Autism News

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Importance of environmental factors in autism development increasingly recongised by scientists


Autistic BoyThe largest and most rigorous autism twin study thus far conducted has confirmed what many, researchers, doctors and parents alike, had suspected for some time - that shared environmental influences play a large part in the development of the spectrum of developmental disorders.

In fact the study tips the balance for the first time towards environmental factors being a more important determining factor for a child developing an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) than their inherited genetic make-up.

The study involved a total of 192 pairs of twins drawn from the general population with the study being supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and involving researchers from the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange, California Department of Public Health, Kaiser Permanente, and the University of California, Davis. The research was partially funded by advocacy group Autism Speaks. The findings of the study, known as the California Autism Twins Study (CATS), were reported in the July 2011 issue of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

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Folic acid metabolism linked to autism


Folic Acid

A new study has found that a genetic variation in themethylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR)enzyme vital for the metabolism of folate, the form of folic acid found in the body, is much more common in children with autism than their neurotypical peers.

There has been a large amount of interest in a link between folic acid and autism in recent years. Some studies have shown that mothers who take folic acid supplements during pregnancy to prevent nueral tube defects, such as spina bifida, are more likely to have autistic children. The reasons why this may be the case are still unclear but may involve effects of large amounts of folic acid on the developing foetal brain or changes in MTHFR gene expression that mean folate deficiency is more likely during childhood.

It is a complicated issue since this current study and others before it indicate that autistic children have a genetic variation which means that they do not efficiently convert folate into various important biochemicals involved in such processes as neurotransmitter metabolism and detoxification - both areas where abnormalities have been found in autism. These results then suggest autistic children may benefit from additional folic acid, or perhaps a more bioactive form, to overcome the reduced activity of the MTHFR gene. This is something many parents and doctors associated with the Defeat Autism Now! (DAN!) approach are actively pursuing but the authors of this new study are cautious about recommending such measures.

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Gut microbes and digestive enzyme deficiencies linked to autism


Boy with bloated tummyResearch published recently from two separate studies suggests not only that gut symptoms are common in children with autism but that the severity of these gut issues is directly linked to the severity of the the behavioural aspects associated with the disorder.

In one of the studies scientists compared the gut flora of children with autism to that of neurotypical children and also looked at the relationship between severity of gastrointestinal symptoms in autistic children and their overall condition. In a second study, researchers sought to find out how common deficiencies in the enzymes that digest simple sugars, such as lactose, are among autistic children.

Many parents report that their autistic children seem to suffer more digestive upset than their peers and an increasing amount of research suggests that gut problems are indeed a common component of austim spectrum disorders (ASDs). In fact a specific form of enteropathy (disease of the intestinal tract) involving an abnormal immune response and inflammation has been identified in children with autism. These two latest studies may help to shed more light on the reasons for this.

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Jaundice in newborns linked to autism


Infant with jaundiceA large study looking at the incidence of neonatal jaundice has found a strong correlation with subsequent development of neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism, in affected newborns.

Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes resulting from elevated levels of the blood pigment, bilirubin. It can result from increased production of bilirubin or reduced capacity of the liver to remove it from the bloodstream.

The study, conducted by Rikke Damkjær Maimburg and colleagues at Aarhus University in Denmark, found full-term infants presenting with jaundice at birth were much more likely to be diagnosed with a developmental disorder during childhood. The association did not hold true for children who were born prematurely, however.

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New studies keep autism, vaccines and heavy metal poisoning debate open


Syringe containing childhood vaccineTwo new studies published this month are suggestive of a link between autism and both vaccinations and poisoning with mercury and other heavy metals.

Following the retraction by The Lancet of Dr. Andrew Wakefield's paper linking the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism five months ago many may have assumed the case was closed but these new studies provide compelling evidence that further investigation in this area is required as the science increasingly points to environmental factors interacting with genetic predisposition in the development of autism. 

The first study was conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh in cooperation with Thoughtful House, an Austin, Texas autism research and treatment centre. The group found that vaccinated baby macaques (monkeys) shared several traits with autistic children, while their unvaccinated counterparts developed normally.

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