Study Links Autism with Industrial Food and Environment
The epidemic of autism in children in the U.S. may be linked to the typical American diet according to a new study published online in Clinical Epigenetics by Renee Dufault, et. al. The study explores how mineral deficiencies—affected by dietary factors like high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)—could impact how the human body rids itself of common toxic chemicals like mercury and pesticides.
The release comes on the heels of a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that estimates the average rate of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) among eight year olds is now 1 in 88, representing a 78 percent increase between 2002 and 2008. Among boys, the rate is nearly five times the prevalence found in girls.
“To better address the explosion of autism, it’s critical we consider how unhealthy diets interfere with the body’s ability to eliminate toxic chemicals, and ultimately our risk for developing long-term health problems like autism,” said Dr. David Wallinga, a study co-author and physician at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).
Commander (ret.) Renee Dufault (U.S. Public Health Service), the study’s lead author and a former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) toxicologist, developed an innovative scientific approach to describe the subtle side effects of HFCS consumption and other dietary factors on the human body and how they relate to chronic disorders. The model, called “macroepigenetics,” allows researchers to consider how factors of nutrition, environment and genetic makeup interact and contribute to the eventual development of a particular health outcome.
“With autism rates skyrocketing, our public educational system is under extreme stress,” said Dufault, who is also a licensed special education teacher and founder of the Food Ingredient and Health Research Institute (FIHRI). As part of the current study, the authors found a 91 percent increase in the number of children with autism receiving special educational services in the U.S. between 2005 and 2010.
- Autism and related disorders affect brain development. The current study sought to determine how environmental and dietary factors, like HFCS consumption, might combine to contribute to the disorder.
- Consumption of HFCS, for example, is linked to the dietary loss of zinc, which interferes with the elimination of heavy metals from the body. Many heavy metals like mercury, arsenic and cadmium are potent toxins with adverse effects on brain development in the young.
- HFCS consumption can also impact levels of other beneficial minerals, including calcium. Loss of calcium further exacerbates the detrimental effects of exposure to lead on brain development in fetuses and children.
- Inadequate levels of calcium in the body can also impair its ability to expel organophosphates, a class of pesticides long recognized by the EPA and independent scientists as especially toxic to the young developing brain.
“Rather than being independent sources of risk, factors like nutrition and exposure to toxic chemicals are cumulative and synergistic in their potential to disrupt normal development,” said Dr. Richard Deth, a professor of Pharmacology at Northeastern University and a co-author of the study. “These epigenetic effects can also be transmitted across generations. As autism rates continue to climb it is imperative to incorporate this new epigenetic perspective into prevention, diagnosis and treatment strategies.”
The picture of how and why a child develops autism is a complicated one influenced by many different factors. The authors of this study have given insight into the complex interplay between several of the factors that may lead to the development of this debilitating neurodevelopmental disorder. In order to curb the epidemic of autism in the U. S., continued analysis of the impact of the industrialized food system and exposure to environmental toxins on ASD must be key areas of research moving forward.
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The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy works locally and globally at the intersection of policy and practice to ensure fair and sustainable food, farm and trade systems.
The Food Ingredient and Health Research Institute (FIHRI) is a non-profit organization devoted entirely to food ingredient safety, education, and research.
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Jessica Corbett
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
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