Toxic Chemicals Could Cause Autism, Scientist Says

In a conference call earlier this months, experts in the field of autism and environmental health urged increased oversight of <"">chemicals found in the environment and which could potentially be involved with neurodevelopmental disorders and autism, wrote CNN Health.

“We live, breathe and start our families in the presence of toxic chemical mixtures and constant low-level toxic exposures, in stark contrast to the way chemicals are tested for safety,” said Donna Ferullo, Director of Program Research at The Autism Society, quoted CNN Health. “Lead, mercury, and other neurotoxic chemicals have a profound effect on the developing brain at levels that were once thought to be safe,” she added.

Reports of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are on the rise, in part because of better diagnostic tools, but many believe the increase is due to environmental exposures, said Irva Hertz-Piccotto, Chief of the Division of Environmental Health at the University of California, Davis, and a faculty member at the Mind Institute, wrote CNN Health. ASDs are “a group of developmental disorders” that can cause “behavior, communication, and socialization … impairments,” said CNN Health; about 1 in 110 U.S. children are diagnosed with and ASR today, at a cost of about $3.2 million for each diagnosed person during the course of his/her life.

While studies point to genetics, the genetic aspect is not the only link and many believe environmental chemicals are to blame. For instance, recent research conducted by Hertz-Piccotto’s team, and which appears in the journal Epidemiology, indicates that prenatal vitamins taken before pregnancy appear to interact with some inherited metabolizing genes, explained CNN Health. Women who did not take the vitamins but who had the same “high-risk genotypes” were likelier to give birth to a child with autism.

Hertz-Piccotto explained that the fetus’ central nervous system is sensitive to many chemicals and, while hormones, such as estrogens and androgens are necessary for brain development, endocrine disrupters should be researched further, wrote CNN Health. Consider PBDEs—although mostly no longer used in manufacturing, are still in the environment—are hormone disrupters, noted CNN Health. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an action plan for substitutes, which can be accessed at:

Bisphenol A (BPA) a ubiquitous polycarbonate plastics chemical acts as an anti-androgen—a substance that blocks hormone activity—mimicking the hormone estrogen. BPA affects sexual development and processes, especially in developing fetuses, infants, and children. “That means that they could potentially play a role in autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders,” Hertz-Piccotto said, quoted CNN Health.

According to CNN Health, many children diagnosed with ASDs have abnormal immune responses, which could be connected to issues with immunity, said CNN Health. Dr. Suruchi Chandra discussed how thyroid dysfunction is common in children with autism, although not part of the typical symptoms seen in ASDs, reported CNN Health. Dr. Chandra feels there is a link between these abnormalities and thyroid hormone disruptors such as BPA and flame retardants saying, “Thyroid hormone is critical for brain development in early life, and even small alterations in hormone levels can have serious consequences; long-lasting and perhaps irreversible consequences in terms of brain function,” she said, quoted CNN Health.

Air pollution from traffic and some pesticides have also been linked to autism, according to studies, added CNN Health, which noted that Andy Igrejas, National Campaign Director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, that the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act be updated; Senator Frank Lautenberg (Democrat-New Jersey) proposed a more stringent iteration that would mandate industrial chemicals receive safety testing.

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