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I began working in the field of behavioral therapy for autism at the height of the vaccine theory controversy. At this time, I clearly remember having heated debates with colleagues about the causes of autism and what might be happening to contribute to the increase in cases worldwide… we agreed that obviously something in the environment is triggering the expression of autism – this was not (and is not) a question. We are absolutely unable to explain this significant hike in the prevalence of autism through biology alone. The rates of autism and related disorders growing exponentially, yet humans haven’t changed much (at least not biologically speaking) over the past hundred or so years. I can also recall some people agreeing with Jenny McCarthy about vaccines being the culprit, and others claiming with certainty that the vaccines are not the issue. And, few months into my work in the field, the famous article that all had us talking about vaccines in the first place was retracted, the authors were found guilty of fraud and their licenses were revoked – this squashed the conversation for most… although some of us still thought that the issue wasn’t dead, despite the fact that Jenny McCarthy and her organization (who were leaders in the fight against mercury and other neurotoxins in vaccines), and others who supported her cause were pretty much (wrongly) ridiculed to quietude.
Fast-forward a few years later, and we are now learning (or at least the ones who are paying attention) that there was a major scandal involving vaccine-making companies and the reporters who claimed that this famous research article condemning vaccines was fraudulent. At this point of the ongoing issue, one of the authors is exonerated of all charges pertaining to the vaccine/autism article, and others are considering appealing their cases as well. And, despite the fact that many stopped speaking (at least publicly) about the mercury/autism connection, scientists have recently confirmed an undoubtable connection. Thus, injecting your young, developing child (with an unformed blood brain barrier – the barrier that helps protect the brain from neurotoxins like mercury) with a vaccine containing neurotoxins (or even an older child or adult for that matter) might not be the best idea.
Despite the fact that there was plenty of evidence stacked up against vaccines [and there still is, believe me, this issue isn't dead - although even now, if you conduct a search for information regarding the vaccine and autism connection you will likely come up with articles stating the article in the British Medical Journal was fraudulent and retracted rather than the truth, which is that the retraction was retracted! You've got to love mainstream media (click on the link for more information)... but, I digress], and the fact that I intuitively believed there was a strong likelihood for a connection between the two, I never could settle on the fact that vaccines alone were the reason behind this exponential increase in prevalence. Included in the essay I wrote in application to graduate school (one year after I began working in the field of behavioral therapy for autism), was a statement regarding my suspicion that a wide variety of environmental toxins, including but not limited to the neurotoxic preservatives used in vaccines, were implicated in autism. Despite the fact that I had no solid scientific evidence to back up my claim, I couldn’t help but question whether the increase in toxins that we are all exposed to (air, soil, water, food – as fertile adults, in pregnancy, and in developmental years) contributed to the expression of autism. Honestly, to me, this seemed like the only rational answer.
Thankfully, more and more research is coming out each day revealing these connections – helping to inform the public . There are many different toxins that are implicated in the development of this complex disorder. For example there is the mercury connection mentioned above. In addition, in my inbox this morning was an alert regarding a hot off the press study linking SSRIs and SNRIs (antidepressants) to autism expression in fish (yes, I get it, humans are not fish… but, it’s a start in the development of this research – and we certainly aren’t going to be randomizing a pregnant mother or newborn to receive antidepressants in their water anytime soon – this would obviously be unethical…). The main hypothesis of the study is that hyperserotonemia (also known as serotonin syndrome, or in plain English – too much serotonin) plays a role in autism. This is relevant because it is more acceptable for pregnant women to be prescribed antidepressants (which are commonly used for a range of different diagnoses, including pain and migraines). Additionally, remember, humans are exposed to an ever increasing dosage of antidepressants via public water supply (I know this is disgusting, but it’s the truth nonetheless – metabolites of these drugs are excreted via urine and end up back in our water supply, along with a host of other pharmaceuticals like synthetic hormones, which also affect serotonin via estrogen). So, if you think about it, while your average adult exposed to metabolites of antidepressants, or even prescribed antidepressants might not experience hyperserotonemia, the tiny little fetus inside of the pregnant mother’s womb, the newborn infant, or the developing child might…
In addition to mercury and antidepressants, there are other confirmed toxins linked to autism. A list of the top ten toxins possibly associated with autism and other neurological disorders (from Inhabitots) includes the following: lead, PCBs, organophosphate pesticides (used in Monsanto’s Round-Up weed killer – and also in the DNA of their GMO food), organochloride pesticides, endocrine disruptors (think: BPAs and other estrogenic toxins), automotive exhaust, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (you can find these in skin creams and some shampoo), brominated flame retardants (sprayed on all your furniture, mattresses, and more if you live in California!), and perflouroinated compounds (found in Teflon, non-stick wrappers. The byproduct of this chemical is fluoride, which is graciously added to our water supply under the false pretense that the ingestion of this chemical promotes dental health, provided by manufacturers who would otherwise need to carefully dispose of this toxic chemical.
