Scientists warn of chemical-autism link
June 7th, 2011
06:43 PM ET

Scientists warn of chemical-autism link

Autism and environmental health experts called for greater scrutiny of chemicals found in the environment, which could potentially lead to autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders, in a conference call Tuesday.

"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.

"Lead, mercury, and other neurotoxic chemicals have a profound effect on the developing brain at levels that were once thought to be safe," she said.

Autism spectrum disorders are being diagnosed at unprecedented rates, partly because of improved diagnostic tools and criteria, but also a host of other factors including what mothers-to-be are exposed and consequently their unborn children too, 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.

About 1 in 110 children in the United States has autism, a group of developmental disorders that lead to impairments in behavior, communication and socialization. The cost of autism is staggering: $3.2 million for the care of a person with autism throughout his or her life; behavioral therapy can be hard to come by and be very limited,  and most medications don't help much.

Studies have strongly suggested a genetic component in the cause of autism, but it's becoming clear that genetics alone isn't the whole story; there could be interactions between susceptibility genes and environmental chemicals.

Recent research from her group, appearing in the journal Epidemiology, showed that prenatal vitamins taken prior to conception seem to interact with certain metabolizing genes that are inherited.  Those women who did not take the vitamins, and had the high-risk genotypes, were more likely to have a child with autism.  Still, this was a small study limited in scope, and more research should be done to confirm these findings.

The central nervous system of the fetus is sensitive to a wide range of chemicals, Hertz-Piccotto said.  Hormones, such as estrogens and androgens, are essential for proper brain development. Endocrine-disrupting compounds need more research, she said. Flame-retardant chemicals called PBDEs interfere with the body's hormones.  Even though many of them are no longer used in manufacturing, they can hang around in the environment and the human body for a long time.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is aware of concerns about these chemicals and is working on accessing substitutions (see the action plan).

Bisphenol A, present in plastic food packaging and water bottles, among other products, is another big concern, she said, because it could interfere with the body's natural estrogen system; antimicrobials added to soaps, toothpaste and other products can artificially enhance androgenic activity.

"That means that they could potentially play a role in autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders," Hertz-Piccotto said.

Moreover, many children with autism spectrum disorders have abnormal immune responses. The chemical messengers in the immune system interact with the receptors in the brain, so chemicals that affect immunity could also be implicated in autism.

Thyroid dysfunction is common in children with autism that psychiatrist Dr. Suruchi Chandra sees, even though that's not part of the classical symptoms of the condition.  She believes the abnormalities are due to the thyroid hormone disruptors such as BPA and flame retardants.

"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.

Air pollution from traffic and certain pesticides have also been shown to have associations with autism, studies have shown.  Maternal conditions could partially result from chemicals in the environment.

Andy Igrejas, National Campaign Director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, called for an update of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has proposed a stricter version that would require all industrial chemicals to be tested for safety.

UPDATE: Since so many of you have asked, I wanted to clarify that this discussion does not relate to vaccines. The scientific evidence available has shown again and again that vaccines do not cause autism.

soundoff (2,292 Responses)
  1. avanafil

    avanafil vs cialis avana 100 mg

    May 5, 2021 at 10:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. LebnEncox

    trusted overseas pharmacies best drugstore foundation pharmacy cheap no prescription

    May 5, 2021 at 11:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. RV Restoration Near Me

    Good day! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after going through some of the posts I realized it’s new to me. Nonetheless, I’m definitely pleased I came across it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back often!


    May 5, 2021 at 11:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Airgun megastore

    best i have ever seen!Hello, always i used to check webpage posts here early in the daylight, for the reason that i love to gain knowledge of more and more.


    May 5, 2021 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. FmrfEncox

    mastercard cialis http://cialisee.com/ generic cialis florida

    May 5, 2021 at 18:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Auto Body Repair in Raleigh NC

    Usually I never comment on blogs but your article is so convincing that I never stop myself to say something about it. You're doing a great job Man,Keep it up.


    May 5, 2021 at 18:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. western union near me


    May 5, 2021 at 19:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. LbsoZisse

    canada cialis trial http://ucialisdas.com/ – buy cialis online cialis without perscription canada pharmacy

    May 5, 2021 at 20:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Eye Doctor Ahwatukee


    May 6, 2021 at 05:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. life coach

    Hi, I do believe this is an excellent blog. I stumbledupon it 😉 I may come back once again since i have bookmarked it. Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to guide other people.


    May 6, 2021 at 05:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. semi truck repair shop nearby


    May 6, 2021 at 07:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. outside van


    May 6, 2021 at 08:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Keratoconus Specialist Near Me

    Good write-up. I certainly love this website. Continue the good work!


    May 6, 2021 at 10:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. barbecue near me

    Good day! I simply wish to give you a huge thumbs up for your excellent info you have got here on this post. I will be returning to your site for more soon.


