By Dr Bob Sears
A decade ago, many researchers believed that autism was primarily a genetic disorder, and a large amount of funding was spent searching for answers in that direction. Some even believed it was ALL in the genes. The genetics of autism are interesting, but what’s more important is to understand WHY the genetic changes are occurring in the first place. The answer: Environmental toxicity. And this toxicity doesn’t just affect the genes; it harms various organs, particularly the brain. The result: Autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.
A new study, published this month in PLOS Computational Biology, provides more proof that environmental toxins may be a causative factor in autism (1.) The University of Chicago examined health data from over 100 million people and compared the rates of certain congenital malformations (birth defects) to autism (ASD). We know that various chemicals (like plastics, some medications, pesticides, and others) cause birth defects; researchers wanted to know if counties in the U.S. with higher birth defects also had higher rates of ASD. A correlation could mean that the same chemicals which cause birth defects could also be responsible for ASD. The results of the study revealed a resounding YES!
The study showed that for every 1% increase in birth defects of the reproductive system in males, there was a corresponding 283% increase in the rate of male ASD in that particular area of the country. For non-reproductive birth defects, the results were less significant, but still interesting (32% increase in ASD for every 1% increase in other birth defects). Even those with intellectual disabilities (but not autism) showed a 94% increase for every 1% increase in birth defects. This implies that whatever toxins are causing these birth defects are likely linked to ASD as well.
Here’s the really good news: families need to know that many (not all) symptoms and co-morbid issues we see in many individuals with autism are treatable.
This study demonstrates a direct correlation between toxins causing physical birth defects and toxins causing autism. It’s not just due to random genetic changes; it’s environmentally-induced. So what do we need to do?
Put more funding into identifying specific toxins which are responsible for ASD. We need to start spending money where it will count the most. Focus on the environmental factors now that research is pointing us in that direction. Let’s identify the direct causes so we can begin reducing autism rates now.
Dr. Bob Sears
Pediatrician, TACA Physician Advisory member and author of The Autism Book
Thank you Dr. Bob for asking the right question in regards to genetics and going after the solutions. Too much time, money and effort has already been spent in a direction that has done very little to help those dealing with autism on a daily basis.
Thank you Dr. Bob for looking for the answers that will directly effect those that are living with autism now. To much time, money and effort has been spent looking down that rabbit whole without asking why he went down there in the first place.
Thanks for the insightful article.
I would like to see research looking at women who are/were heavy users of plastic (disposable) water bottles while they were pregnant. I belong to an online forum of women distance runners and it would seem like a lot of us have kids either ASD-diagnosed and/or have ASD-like symptoms. I often wonder about all those water bottles we drank from while pregnant and running…and the toxins taken in all the years prior to pregnancy via plastic water bottles.
I completely agree that this should now lead us to deeper study on this same track! But I can’t help but assume that more money will be donated to stop research on various chemicals because there is so much money and business in chemical industries (everything from pesticides and industrial chemicals to pharmaceuticals and shampoo!).