birth malformations since at least 2002. Regulators misled the public about glyphosate’s safety, and in Germany the Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety told the European Commission that there was no evidence to suggest that glyphosate causes birth defects.
This study was published by Earth Open Sources, which is an organization that uses open source collaboration to advance sustainable food production. The report was headed by Dr. M. Antoniou, Head Gene Expression and Therapy Group, from the Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics at King’s College London School of Medicine, UK. Dr. Antoniou was joined by 6 other doctors who have a similar biography. The report provides a comprehensive review of the peer-reviewed scientific literature documenting the serious health hazards posed by glyphosate and Roundup herbicide formulations. You can read the entire document here.
“Our examination of the evidence leads us to the conclusion that the current approval of glyphosate and Roundup is deeply flawed and unreliable. In this report, we examine the industry studies and regulatory documents that led to the approval of glyphosate. We show that industry and regulators knew as long ago as the 1980s and 1990s that glyphosate causes malformation – but that this information was not made public. We demonstrate how EU regulators reasoned their way from clear evidence of glyphosate’s teratogenicity in industry’s own studies (the same studies that BVL claimed show the safety of glysophate) to a conclusion that minimized these findings in the EU Commission’s final review report.”
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 glyphosate in agricultural fields.”
Another study outlines how glyphosate toxicity leads to suppression of critical enzymes, and as a result, links the Western diet to heart disease, Alzheimer, Parkinson, autism, and more. (4)
Glyphosate has also been linked to cancer and various other health ailments. There are numerous studies documenting this and you can find our more information here.
It’s no secret that the brain of an embryo, fetus, or infant is at risk for significant and permanent damage from exposure to chemicals, like pesticides. Not long ago, a study published in the Journal Reproductive Toxicology successfully identified the presence of pesticides – associated with genetically modified foods in maternal, fetal, and non-pregnant women’s blood. They also found the presence of Monsanto’s Bt toxin, and warn about toxin exposure during critical stages of development. (5)
The study concluded that, apart from pesticides, Monsanto’s Bt toxins are clearly detectable and appear to cross the placenta to the fetus. Some studies have linked Monsanto’s Bt toxin to cancer, damaged kidney cells, and more, especially when they are combined with Roundup.
Multiple studies outline the need for further research when it comes to GMOs before we can say they are 100 % safe for consumption.
“Given the potential toxicity of these environmental pollutants and the fragility of the fetus, more studies are needed, particularly those using the placental transfer approach. Thus, our present results will provide baseline data for future studies exploring a new area of research relating to nutrition, toxicology and reproduction in women. Today, obstetric-gynecological disorders that are associated with environmental chemicals are not known. Thus, knowing the actual concentration of genetically modified foods in humans constitutes a cornerstone in the advancement of research in this area.” (5)
There is more research confirming that mothers who are exposed to commonly used, “safe” pesticides give birth to children with lower intelligence, structural brain abnormalities, behavioral disorders, compromised motor skills, higher rates of brain cancer, and small head size.
In Late 2013, the European Food Safety Authority determined that pesticides, like neonicotinamides (linked to killing millions of bees, read more about that here), may negatively affect the development of neurons and brain structures in unborn babies. (16)
These are largely produced by Bayer pharmaceuticals.
“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.” – From the world’s foremost pediatricians, toxicologists, environmental scientists and epidemiologists at a conference held in 2007
Scientists at the conference (quote above) emphasized that common exposure to chemicals