The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that 1 in 68 children in America has an autism spectrum disorder (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls). The prevalence of autism has more than doubled since 2002, when CDC’s estimate was 1 in 150. The current figure is based on data of 8-year old children in 11 areas across the United States.
The causes of autism are not well known, although it is generally accepted that the disorder results from multiple factors. Just a few years ago autism was believed to be primarily genetic, but scientists have shown that environmental issues make up a large part of the puzzle, and in some cases they may trigger genetic susceptibilities to autism.
What is well known is that the developing brains and bodies of fetuses and infants are significantly more susceptible to environmental insults than are those of adults.
Below are excerpts from and links to Examiner.com articles that show that research has pointed to associations between autism and chemicals that act as endocrine disruptors such as pesticides, brominated flame retardants, and phthalates. The controversial vaccine debate is also discussed in some of the articles below.
Autism advocates and government officials testified in front of a congressional committee Thursday about the federal response to the dramatic increase in autism diagnoses in recent years.
One in every 88 babies born in the U.S. will develop autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control, a 23 percent increase since 2009 and a 78 percent increase since 2007. In the 1960s, autism was believed to affect one in 10,000 children in the U.S.
Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee questioned representatives of the National Institutes of Health and CDC about research priorities and subsequent results. A second panel of autism advocates testified about concerns ranging from research to services for people with autism. See the video here.
Numerous congressmen on the committee harshly criticized the NIH and CDC for a lack of effective research results, while agency officials at times struggled to come up with answers. The safety of vaccines was discussed, an issue that NIH and CDC insists is not linked to the rise in autism.
However, many parents still steadfastly believe vaccines are one of the causes of the disorder. Members of the House committee recounted instances in which parents told them of children developmentally regressing immediately after being subjected to vaccines.
Study: Traffic pollution, air quality associated with increased autism risk, November 28, 2012
Babies in the womb and during their first year are two to three times more likely to develop autism if exposed to high levels of traffic-related air pollution and poor air quality, according to a recent study.
Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine at USC published the study in the November issue of Archives of General Psychiatry. The study compared 279 children with autism and 245 control children with typical development in California.
Researchers used the mother’s address to estimate exposure to the highest levels of traffic-related air pollution as well as air quality during pregnancy and the first year of life.
Two recent studies in the Archives of General Psychiatry show that environmental factors play a major role in the development of autism in the womb. The findings are significant because for decades, the mainstream medical establishment has steadfastly maintained that the causes of autism are primarily genetic. However, some experts, and many parents, have known for years that the causes of autism are largely environmental.
In the first study, researchers examined 192 pairs of identical and fraternal twins from California. Each pair had at least one twin with autism. The study showed that environmental, or non-genetic factors in the womb, may significantly influence whether a child develops autism.
In a smaller study, antidepressant use by pregnant mothers during the year before giving birth, especially during the first trimester, was found to lead to an increased risk of having children with autism.
The sharp rise in autism in recent years may be partly linked to toxic chemicals, according to a coalition of scientists, policy experts, and parents who discussed the potential connection during a conference call Tuesday. The group, led by the advocacy organization Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, is calling for legislation that would require chemicals, many of which are pervasive in the environment and in household products, to be tested for safety.
Chemicals commonly found in air, water, the ground and the food supply, as well as in everyday goods, have been linked to diseases and disorders such as autism, cancer, and asthma. Fetuses and infants are known to be particularly susceptible to toxic chemicals in the environment.
"Today, to a mother carrying BPA, mercury, phthalates, and brominated flame retardants, is born a baby with 200 contaminants already in its cord blood," said Donna Ferullo, Director of Program Research at the Autism Society. "The developing brain is exquisitely sensitive to environmental exposures from conception through childhood."
A new study shows that 80 percent of products tested made for infants and toddlers contained toxic chemical flame retardants that can have harmful effects on health. The products include items made with polyurethane foam such as car seats, mattresses, and changing pads. Of the 80 samples in the study that contained flame retardants, 79 were either brominated or chlorinated.
Brominated flame retardants, or those based in the chemical element bromine, have been implicated as potential risk factors in autism spectrum disorders, cancer, and other health problems. Studies on brominated flame retardants have shown adverse developmental effects on animals.
