New study links rise in autism to consumption of high fructose corn syrup

By Katie Rojas-Jahn / Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

The epidemic of autism in children in the U.S. may be linked to the typical American diet according to a new study published online in Clinical Epigenetics by Renee Dufault, et. al. The study explores how mineral deficiencies—affected by dietary factors like high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)—could impact how the human body rids itself of common toxic chemicals like mercury and pesticides.

The release comes on the heels of a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that estimates the average rate of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) among eight year olds is now 1 in 88, representing a 78 percent increase between 2002 and 2008. Among boys, the rate is nearly five times the prevalence found in girls.

“To better address the explosion of autism, it’s critical we consider how unhealthy diets interfere with the body’s ability to eliminate toxic chemicals, and ultimately our risk for developing long-term health problems like autism,” said Dr. David Wallinga, a study co-author and physician at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).

Commander (ret.) Renee Dufault (U.S. Public Health Service), the study’s lead author and a former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) toxicologist, developed an innovative scientific approach to describe the subtle side effects of HFCS consumption and other dietary factors on the human body and how they relate to chronic disorders. The model, called “macroepigenetics,” allows researchers to consider how factors of nutrition, environment and genetic makeup interact and contribute to the eventual development of a particular health outcome.

“With autism rates skyrocketing, our public educational system is under extreme stress,” said Dufault, who is also a licensed special education teacher and founder of the Food Ingredient and Health Research Institute (FIHRI). As part of the current study, the authors found a 91 percent increase in the number of children with autism receiving special educational services in the U.S. between 2005 and 2010.

Key Findings:

  • Autism and related disorders affect brain development. The current study sought to determine how environmental and dietary factors, like HFCS consumption, might combine to contribute to the disorder.
  • Consumption of HFCS, for example, is linked to the dietary loss of zinc, which interferes with the elimination of heavy metals from the body. Many heavy metals like mercury, arsenic and cadmium are potent toxins with adverse effects on brain development in the young.
  • HFCS consumption can also impact levels of other beneficial minerals, including calcium. Loss of calcium further exacerbates the detrimental effects of exposure to lead on brain development in fetuses and children.
  • Inadequate levels of calcium in the body can also impair its ability to expel organophosphates, a class of pesticides long recognized by the EPA and independent scientists as especially toxic to the young developing brain.

“Rather than being independent sources of risk, factors like nutrition and exposure to toxic chemicals are cumulative and synergistic in their potential to disrupt normal development,” said Dr. Richard Deth, a professor of Pharmacology at Northeastern University and a co-author of the study. “These epigenetic effects can also be transmitted across generations. As autism rates continue to climb it is imperative to incorporate this new epigenetic perspective into prevention, diagnosis and treatment strategies.”

The picture of how and why a child develops autism is a complicated one influenced by many different factors. The authors of this study have given insight into the complex interplay between several of the factors that may lead to the development of this debilitating neurodevelopmental disorder. In order to curb the epidemic of autism in the U. S., continued analysis of the impact of the industrialized food system and exposure to environmental toxins on ASD must be key areas of research moving forward.

From EcoWatch

7 thoughts on “New study links rise in autism to consumption of high fructose corn syrup”

    1. I’ve heard this complaint from a few people. But when you look up the definition of an epidemic, you find (from Merriam Webster):

      1 : affecting or tending to affect a disproportionately large number of individuals within a population, community, or region at the same time
      2 a : excessively prevalent b : contagious 4
      3 characterized by very widespread growth or extent : of, relating to, or constituting an epidemic

      Autism has been (definition 1) affecting a disproportionate number of people in the United States, compared against historical norms, and 3) experiencing “very widespread growth”. As the article points out, autism rates have increased by 78% between 2002 and 2008 alone.

      Also, I don’t feel that I am labeling autism as an epidemic in saying there is an autism epidemic. When I say there is a flu epidemic, I am not saying that the flu is inherently an epidemic, I am saying that the flu is experiencing widespread growth, and affecting more people than usual. And the same is true when I talk about an autism epidemic. It doesn’t mean that autism is inherently an epidemic, which doesn’t make any sense. What it means is that autism rates are increasing rapidly, and affecting many more people than usual.

      1. Yeah but here is the thing: Autism is not a body destroying disease! Autistic people exist and they are happy with their identity as an autistic person (myself included) it is an insult to us autistic people and you of all people should treat us like human beings and not walking diseases that need to be exterminated!

    1. I can understand your concern, which is that calling autism an epidemic suggests that people with it are a polluted group, etc. On the other hand it is also true that autism is on the rise, and is already about 10 times higher than normal in the United States, and increasing at a very quick rate. While you might embrace your autism, not everyone with autism can say that. My partner worked for a woman once with an autistic son who was non-verbal and aggressive. The government decided he was a threat to her daughter and forced her to either give up her son to institutionalization, or to have her daughter taken away by CPS. While I think it’s great that you and many others embrace your autism, which does naturally occur in a certain fragment of the population, it’s also true that others are debilitated by it, and that it is increasing at rates never before seen due to environmental factors that need to be alleviated. If blindness or deafness suddenly increased to nearly 2% of the population, I would say the same thing for them. I think it’s great that there are supportive communities that emphasize the strengths in what others would call disabilities. On the other hand, some people are clearly adversely affected by these conditions, and will tell you that.

      But at your request, I’ve changed “autism epidemic” in the headline to “rise in autism”.

  1. I realize that people are affected by Autism but is that an excuse to dehumanize us? Attitudes such as previous studies about Autism (refrigerator mom, anyone?) are responsible for the deaths of autistic people and also the Sexual Sterilization Act back in the 30’s and 40’s. I also realize that not all autistic people would be proud of their identity but that comes from the ableism that they endured and they feel that fighting against ableism is a lost cause so they conform to what the NTs want them to be or commit suicide. Ableism needs to be discussed more within radical circles. We cannot fight against oppression without leaving disabled out out because we feel that they are the reason why the world is in a horrible position. Thank you for taking my concerns into consideration

    1. It’s true that ableism is something we need to better address in radical circles. I apologize for my choice of headline, and for my hesitancy in making a change to it. Clearly I don’t want to suggest anything remotely like an endorsement of sterilization, or to stigmatize people with autism. That wasn’t my intention, and I will try to be more sensitive around these issues in the future.

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