We are experiencing an autism epidemic in the US and the mainstream media won't touch it. There is much hand-wringing over the latest numbers, but any suggestion of environmental toxins is considered off-limits.
The following opinion piece, written by four scientists (myself included), was submitted to the Toronto Star on April 9, but they refused to publish it because it is “too controversial.” It was then submitted to the New York Times on April 11, but they have not responded at all. It seems there is a media blackout on this topic.
What sort of world are we living in where our children are at risk and we refuse to even look at all possible solutions because they are “too controversial”? How did the chemical and drug industries come to wield such totalitarian power that the press won't dare to expose them? We are a nation in grave danger. The press and the government refuse to confront the issue for fear of antagonizing the corporations whose bottom line trumps all.
The global autism epidemic—probable causes and possible remedies
Wednesday, April 2nd was World Autism Awareness Day. Coincidentally, the US Centers for Disease Control released a new report stating that the prevalence of autism is now one in 68, up 30% since the reported estimate of one in 88 two years ago. The rate was one in 10,000 in 1970. So this is an opportune time to ask: (1) How did we get here and why? (2) Are there some steps we can follow to halt this epidemic, and if so what are they? We believe that there are several common-sense measures worthy of immediate and serious consideration, not only in the US, but throughout the world. We are convinced that once people know all the facts about the likely causes of autism, then politicians will be compelled to act.
We fully agree with Canadian Senator Jim Munson, who recently wrote in the Toronto Star: “Autism crisis in dire need of political action.” We want to add that such action is urgently needed on both sides of the 49th parallel and on all sides of the political spectrum. Autism does not have political stripes or affiliation
How did we get here? Autism disorder covers a broad spectrum of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment. It is therefore referred to as autism spectrum disorder or ASD. While there is still considerable debate about the exact causes of ASD, many specialists and knowledgeable experts agree that there are both genetic and environmental contributing factors. The recent dramatic increase in the rates of autism cannot be explained on the basis of genetics alone, so there must also be significant environmental contributions.
One of us (Dr. Stephanie Seneff) has considerable direct research experience concerning autism and its probable environmental causes. About seven years ago she became very alarmed by the strong evidence of an increase in autism rates in the US and, in collaboration with Mr. Anthony Samsel and Dr. Nancy Swanson, she decided to systematically investigate possible links with environmental toxins. Dr. Swanson has shown extremely strong correlations between glyphosate usage on corn and soy crops in the US and the increasing incidence of autism, along with obesity, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, senile dementia and others. Correlation does not necessarily mean causation, but when statistically significant correlation coefficients of over 0.95 are calculated for a list of diseases that can be directly linked to glyphosate, via its known biological effects, it would be foolish not to consider causation as the most plausible explanation of the correlations.
It is noteworthy that the rapid increase in autism rates coincides with the introduction of industrial agricultural practices such as the widespread use of herbicides (like glyphosate-containing Roundup), and pesticides, as well as genetically modified (GMO) crops (initially corn, soy and canola). GMO crops are engineered to resist glyphosate so that the herbicide will only kill the weeds and not the crop species. As a consequence, GMO foods are laced with glyphosate residues, a contaminant for which they are not required to be tested as products in our food chain. Sadly, the general public does not know this. What makes this even worse is that GMO foods are not required to be labeled by law in our two countries. Furthermore, it has become common practice to spray grain, dried pea & bean and sugar cane crops with glyphosate as a pre-harvest desiccant. What makes glyphosate especially dangerous is that it is generally viewed as being nearly harmless to humans and is therefore handled carelessly. Its effects work cumulatively and insidiously over time to erode health.
The original manufacturer of glyphosate-containing herbicides has claimed that it is harmless to humans because we don’t have the shikimate pathway, the disruption of which is how glyphosate kills plants. However, our gut bacteria do have this pathway, and we depend upon them to supply us with the essential aromatic amino acids that are produced by this pathway. Without these amino acids that our gut bacteria provide for us, we could not live. Glyphosate preferentially kills the beneficial bacteria in the gut, allowing the pathogens to overgrow and leading to inflammatory bowel disease and a host of other related problems. Furthermore, the recent epidemic in gluten intolerance and Celiac disease can be directly linked to the growing practice of desiccating wheat with Roundup three days before the harvest.
The original approval process of glyphosate as a “safe herbicide” was based on misdirected and inadequate science & safety testing by the FDA. Corporate political lobbying was also part of the mix. The voice of an independent and diligent media has been conspicuously absent. Now, 25 years later, we are all paying the price for those misdeeds. Likely victims are the millions of innocent autistic children.
Autism symptoms also include: disrupted gut bacteria and inflammatory bowel disorder; defective aromatase (CYP) enzyme; high serum nitrate and ammonia; impaired immune function; chronic low grade inflammation in the brain and deficiencies in sulfate, methionine, seratonin, melatonin, zinc and iron. Compare these to some negative biological effects of glyphosate. Glyphosate kills beneficial gut bacteria, thereby depleting aromatic amino acids. This leads to reduced serotonin availability. Serotonin deficiency is linked not only to autism, but also to obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and violent behavior, all of which are increasing in frequency today in step with increased glyphosate usage. Glyphosate chelates (traps) zinc, manganese, iron, cobalt, and molybdenum, which leads directly to a deficiency in these essential nutrients and widespread health consequences. Glyphosate also disrupts important enzymes in the liver leading to an inability to detoxify other toxins as well as an inability to activate vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is now widespread in North America.
To summerize, we believe that the biggest environmental factors linked to autism are the following: glyphosate (by far #1), mercury (in vaccines and dental fillings) and aluminum (in vaccines, antacids, antiperspirants, drugs and sunscreen). Mercury and aluminum act synergistically with glyphosate; e.g., the number of adverse events reported for vaccines in the US CDC VAERS database has risen over the past decade in step with the increased use of glyphosate.
We believe that the excellent fundamental research concerning genetics, molecular biology and neurology of autism should continue, but should also be collaborative with the environmental (applied) community in hopes of producing better and faster outcomes. Current research results should be reexamined in the context of the known biological effects of glyphosate. We believe that such a shift in emphasis will yield a deeper understanding of the underlying causes of the epidemic in a much shorter time.
What should be done (to curb and reverse the autism epidemic)?
(1) First and foremost, the media should inform and educate the public about environmental toxins (like glyphosate). Without sufficient public pressure, our political leaders and public agencies (FDA and EPA) remain complacent.
(2) To reduce the incidence of autism, the FDA should immediately restrict the use of glyphosate, to be followed by a total ban.
(3) The FDA should make the labeling of GMO foods (of both vegetable and animal origin) mandatory, require the testing of foods for glyphosate residues and make the results public.
(4) The FDA, in cooperation with the American Medical Association, should inform pregnant women to consume organic foods during their pregnancy. This position is supported by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine.
(5) The federal and not-for-profit agencies should make the funding of well-coordinated autism research an urgent priority.
We are convinced that, if our recommendations are followed, the autism epidemic trend will be reversed.
Stephanie Seneff, PhD; Senior Research Scientist, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, MIT
Nancy Swanson, PhD; Business owner, consultant (Optics), author
Shiv Chopra, PhD; Formerly with Health Canada (Senior Scientific Advisor, Microbiology), author
John Balatinecz, PhD; Emeritus Professor (Forestry), University of Toronto
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