Friday, November 07, 2008

Epidemiological Analysis Suggests Autism and Methylmercury Link

Science Daily reports on a new analysis of epidemiological evidence published in the International Journal of Environment and Health which suggests that exposure to the toxic chemicals, such as methylmercury can cause harm at levels previously considered safe:

Philippe Grandjean of the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston, and the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, explains that the causes of suboptimal and abnormal mental development are mostly unknown. However, severe exposure to pollutants during the development of the growing fetus can cause problems that become apparent as brain functions develop - and ultimately decline - in later life. Critically, much smaller doses of chemicals, such as the neurotoxic compound methylmercury, can harm the developing brain to a much greater extent than the adult brain .......... until recently research into the effects of pollutants on the brain has been clouded by the lack of information on actual exposure. Moreover, finding a direct link between specific problems with the brain and exposure relies on statistical, or epidemiological, analysis rather than case-by-case understanding. The researchers say that neurodevelopmental disorders of possible environmental origin affect between 5% and 10% of babies born worldwide, leading to dyslexia, mental retardation, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, cerebral palsy, and autism.

The authors concern about the lack of case by case study and over reliance on epidemiological evidence echos comments by Dr.Bernardine Healy, former head of the NIH, in an interview earlier this year with CBS News and Sharyll Attkisson when she said government had been too quick to dismiss a vaccine/autism link:

"I think that the public health officials have been too quick to dismiss the hypothesis as irrational," Healy said.

"But public health officials have been saying they know, they've been implying to the public there's enough evidence and they know it's not causal," Attkisson said.

"I think you can't say that," Healy said. "You can't say that."

Healy goes on to say public health officials have intentionally avoided researching whether subsets of children are “susceptible” to vaccine side effects - afraid the answer will scare the public.

"You're saying that public health officials have turned their back on a viable area of research largely because they're afraid of what might be found?" Attkisson asked.

Healy said: "There is a completely expressed concern that they don't want to pursue a hypothesis because that hypothesis could be damaging to the public health community at large by scaring people. "First of all," Healy said, "I think the public’s smarter than that. The public values vaccines. But more importantly, I don’t think you should ever turn your back on any scientific hypothesis because you’re afraid of what it might show."

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