(NaturalNews) A study recently published in the journal Epidemiology has suggested that rapid increases in autism rates in California cannot be explained by migratory trends and looser diagnosis criteria, but is instead most likely down to environmental exposures. Not exactly news to those well versed in natural healing, but perhaps such findings will finally represent a breakthrough of sorts for the scientific and medical community.
Autism Symptoms and Statistics
Autism is characterized by difficulties in relating to events, objects and people. Some specific signs include fixation on certain physical objects, lack of eye contact, and repetitive bodily movements such as head banging.
In 1990, there were only 205 reported new cases of autism in California, while 6.2 out of every 10,000 children born in the state developed the condition by the time they were five years old. The respective figures, however, had ballooned to 3,000 new cases in 2006 and 42.5 for every 10,000 in 2001. What`s more, these numbers are not letting up and continue to escalate. Such trends are not unique to California, either, with statistics on the number of autistic children also soaring alarmingly across the United States.
According to 2007 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in every 150 births develops autism. Its growth rate, at 10 to 17% per year, is fastest among all developmental disabilities. A London School of Economics study estimated that the condition costs $90 billion each year, and the Autism Society of America estimated that this will rise to $200 - $400 billion in 10 years (this was calculated in Feb 2003).
Details and Findings of Study
Quite amazingly, many medical officials have for years postulated that the rising trend of autism is artificial, and it only exists because of changes in diagnosis as well as migration patterns. To check things out, the study team analyzed 17 years of state data tracking developmental disabilities, as well as used Census Bureau data and birth records to calculate autism rates and diagnosis age. They concluded that migration to California had no effect on the state`s increasing autisms rates.
In addition, while doctors were found to be diagnosing autism earlier due to heightened awareness, this change could only account for a 24% increase in autism figures. Further, the diagnosis of milder cases could be responsible for another 56% of the rise, with changes in state reporting making up a 120% increase.
Put together, the increase due to these factors is still way short of the actual rise. There must thus be other very significant causative factors, likely to be environmental and genetic in nature.
Environmental versus Genetic Factors - Time for a Shift in Research
Unfortunately, research resources are currently heavily skewed towards genetic factors - funding for studies conducted on such causes of autism is 10 to 20 times as much as funding for environmental factors.
"The advances in molecular genetics have tended to obscure the principle that genes are always acting in and on a particular environment. This article, I think, will restore some balance to our thinking," said Dr Bernard Weiss, a professor of environmental medicine and pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center. He also said that "excessive emphasis has been placed on genetics as a cause".
And it is time for mindsets, especially those of people controlling research funds, to change. "It`s time to start looking for the environmental culprits responsible for the remarkable increase in the rate of autism in California," said Dr Hertz-Picciotto, an epidemiology professor at University of California, Davis, the leader of the study. "There`s genetics and there`s environment. And genetics don`t change in such short periods of time," she also said.
This was echoed by Dr Weiss, who concurred that environmental factors should be more closely looked at. He also said that the autism rate reported in the UC Davis study "seems astonishing".
All in all, the study team has advocated a nationwide shift in autism research, moving from studies on genetic factors towards potential environmental ones, such as infant and fetal exposure to pesticides, chemicals found in common household agents, and viruses. Along those lines, the dangers and effects of childhood vaccinations should be carefully investigated, too - this is likely to be a significant factor.
Environmental Causes and Factors
Strong voices, such as those belonging to some parent groups, assert that childhood vaccines are responsible. This is because a preservative used in them, thimerosal, is actually a mercury compound. But while this substance had been removed in 1999, autism rate increases show no signs of reversal. Is anyone looking into dental mercury as a possible cause?
Besides mercury, many chemicals in use today are also neuro-developmental toxins, i.e. they affect the growth of the brains, and these include brominated flame retardants (used in electronics and furniture), lead, pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls.
Other studies have shown that mothers who used pet flea shampoos had twice the likelihood of having autistic children, and that an association existed between autism and phthalates, substances used in cosmetics and vinyl. Ingredients in certain antibacterial soaps may have a part to play too, according to Dr Hertz-Picciotto, who is also a researcher at UC Davis` M.I.N.D. Institute, said to be a leading autism research facility.
In addition, there is fluoride in tap water - could it be playing a part, too? According to Dr Vyvyan Howard, a medical pathologist and toxicologist, and also President of the International Society of Doctors for the Environment, fluoride is a developmental toxin, a neurotoxin which may also affect the intelligence of the child. He feels there is no place for fluoride in our water supplies. Read more about this issue here: http://www.naturalnews.com/024855.html
What is quite clear is that there are many possible causative factors, and extensive research will have to be carried out to reveal more. "I don`t think there`s going to be one smoking gun in this autism problem. It`s such a big world out there and we know so little at this point. If we`re going to stop the rise in autism in California, we need to keep these studies going and expand them to the extent possible," Dr Hertz-Picciotto said.
The UC Davis researchers are in the process of looking at the association between childhood exposure to flame retardants and pesticides to the occurrence of autism.
Autism, from several perspectives, is clearly a serious health issue. While many officials and experts are dilly dallying and perhaps finally beginning to accept that environmental causes are behind the huge surges in rates of ailments like autism and asthma, many of us have long been aware of such an (obvious) association.
In fact, knowledgeable natural health care practitioners and progressive medical doctors pay a great deal of attention on eliminating sources of environmental toxins and detoxifying their patients while working with autistic persons.
Will it be too late? Who knows. However, besides working with a behavioral therapist for immediate improvements, that is the best (and perhaps only) long-term and true solution which tackles the root causes. Medical chemical drugs do not offer true healing; they never did, and never will.