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Are Chemicals a Contributing Factor to Autism

  • Date : 2014-09-12 : Rev. 2015-03-31
  • Disabled World : Disabled World
  • Synopsis : Article looks at the possibility of chemicals being a potential contributing factor to autism.

Main Document

Pesticides are designed to kill pests such as insects; fungicides are designed to kill molds, while herbicides are designed to kill plants like weeds. Human beings; however, share a number of biological features with other living things on Earth. As it turns out, people are vulnerable in many ways depending upon the particular pesticide, fungicide, or herbicide. There are many kinds of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. They are found in our vegetables and fruits, in meats from animals that ate foods with these chemicals in them, in our gardens and in our schools and homes.

There are also several household products with ingredients that are known to be toxic to a person's developing nervous system. Items ranging from carpet stain removers to pain have strong combinations that can make a dark wall white, or overcome a stubborn stain. Yet these products release into the air substances that are detrimental to a person's central nervous system and brain. Substances such as formaldehyde which is toxic as it seeps from new home materials such as painted walls and pressed wood floors become increasingly dangerous in combination with air pollution. Using these products in small or badly ventilated spaces or repeatedly increases the danger of these products.

Chemicals in Cosmetics

There are many ingredients in cosmetics that threaten a person's developing nervous system. Acetone in nail polish remover is a neurotoxic agent. BHT and BHA in lipstick is a suspected cause of metabolic stress, depressed growth, fetal abnormalities and neurotoxic effects such as hyperactivity and additional behavioral disturbances. Lanolin in moisturizers and baby creams has in many instances been contaminated by the process of sheep dipping to control parasites and pests.

Diazonin, which is a neurotoxic pesticide, is prominent in many lanolin samples. Parabens in several skin care products and cosmetics are associated with breast cancer. Pthalates in moisturizers, shampoos, baby products, sunscreens, as well as soft plastics such as plastic toys and shower curtains are associated with endocrine disruption - an interference with normal hormone processing. The items mentioned are just a few of the many exposures to avoid by people who want to protect and nurture brain and nervous system development. At this time, there is little to no testing required for ingredients in cosmetic products. The regulatory requirements governing the sale of cosmetics are not as stringent as those that apply to other FDA-regulated products. Manufacturers may use any ingredient or raw material, except for color additives and a few prohibited substances, to market a product without government review or approval.

Potential Contributing Factors to Autism

While questions have been raised about a number of chemicals for a long time, research dollars have only recently begun to support the systematic evaluation of these toxins as potential risk factors for autism. Before this funding was available for larger studies, scientists could only afford smaller ones. Many such smaller studies point to risk, yet few or none prove that any one chemical is a cause of autism. Two of the reasons why are that most studies have been narrowly focused and they have small sample sizes.

There is another and more fundamental reason why no single cause of autism has emerged from environmental studies, or from genetic research. The reason is that a number of potential contributors to autism may have similar effects:

  • Many different genes can target the same, or related, pathways
  • Many different kinds of chemicals can impact similar, vulnerable parts of our systems

Due to this, it is difficult to point to one single strong cause. Due to the fact that many seemingly genetic and environmental risks converge, no single cause of autism may ever present itself from the data. Due to this, we need to take seriously the potential harm that can be caused by different combinations of factors, even if no single one of them is completely responsible by itself.

The Need for Further Research

There is a clear and present need for scientific, government, medical and autism communities to research further into all potential environmental causes of autism in a fair, thorough and unbiased way - especially because findings might help us approach treatment and prevention more effectively. For example; a number of studies implicate mercury in autism, or in issues that are found in autism. Two studies have shown increased autism with increased airborne mercury from air pollution. Mercury injures the immune system and causes brain inflammation.

Brain development is also affected by mercury. Several studies have shown that children with autism have elevated porphyrins, which are a sign of excessive mercury exposure. Yet other chemicals may also have some of these effects, so while mercury is plainly harmful, it might be difficult to prove that it is a central cause of autism.

Some studies have focused on chemicals in childhood vaccines as suspected agents in the onset of autism. Serious investigation needs to be performed on the impact of vaccines and the chemicals in them in conjunction with additional environmental exposures. The research needed includes, yet is not limited to, investigating whether thimerosal-containing vaccines (TCV's), the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) inoculation, or a combination of both play any causal or contributory relationship to autism or susceptibility to autism in the population at large or in vulnerable subgroups. It is important for studies to look for ways that these or other exposures may aggravate or cause harm in combination with additional factors - even if they are not the sole cause. The more we learn about how people may be very different from one another in terms of their vulnerabilities, the more we need to consider how some people may be injured by exposures that might be easily tolerated by others.



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