Autism: environmental factors may be in part to blame

In an article written by David Kirby for The Huffington Post on February 11, 2011 Mr. Kirby addresses the fact that many parents continue to believe that Autism is directly linked to vaccines, yet countless reports and research has not directly linked the two. Or at least the FDA and drug manufacturers will not report that there is a direct link. In his article Mr. Kirby describes the heated debate between Autism and vaccines, but then he states his belief that researches should begin looking at another possible link: environmental factors.

Mr. Kirby says, that he believes that more children today are more susceptible to vaccine injury and other environmental triggers, thanks to toxins such as heavy metals, air pollution, pesticides and a universe of endocrine disruptors unleashed into the environment. Other risk factors might be at play, such as vitamin D deficiency, parental age, closely-spaced births, caesarian births or even the stress of everyday life.

Such factors, both pre- and post-natal, might harm mitochondria, damage DNA and potentially result in immune and autoimmune disorders. These problems could then, in turn, increase the risk in some genetically susceptible children for early life problems like complex febrile seizures, myelin damage, and what has been called “mitochondrial meltdown.” All three have been identified in medical journals and/or the U.S. federal Vaccine Court as plausible triggers of regressive autism. And all three can occur with, or without, vaccines.

He believes rather that continue fighting over the vaccine and autism link that researchers should begin focusing on whether or not there is a link to environmental toxins.

He goes on to quote, Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, an epidemiology professor at the University of California, Davis MIND Institute, as saying “It’s time to start looking for the environmental culprits responsible for the remarkable increase in the rate of autism in California.” Those culprits, she said, might lie “in the microbial world and in the chemical world.”

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D, current Director of the NIH also stated, “Recent increases in chronic diseases (like) autism cannot be due to major shifts in the human gene pool. They must be due to changes in the environment” and other factors, he told Congress in 2006. Collins called for more research into “environmental toxins, dietary intake and physical activity,” in order to “determine an individual’s biological response to those influences.”

Dr. Thomas Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health and Chair of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, concurred with his boss, Dr. Collins, when he told Mr. Kirby, “There is no question that there has got to be an environmental component here,” because “this is not something that can be explained away by methodology, by diagnosis.”

Mr. Kirby says, “If we believe the head of the NIH, then autism might be the result of “environmental toxins” interacting with individual genes.” If we believe EPA scientists and Department of Education data, ASD rates boomed between the 1988 and 1992 birth cohorts, and increased at a much slower pace after that.

It seems reasonable to suspect, then, that average U.S. exposures to the environmental toxin(s) in question increased around 1988 (though they certainly were introduced before that) and continued to rise rapidly until at least 1992, when they began to level off.

Mr. Kirby’s final thoughts on the link between Autism and environmental factors is that he believes “because there is no one cause of Autism, we need to look at all possible exposures and other environmental factors that might have increased dramatically during those years, including plastics, flame retardants, jet fuel, pesticides, viruses and retroviruses, parental age and, yes, the vaccine program.”

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