Autistic spectrum disorder now affects 1 out of every 88 American children, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). This is a 78% increase from just over 10 years ago.
Clearly, something is happening.
Recently, the Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center (CEHC) has provided some interesting information on this topic. They released a list of 10 environmental toxins that they felt had the strongest correlations with autism and learning disabilities. Below, I will discuss where these chemicals are found and how to avoid them. For more discussion on this topic, you can consult the CEHC’s original press release.
Autism is a complex interplay of genetics and external factors and it is misleading to point a finger at one single cause, or one single cure. However, according to the CEHC, this list of chemicals is estimated to affect about 28% of learning disabilities, which is a number big enough to pay attention to. Ongoing research as well as anecdotal reports also show support that a diet free of gluten and casein (a protein found in dairy) combined with high doses of probiotics and essential fatty acids are extremely helpful in managing autistic spectrum disorders.
The top 10 toxic chemicals suspected to cause autism and learning disabilities (according to the CEHC) are:
4. Organophosphate pesticides
5. Organochlorine pesticides
6. Endocrine disruptors
7. Automotive exhaust
8. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
9. Brominated flame retardants
10. Perfluorinated compounds
Lead: Found in paint, glazed ceramics, tap water, polluted soil
Methylmercury: Found in coal fumes; larger predatorial fish such as shark, swordfish, tuna, walleye, northern pike, and largemouth bass; mercury dental amalgams (fillings)
PCBs: Although the production of PCBs was banned in 1979 (it was originally produced by Monsanto), we continue to be exposed to it (certain regions more than others) due to the breakdown of toxic materials in landfills and other contaminated sites that leak into our water, air, and soil.
Organophosphate and organochlorine pesticides: Found in agricultural foodstuffs treated with herbicides and insecticides.
Endocrine disruptors: This encompasses a large category of chemicals found in a variety of consumer products including pthalates (found in soft toys, cosmetics, and air fresheners), BPA (found in many plastic containers), DDT (a pesticide), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (used as a flame retardant in new mattresses, electronics, car components, carpets and other new textiles), and others.
Automotive exhaust: Found in big cities and high traffic areas.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: PAHs are a byproduct of burning fossil fuels or biomass. Also found in certain cooked foods, particularly barbequed or grilled (charred) animal products and smoked fish.
Brominated flame retardants: Used primarily in the manufacturing of computer parts such as printed circuit boards, connectors, cables, and plastic covers.
Perfluorinated compounds: Found in non-stick pans and surfaces treated with stain-resistants or water-repellents.
This post is meant to inform, not to paralyze you with fear. If the above painted a pretty grim picture, take heart. There are certain things in our environment that we just can’t control, but there is lots we can do!
What can we do to protect ourselves and our loved ones?
-Eat a diet rich in colourful, preferably organic vegetables and fruits. Not only does eating organic produce reduce exposure to pesticides, but compounds in various fruits and vegetables actually help to detoxify and protect our body when we do come in contact with pollutants.
-Reduce your use of plastic containers in favour of stainless steel or glass containers. Never microwave plastic!
-Become conscious of what you are putting on your skin/spraying into the air/cleaning your house with. Unfortunately, most conventional cosmetics, perfumes, air fresheners, and household cleaning agents contain one or more of the above listed chemicals, and we can greatly reduce our exposure to toxicity by “detoxing” our self-care and cleaning products. Visit a reputable health food store to get advice on finding natural replacements.
-Spend time outside around trees. Fresh air goes a long way for our health and our mood!
Remember, don’t get dramatic and gloomy, just focus on what you can do, even if it’s one small step at a time. Every little bit counts!