Brominated flame retardants have increased in household products over the last 30 years because they make them less flammable. However, the toxins from these chemicals can leach from the products into the environment and accumulate in the body. Fetuses and babies are especially susceptible to toxic chemicals.
Dr. Philip Landrigan of the Mount Sinai Medical Center has said environmental causes, including brominated flame retardants, are strongly associated with autism.
In their new book, The Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine, and a Manmade Epidemic, Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill make a convincing case that the autism epidemic is largely environmental rather than genetic. They argue that mercury from pollution, commercial products, and vaccines has contributed greatly to the rise in autism over the last 70 years.
The following quotes are from a phone interview from the book’s authors.
Mike Frandsen: "In the last 20 years or so, so many parents have been proactive in looking for solutions. You mention the disdain that the medical community often has for that “warrior parent” mentality and write that they have a “shoot the messenger” type of mentality when parents are right. Do you see that changing at all in the future? "
Mark Blaxill: “The medical industry in general has a great deal of difficulty with their consumers. And what we’re seeing here is a consumer movement of parents who are unhappy with the medical establishment’s response to the autism epidemic. They are unhappy with the options that they have for treating and caring for the future of their children, and they are unhappy with the official doctrine about what happened and why. So that’s a fundamental problem in the industry itself. One of the metaphors is the auto industry. Ralph Nader basically forced the auto industry kicking and screaming into making safer products and the auto industry changed.
Let’s hope the consumer movement here can drag the medical community into the 21st century into more responsible approaches towards safety management, towards environmental exposures in autism, towards better treatments for autism, and towards better safety management in products like vaccines. I’m not holding my breath. The medical industry is one of the most powerful industries in the world, and they are certainly resistant to change and they have more resources than the auto industry did against Ralph Nader. But we’ll have to see. That’s why we wrote the book.”
So why is there still such controversy about whether the rise in autism – one in 5,000 in 1975 to one in 110 today – is a real epidemic or whether it’s just the result of better diagnosing and an expansion of the diagnostic criteria? What have you learned in your research?
Dan Olmsted: “I think they say that fundamentally because there’s a lot at stake here. If it really is increasing, it’s an environmental illness and there are a few likely candidates for that that would need to be ruled out much more strongly and certainly includes toxins like the mercury that has been used in vaccines since the early 1930s, and that tracks with the rise of autism. I think that there’s also a career imperative here where you’ve got thousands of people in what is virtually an autism industry giving grants that are more and more refined. And arcane analyses of more and more genetic anomalies that really have, as Mark has very powerfully shown, added up to a lot of noise. They don’t stack up to anything.”
For decades, autism has been believed to be primarily a genetic disorder, but in recent years, scientists have acknowledged that environmental factors such as pesticides and other chemicals also play a significant role in the causes of autism.
Landrigan has been investigating the effects of environmental toxicants on the development of children since the early 1970s when he determined that even very small levels of lead could affect cognitive ability.
His landmark work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) resulted in the government banning lead from gasoline in 1976 and from paint in 1977, actions that decreased childhood lead poisoning in the U.S. by more than 90 percent.
Landrigan said genetic factors have only been proven to account for a small fraction of the cases of autism, raising the possibility that environmental causes are strongly associated with autism. Landrigan told the IACC that when the complex developing brain is interrupted by environmental insults such as lead, PCBs, or pesticides, it becomes extremely difficult if not impossible to repair.
After his presentation to the IACC, Landrigan told Examiner.com, “Over the last decade, we’ve developed very good scientific information that links three or four classes of chemicals to brain injury in babies if the exposure occurs during pregnancy. We’ve found that phthalates, brominated flame retardants, and certain pesticides are linked to loss of intelligence, attention deficit disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder in children.”
Landrigan said he expects future research to link specific chemicals to autism. He told Examiner.com, “As research continues to accelerate as the National Children’s Study rolls out, we probably will over the next decade establish additional credible connections between certain chemical exposures in early life and the development of autism in children.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recklessly misled the public about the safety of lead levels in the water in Washington, D.C. between 2001 and 2004, according to a disturbing and damning congressional report released last month.
The Report, “A Public Health Tragedy: How Flawed CDC Data and Faulty Assumptions Endangered Children’s Health,” was conducted by the House Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight of the Committee on Science and Technology.
The investigation found that a 2004 CDC report that was rushed to calm the fears of the public after the D.C. lead fiasco used flawed data to come to the conclusion that lead levels in the water were safe.