Perhaps we see such a wide variation in the expression of autistic disorders because of the wide variation in toxic exposure (and genetic expression)? We are exposed to so many different toxins, and unfortunately we have to be advocates for ourselves (otherwise, who knows how this story will end – we are only now beginning to learn about the epigenetic effects, effects that affect the genetic expression of offspring indefinitely, of this level of toxic exposure). The prevalence of autism in the 1980′s was 1 in 1,000… currently (or rather, the most recently reported numbers from 2010) the prevalence rates are 1 in 88 – yes, that means at least 1 in 88 children are diagnosed with autism in the United States. Do what you can to limit your exposure by doing the following:
1) Be mindful of pharmaceutical exposure. Ask yourself: were alternative options attempted and exhausted? Yes, it may be easier to just take a pill for your disease, but what are the long-term effects of that decision (for yourself, others, and the environment)? Remember that antidepressants and a great deal of other drugs are fluoride-based – do you really want to consume a known neurotoxin long-term? Obviously your health is critical – consult with an integrative practitioner to target your symptoms naturally, and figure out when it is appropriate to use pharmaceuticals (and create a sustainable treatment plan).
2) Drink purified water. We have a lot of toxins in our tap water… I don’t even let my dogs drink tap water! So, think before you drink!
3) Discuss vaccination options with an integrative health care practitioner who isn’t compensated based on injections (as most doctors are), and who will take a variety of health issues into consideration when making recommendations. I don’t have any specific vaccine recommendations other than to look at the ingredients of the vaccine before injection should you choose to vaccinate. There are vaccines that don’t contain mercury. Additionally, there are alternative vaccine schedules that can be adopted to limit neurotoxic and immunotoxic exposure. Bottom line – don’t go blindly into the doctor’s office – conduct your own research, get information from a variety of sources, and use your intuition.
4) Be mindful of exposure to chemicals in foods (GMOs and non-organic foods which are saturated in toxic pesticides) and beauty products. When in doubt check in with Environmental Working Group for recommendations on products.
5) Obviously don’t cook with Teflon, other non-stick pots/pans, or store/heat food in plastics. It’s not worth it. If you must use plastics, find BPA-free products. Cook with stainless steel or cast iron.
6) Do your best to buy products that aren’t covered in flame retardant, reject fluoridated water, use lead-free products, avoid PCBs. Contact your politicians and voice your concerns. Hook up with grassroots organizations to make changes you find important for your health and the health of your loved ones. Recent legislation targeted BPAs because the people spoke up – keep voicing your concerns!
7) Try not to get too overwhelmed… Toxic exposure didn’t begin yesterday. There is a long road ahead of freeing ourselves from unnecessary environmental toxins. Do your best to make good, well-thought out decisions for you and your loved ones. Think before you purchase products (voting with your dollars is powerful!). There are so many little things you can do to help the situation. Just do what you can, and then keep enjoying life! In general our bodies are strong, and if we take good care of ourselves (eat well, reduce stress, exercise, meditate, et cetera) we can hopefully offset the impact of this crisis.
To health and wellness.