    May 6, 2021 at 13:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. sequence conversion

    Aw, this was an incredibly nice post. Taking a few minutes and actual effort to generate a great article… but what can I say… I put things off a lot and never seem to get nearly anything done.


    May 6, 2021 at 13:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. dillards near me


    May 6, 2021 at 17:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. horse trailer repair

    After exploring a few of the articles on your website, I truly appreciate your technique of writing a blog. I saved it to my bookmark website list and will be checking back in the near future. Please visit my web site too and let me know what you think.


    May 6, 2021 at 17:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. New Forklift Rental California


    May 6, 2021 at 17:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Dortmunder Export Beer

    You need to take part in a contest for one of the highest quality sites on the web. I am going to recommend this website!


    May 6, 2021 at 17:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. LbsoZisse

    cialis payment paypal http://ucialisdas.com/ buy cialis pay pal

    May 6, 2021 at 22:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. priligy

    priligy 30 dapoxetine hydrochloride

    May 7, 2021 at 00:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. barber near me

    This is the right site for anybody who would like to find out about this topic. You understand a whole lot its almost tough to argue with you (not that I really would want to…HaHa). You definitely put a fresh spin on a topic that's been written about for years. Wonderful stuff, just wonderful!


    May 7, 2021 at 04:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. temecula collision center

    I enjoy looking through an article that can make people think. Also, thank you for permitting me to comment!


    May 7, 2021 at 06:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Kegs Portland


    May 7, 2021 at 08:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. New Forklift Service Shop California

    Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you writing this article and the rest of the website is also very good.


    May 7, 2021 at 08:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. homedepot near me

    Having read this I thought it was extremely informative. I appreciate you finding the time and effort to put this information together. I once again find myself spending a lot of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!


    May 7, 2021 at 14:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. FmrfEncox

    generic cialis for daily use http://cialisee.com/ – generic cialis 20 mg cialis shop

    May 7, 2021 at 16:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. orange county trailers


    May 7, 2021 at 19:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. http://www.sjbet.info/

    Every weekend i used to visit this web site, for the reason that i wish for enjoyment, since this this
    site conations truly fastidious funny material too.

    May 7, 2021 at 19:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Video Marketing Companies


    May 7, 2021 at 23:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. motorhome repairs near me

    Hello, I do think your site may be having browser compatibility issues. When I take a look at your site in Safari, it looks fine however when opening in I.E., it has some overlapping issues. I merely wanted to give you a quick heads up! Besides that, fantastic website!


    May 7, 2021 at 23:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Seo Marketing Agency


    May 8, 2021 at 00:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Social Media Marketing Agency Orange County


    May 8, 2021 at 02:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Digital Marketing Firms

    Having read this I thought it was very informative. I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this article together. I once again find myself spending a lot of time both reading and commenting. But so what, it was still worthwhile!


    May 8, 2021 at 09:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Digital Marketing Firm


    May 8, 2021 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. camera repair california

    The very next time I read a blog, I hope that it does not fail me as much as this particular one. I mean, Yes, it was my choice to read, but I really thought you'd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of moaning about something that you can fix if you were not too busy seeking attention.


    May 8, 2021 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Digital Marketing Reviews

    After going over a handful of the articles on your blog, I really like your technique of writing a blog. I book marked it to my bookmark website list and will be checking back in the near future. Please visit my web site too and tell me how you feel.


    May 8, 2021 at 14:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. RebfZisse

    cialis price canada http://rcialisgl.com/ – cialis vi free samples viagra cialis

    May 8, 2021 at 14:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Content Marketing Videos


    May 8, 2021 at 17:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. RV Windows Near Me

    Saved as a favorite, I really like your blog!


    May 8, 2021 at 18:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Internet Marketing Agency

    I couldn’t resist commenting. Perfectly written!


    May 8, 2021 at 19:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. AnooEncox

    hay viagra genГ©rico http://llviagra.com/ – viagra 25 mg tablet what is difference between cialis and viagra

    May 8, 2021 at 21:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Social Media Marketing Services


    May 9, 2021 at 01:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. RV Windshield Orange County

    Aw, this was a very nice post. Taking the time and actual effort to create a great article… but what can I say… I put things off a lot and never manage to get anything done.


    May 9, 2021 at 03:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Content Marketing Program


    May 9, 2021 at 04:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Seo Marketing Business


    May 9, 2021 at 05:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Google Marketing Service


    May 9, 2021 at 07:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Local Marketing Near Me


    May 9, 2021 at 08:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. RV Couches Riverside


    May 9, 2021 at 08:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. RV Renovation California

    Howdy! I simply want to give you a huge thumbs up for the great info you've got right here on this post. I am coming back to your web site for more soon.


    May 9, 2021 at 16:27 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Leave a Reply to Lynn


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.