The elephant in the room – it’s time to write about environmental toxins and autism; & how they may affect autistic individuals (written with a healthy dose of cynicism)
We have been asked several times regarding our thoughts on environmental toxins, and how they affect autistic individuals. With a slightly heavy heart, here’s our take.
While there’s no specific known cause for autism, much work has been done within the genealogy field, leaving many experts to cite ‘interactions between susceptible genes and environmental factors’ as likely causative factors. E.g., autism is known to run in families, with certain genes associated with the condition – but some experts believe that so-called environmental factors – notably linked to the mother’s health status in pregnancy, the use of some medicines, and her exposure to certain compounds; may ‘turn on’ susceptible genes or somehow increase their risk factors for neurodevelopmental conditions like autism.
The V word – and heavy metal overload
There is currently no sound evidence pointing to any causative links between vaccines and autism. However, interest continues in this field.
One study into toxins examined baby teeth from children with autism and correlated the metals lead, zinc and manganese (Ref 1). ). Published in the journal Nature Communications, the study suggested that differences in early-life exposure to metals, or more importantly how a child’s body processes them, may affect the risk of autism.
The discussion continues…
There are studies linking the pregnant mother’s immune response, eg. ‘abnormal maternal immune activation’ and resulting, elevated levels of inflammatory cytokines, which are said to affect the baby’s embryonic brain development, and increase the risk of ASDs. (Ref 2). It states – ‘Mother exposure to some chemicals [including] heavy metals… can affect foetal health negatively through epigenetic alterations of gene expression.’
Our bodies produce ‘adrenal steroids’ or stress hormones such as cortisol, and there are also theories relating to ‘placental permeability’ to these hormones when the mother is pregnant.
Heavy metals are of course a much-discussed issue in connection to autism. A recent and very contentious study linked overloads of aluminium to autism (although this was a very small study of five individuals, and in some people’s opinion, didn’t use suitable controls, so was not vey ‘robust’. Please read the excellent article : ‘Using bad science to demonize aluminum adjuvants in vaccines’ which delves into more detail and challenges the study itself. The study may be found at this link (Ref 3).
Why are we being fanatical about causative factors for autism?
There’s certainly lots of research underway searching for causative factors for autism. But in our opinion, families of autists would perhaps be better served supporting their autistic family member by helping them manage their autistic challenges via aspects like talking therapies, mindfulness, the reduction of ‘demands’ (to help reduce anxiety) etc, rather than embarking on non-proven, ‘quack’ ways to help reduce so-called autistic symptoms (or god forbid, ‘cure’ autism), in their family member. We believe that the scientists and psychologists should be left to research and present their theories on Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASCs), but that the rest of us are best placed promoting empathetic autism awareness – not seeking causes and ‘cures’.
Take heed – research the research!
There is a big movement consisting of parents of young autists focusing extensively on toxins, (e.g. heavy metal overload, as well as vaccines), and their impact on autistic individuals.
In the course of our work here at www.spectra.blog, we extensively read and research articles and papers, and have found no definitive, irrefutable evidence in the field of heavy metals and autism, in terms of the toxins being a definitive causative factor. Yes, there are studies linking compounds like lead and aluminium to ASDs / ASCs; but these should not lead parents and families to take action by furtively administering potions to their children in the hopes of ‘curing’ them, in our humble opinion. This field of research is still relatively young.
For example, the latest piece of so-called research doing the rounds (Ref 3) which we mentioned earlier seems so limiting, in our view, in that it only looked at five (decreased) autistic subjects. For science to be taken seriously it really has to be a lot more robust. Also, interested parties should always check who funded a study, and consider what gains the funding organisation may reap!
Not all studies are tenuous; there have been some compelling studies into some areas connected with autism and environmental toxins – one study found that there was a higher rate of cesarean section (CS) deliveries in autistic children, for example. (Ref 4). It stated: ‘This study confirms previous findings that children born by CS are approximately 20% more likely to be diagnosed as having ASD (autism spectrum disorder)’. (You can read our blog on the subject here, which includes the view that studies like this and the resulting ‘chat’ may make women feel guilty – ‘Are C-sections contributing to ASDs?’)
Many people reviewing and discussing the results thereafter took the angle that maybe this high amount of C-sections is because they were a causative factor for the autism – however our viewpoint and surely a more logical one, is to question why the autistic babies did not deliver naturally?
Delve deep into the studies concerning autism and Asperger’s
We would urge anyone interested in reading more about ASCs and the effects of toxins to delve deep into the research. One thing which is interesting is that inflammation is widely credited with being linked to autism; that seems consistent. And yes, environmental factors do somehow seem to be linked to the onset of autism, in terms of how a child’s body processes the compounds in the womb. (Ref 2).
“In our option there are far better things for people interested in learning more about autism to read and learn about, than detoxing children…”
With science advancing, there is every possibility that new studies will come out that do conclusively link toxins to autism; but our belief is that many of the current studies are simply not convincing enough.
In our option, there are far better things for people interested in learning more about autism to read and learn about, than detoxing children (without their consent!!!) from toxic heavy metal overload; for example, SEND support in schools, the male / female divide in autism, and the process of referral and diagnosis for autistic children in the local authority system. Have we all got our priorities skewed?
Inflammation, IBS and autism
It is important to point out that as mentioned, inflammation certainly seems to be a factor with many autistic individuals, as is digestive challenges. The causes aren’t really known, but some people propose that stress hormones are a factor. (Certainly the author of this blog suffered with digestive issues – Ketoacidosis attacks every single year of my school attendance as a child, and then irritable bowel syndrome attacks every single year of being in the workplace as an adult. Anecdotally, many, many other autistic individuals will attest to similar challenges.)
So, while we at www.spectra.blog are not ready yet to advocate detoxing from heavy metal overload to reduce so-called autistic symptoms with branded water, we are certainly open to the concept of supporting an autistic individual’s body through diet, and managing their stress levels, so that physical signs of stress, such as IBS, may be reduced.
A little disclaimer – here at Spectra.blog we don’t claim to be experts about Autism Spectrum Conditions / Disorders; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences. Please share our articles if you find them useful!
Ref 1 – Arora et al. 2017. Fetal and postnatal metal dysregulation in autism. Nat Commun; doi: 10.1038/NCOMMS15493 [Online 1 June 2017].
Ref 2 – Environmental factors influencing the risk of autism. Padideh Karimi et al. J Res Med Sci. 2017; 22: 27. Published online 2017 Feb 16. PMID: 28413424.
Ref 3 – Aluminium in brain tissue in autism, Mold, Exley at al.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtemb.2017.11.012.
Ref 4 – Ref 2 – ‘Association Between Obstetric Mode of Delivery and Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Population-Based Sibling Design Study, Eileen A. Curran et al. JAMA Psychiatry:2015;72(9):935-942. )