Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Study Links Autism with Industrial Food and Environment

Study Links Autism with Industrial Food and Environment

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

By Katie Rojas-Jahn

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.

Key Findings:

  • 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.

For more information, click here.

—————

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.

With restaurants and supermarkets becoming less viable options during the pandemic, there has been a growth in demand and supply of local food. Baker County Tourism Travel Baker County / Flickr

By Robin Scher

Beyond the questions surrounding the availability, effectiveness and safety of a vaccine, the COVID-19 pandemic has led us to question where our food is coming from and whether we will have enough.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Tearing through the crowded streets of Philadelphia, an electric car and a gas-powered car sought to win a heated race. One that mimicked how cars are actually used. The cars had to stop at stoplights, wait for pedestrians to cross the street, and swerve in and out of the hundreds of horse-drawn buggies. That's right, horse-drawn buggies. Because this race took place in 1908. It wanted to settle once and for all which car was the superior urban vehicle. Although the gas-powered car was more powerful, the electric car was more versatile. As the cars passed over the finish line, the defeat was stunning. The 1908 Studebaker electric car won by 10 minutes. If in 1908, the electric car was clearly the better form of transportation, why don't we drive them now? Today, I'm going to answer that question by diving into the history of electric cars and what I discovered may surprise you.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A technician inspects a bitcoin mining operation at Bitfarms in Saint Hyacinthe, Quebec on March 19, 2018. LARS HAGBERG / AFP via Getty Images

As bitcoin's fortunes and prominence rise, so do concerns about its environmental impact.

Read More Show Less
OR-93 traveled hundreds of miles from Oregon to California. Austin Smith Jr. / Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs / California Department of Fish and Wildlife

An Oregon-born wolf named OR-93 has sparked conservation hopes with a historic journey into California.

Read More Show Less
A plume of exhaust extends from the Mitchell Power Station, a coal-fired power plant built along the Monongahela River, 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, on Sept. 24, 2013 in New Eagle, Pennsylvania. The plant, owned by FirstEnergy, was retired the following month. Jeff Swensen / Getty Images

By David Drake and Jeffrey York

The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.

The Big Idea

People often point to plunging natural gas prices as the reason U.S. coal-fired power plants have been shutting down at a faster pace in recent years. However, new research shows two other forces had a much larger effect: federal regulation and a well-funded activist campaign that launched in 2011 with the goal of ending coal power.

Read More Show Less