Thursday, December 17, 2009

Autism and Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals: Time to Put a Stake Through the Heart of the "It's Gotta Be Genetic" Model of Autism Research

"My own hunch is that the NIH and NIMH will not change from within; the senior practitioners of the "it's gotta be genetic" model have too much influence. Just as Semmelweiss and his data were suppressed, so too will the NIH/NIMH autism-research insiders continue to act against the the growing body of new data in autism; the NIH's pro-genetic old-timers will cling to their paradigm and its funding. As a result, change within the NIH and NIMH will have to be initiated from outside those tax-supported corporations."

"Right now, about 10 to 20 times more research dollars are spent on studies of the genetic causes of autism than on environmental ones.
We need to even out the funding."
Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, 2009, UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute Researcher

The CDC has issued its Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals which is available for downloading along with an executive summary and a list of the 212 chemicals present in humans measured by the CDC:

The Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the exposure of the U.S. population to chemicals in our environment. CDC has measured 212 chemicals in people's blood or urine—75 of which have never before been measured in the U.S. population. The new chemicals include acrylamide, arsenic, environmental phenols, including bisphenol A and triclosan, and perchlorate.

The blood and urine samples were collected from participants in CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which is an ongoing survey that samples the U.S. population every two years. Each two year sample consists of about 2,400 persons. The Fourth Report includes findings from national samples for 1999–2000, 2001–2002, and 2003–2004. The data are analyzed separately by age, sex and race/ethnicity groups.

I do not want to be accused of quackery or woo or some other such  insult used to  bully people into submission who disagree with the scientific and medical orthodoxy of the day.  Therefore  I am not saying that because the CDC has issued another report measuring the presence of hundreds of toxic  chemicals in human beings that it  means that autism, or any  other neurological or developmental disorder, is environmentally caused or triggered by these substances. The CDC site (FAQ section) makes it clear that:

The National Exposure Report does not provide health or toxicity information, state- or community-specific data, specific product or environmentally related information, or regulatory guidelines or recommendations.

I also fully acknowledge that I have only begun to read this report and that reading it and understanding the report will take this humble layperson some time. The report itself though is further confirmation of the presence of many toxic, dangerous substances in human bodies, including the bodies of young children and pregnant women.  My suspicions aside, I recognize that further research is necessary to indicate what role is played by these substances in causing or triggering autism and other disorders in our children.

There is no dispute that autism diagnoses have risen dramatically and that some of the increase is accounted for by diagnostic definition changes, increased awareness and other social factors.  But no one can credibly say that the toxic substances described in  the CDC's latest report on human exposure to environmental chemicals are NOT linked to the increases in neurological disorders in children, including autism.

Tomorrow, Friday, December 18, 2009 the CDC is expected to release a study confirming that 1 in 100 persons have autism spectrum disorders.   Given the increasing numbers of  persons with autism disorders and the presence of so many environmental chemicals, including mercury, lead and arsenic, in the bodies of our children, it is time to do the environmentally based research to determine what impact these chemicals are having on the development of our children.

Amongst other research on the effects of these chemicals, it is time to emphasize environmentally oriented autism research.

It is time to put a stake through the heart of the "it's gotta be genetic model"  of autism research.

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Jen said...

I suspect we will be guessing for many years to come on what the actual cause is, but I have no doubt that environmental factors will be part of the findings in the end. The reading I have done over the last many months, to my understanding, imples both environmental and genetic factors but nobody has a definitive answer. Very interesting study.

erika said...

I am certainly no expert on autism, so please forgive my ignorance, but I don't see how such a drastic increase in autism (diagnoses) can be explained if it was strictly genetic. It just doesn't make sense. What would make sense to me, if it involved a genetic predisposition and some environmental trigger/factors. I really hope that more research will ensue to investigate these possible environmental factors. Chemicals are definitely a good start. Very interesting article, thank you for sharing.