Posts Tagged With: autism risk factors

The Mercurial Debate Over Autism

Vaccines cause autism.

Genetically modified food causes autism.

Gluten causes autism.

Come on. Just one won't hurt

Come on. Just one won’t hurt

Well, actually, no they don’t.  And now we can add one more thing to the ever-growing list of things that don’t cause autism: mercury.  This finding has 30 years of fact to back it up.

The Seychelles are an idyllic cluster of islands in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar. As you might expect, residents eat a lot of fish – 10 times more fish annually, in fact, than Europeans consume. So, according to new research published in the journal Epidemiology, the archipelago is the ideal place to study the relationship between prenatal fish-sourced mercury exposure and autism

Mercury finds its way into the ocean not only from man-made pollution, but from natural sources like volcanos, geothermal activity, and natural deposits. Released from fossil fuel burning, it can drift through the air for up to a year before precipitating out – often over the globe’s oceans. It’s dense, so it sinks to the bottom, coats algae, and gets gobbled up by plankton.

Fish consumption is a great way to study mercury in humans because we’re the super-predators who eat the secondary predators who eat the bottom-feeders who feast on the mercury-laden plankton.

The 30-year Seychelles Child Development Study has followed almost 2,000 children from birth, correlating the mercury levels found in their hair with scores on communication and behavioral tests and with their teachers’ observations.

Short answer: There wasn’t any relationship between mercury, cognition, and behavior, even when the team looked back at babies’ very first hair samples – the hair that grew while they were still inside Mom.

According to lead investigator Dr. Philip Davidson, the Seychelles study could be the last word on the mercury-autism debate. “This study shows no consistent association in children with mothers with mercury levels that were 6-10 times higher than those found in the U.S. and Europe … if it does not exist here, then it probably does not exist.”

So, moms-to-be, you don’t have to feel guilty about that Chilean sea bass dinner. Unless of course you contemplate how your craving contributes to the death throes of an endangered species.

Oops.. Wait a minute. Hold on to your mother-guilt…  This just in....

It seems Mom’s own antibodies could be programming her unborn baby for autism. Apparently about 25% of mothers with an autistic child produce “antibrain antibodies” that can slide through the placenta and into a fetal brain. There they attack regions associated with learning, memory,  and communication, according to the paper, published in Translational Psychiatry.

When pregnant monkeys were injected with the antibodies, many of their babies behaved abnormally, didn’t develop well socially, and some of them grew abnormally large brains – a trait that’s been observed in some humans with autism.

I wonder how Jenny McCarthy will take that one.

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