The discredited report, published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), has since been widely quoted by media and government agencies across the nation to tell the public that drinking water containing high levels of lead is not a health hazard.
For example, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a fact sheet after the MMWR report was published about D.C., “Residents with high lead levels in their tap water did not have elevated blood levels.” This blanket statement turned out to be inaccurate. In addition, D.C. officials told the public that paint, and not water, was the cause of any high blood lead levels.
The congressional report stated that, “In its hurry to release ‘good news,’ CDC ignored decades of its own research and that of the scientific community when it claimed that elevated water lead levels in the District of Columbia did not significantly impact the blood levels of children.”
The congressional report concluded that the CDC knowingly downplayed the danger of lead in water in D.C.
Some of the symptoms of lead poisoning mimic the symptoms of autism, such as learning difficulties, loss of interest in play, hyperactivity, being easily distracted, impulsiveness, aggressiveness, poor coordination, weakness in hands and feet, and seizures. Although no large-scale studies have linked lead to autism, a 2005 study by Dr. Theodore Lidsky and Dr. Jay Schneider linked autism and autistic symptoms to lead poisoning in two boys.
Jennifer VanDerHorst-Larson is a mother of a child with autism. Like many parents of children with autism, once VanDerHorst-Larson found out her child was diagnosed, she took matters into her own hands and became directly involved in the therapies and treatments for her son.
The following quotes are from a phone interview
Mike Frandsen: When Cade was diagnosed with autism at 19 months of age, you were told that he had the most severe case of autism ever seen in the school district. How bad was it?
Jennifer VanDerHorst-Larson: “He lost all his speech except the word “go.” He no longer looked at us at all and wanted to bang his head against the wall constantly. He was basically unresponsive and would just cry. We could literally bang pots behind him, and he wouldn’t hear us. He didn’t respond to his name or anything verbal. During that time period he touched an electric fireplace glass that was turned off but still hot. He burned his palm because he didn’t feel the heat. We had completely lost him and his connection to the world was gone.”
Do you think vaccines led to your son’s autism?
Jennifer VanDerHorst-Larson: “Yes.”
What changes happened to Cade after the shots?
Jennifer VanDerHorst-Larson: “My son was a typically developing child, although we struggled with ear infections, thrush and colic. He had reached or surpassed all milestones until 15 months. Following his 15-month vaccines (measles-mumps-rubella, flu, and chicken pox), he was crying and passed out in the car on the way home. He slept 14 hours. He woke up a different child in 24 hours. He became irritable and upset. He stopped communicating and making eye contact. He began to only cry and pull me by the hand. He began to have subclinical seizures almost every three seconds. Within three months of that day he lost all his skills and had only one word left: ‘go.’”
Autism is a treatable biochemical medical condition rather than an incurable psychological disorder, says Lyn Redwood, whose son recovered from autism after having mercury removed from his body. Redwood’s son Will is one of a growing number of children who have recovered from autism or made excellent progress from behavioral therapies and/or biomedical treatments.
Redwood, a nurse practitioner in pediatrics and women’s health, believes the medical establishment should conduct more research on the environmental causes of autism as well as the possible link between autism and vaccines. She says children with autism may be susceptible to environmental triggers of autism, and often have additional medical problems that can offer clues as to the causes and possible treatments of autism.
Redwood said her son Will was given 62.5 mcg of mercury in his vaccines at the age of two months, which was 125 times the EPA’s allowable daily amount of mercury exposure of 0.1 mcg per kilogram. By six months of age, Will had received 187.5 mcg of mercury in his vaccines.
Will developed normally up until the age of one. He was a happy, healthy, energetic baby. Then he lost language and eye contact. He developed strep throat, which is very unusual in infants, and had digestive issues and other puzzling medical problems.
Will didn’t begin to speak again until after Redwood and her husband Tom, a physician, decided to use the chelating agent DMSA, (Dimercaptosuccinic acid) to remove the mercury from their son’s system. After chelation Will gradually regained speech and eye contact, and his general health improved.
The Redwoods started Will’s chelation treatments when he was 5 and a half. By age 7, he took the Iowa Test of Basic skills, a national standardized test, and scored in just the third percentile. At age 9, he took the Iowa test and scored in the 51st percentile for children his age.
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