The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Genetics Are the Main Driver of Autism, Study Finds
Genetics are significantly more responsible for driving autism spectrum disorders than maternal factors or environmental factors such as vaccines and chemicals, according to a massive new study involving more than 2 million people from five different countries.
The largest-of-its-kind study, published this week in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, found that around 80 percent of a person's risk of developing autism disorders stem from inherited genes, meaning that other factors not related to altering genetic DNA account for just 20 percent of the risk. Of these, only about 1 percent could be attributed to maternal factors such as a mother's weight and diet, or the method and time the baby was delivered. The researchers said many maternal factors, but not all, had a "nonexistent or minimal" impact. The other environmental factors were not specifically identified.
The researchers examined data in national medical records from 1998 to 2012 of people born in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Israel and Australia until they were 16 years old. Of the 2 million total, more than 22,000 had developed some type of autism spectrum disorder. The researchers also looked at the histories of these individuals' family members, including siblings, cousins, parents and grandparents, comparing health outcomes with genetic connections and environmental factors they shared.
"Everywhere we looked, in five different samples, what we saw was that genetic factors were most important," lead author for the study Sven Sandin, an epidemiologist at Sweden's Karolinska Institutet, told HuffPost.
The findings are consistent with previous studies on the heritability of autism, many of which were limited to studying twins or siblings. But this study is the first and largest to show the significant extent to which genetic factors determine autism outcomes.
The study further contradicts a long-held — but unproven — popular belief that vaccines are a leading cause of autism, HealthDay News reported, noting that "long-discredited, fraudulent data" supporting that belief is still widely cited by a global anti-vaccine movement.
In an editorial published alongside the study, three Columbia University psychiatrists noted that environmental factors "often receive disproportionate attention from the public and the media, even when (as in the case of vaccine fears), they are debunked."
The anti-vaccine movement came to the forefront after medical journal The Lancet published a paper by a now-discredited British physician, Andrew Wakefield, which claimed to show a link between children developing autism and the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. The research was repeatedly debunked and declared fraudulent, Wakefield was struck from the UK's medical register following six charges of professional misconduct, and The Lancet retracted the paper.
HealthDay News reported that the study could be a jumping off point for further research into how genetics specifically causes autism disorders, which affect 1 out of every 59 children in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But experts caution that environmental risk factors can't be totally overlooked.
"Environmental factors also play a smaller, but important, role," Dr. Andrew Adesman, who directs developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York, told HealthDay News. "This does not mean that we can completely ignore the environmental risk factors and their interaction with the genetic risk factors."
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Oil rigs around the world keep pulling crude oil out of the ground, but the global pandemic has sent shockwaves into the market. The supply is up, but demand has plummeted now that industry has ground to a halt, highways are empty, and airplanes are parked in hangars.
Under an agreement negotiated by community groups — represented by NRDC and the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project — the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) will remove thousands of lead water pipes by 2026 in order to address the chronically high lead levels in the city's drinking water and protect residents' health.
By Dave Cooke
So, they finally went and did it — the Trump administration just finalized a rule to undo requirements on manufacturers to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new passenger cars and trucks. Even with the economy at the brink of a recession, they went forward with a policy they know is bad for consumers — their own analysis shows that American drivers are going to spend hundreds of dollars more in fuel as a result of this stupid policy — but they went ahead and did it anyway.
By Richard Connor
A blood test that screens for more than 50 types of cancer could help doctors treat patients at an earlier stage than previously possible, a new study shows. The method was used to screen for more than 50 types of cancer — including particularly deadly variants such as pancreatic, ovarian, bowel and brain.
Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control showed a larger number of young people coming down with COVID-19 than first expected, with patients under the age of 45 comprising more than a third of all cases, and one in five of those patients requiring hospitalization. That also tends to be the group most likely to use e-cigarettes.