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New twin study shows autism is caused more by environment than genetics

Discussion in 'Other Health News and Research' started by richvank, Jul 5, 2011.

  1. richvank

    richvank Senior Member

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    Hi, all.

    A new study of twins in California shows that environmental factors play a larger role than genetics in causing cases of autism, though both play important roles. This is a change for the autism researchers, who have been focusing more on genetics to the exclusion of environmental factors in recent years.

    Note that "environmental factors" could include the multiple vaccinations that children receive after birth, though none of the news reports on this study or the paper itself mention this possibility. After the Wakefield affair, the media and the mainstream autism researchers have ruled that out in their minds, but I don't think it is a dead issue. The autism parents have a lot of personal experience that suggests otherwise.


    Because I believe that autism and ME/CFS are the same disorder from a biochemical perspective (and probably from a genomic perspective as well), I think this study has relevance to ME/CFS causation as well. The numbers might be somewhat different for the contributions of genetics and environmental factors (including lifestyle-associated factors, stressors, etc.) in ME/CFS vs. autism because of the later onset of the former, but I think the results of this study are consistent with the proposition that both genetic and environmental factors are involved in the causation of cases of ME/CFS as well. This would also be consistent with other available research results in ME/CFS, including the recent study in Utah, and it is consistent with what I have proposed in the Glutathione Depletion--Methylation Cycle Block hypothesis, which applies to sporadic cases of ME/CFS. The situation must have been different for the epidemic or cluster cases, such as arose in the 80s in Incline Village, Lyndonville, and North Carolina. In those cases, the genetic contribution must be less. I think it is likely that a virulent virus (or retrovirus) was involved in these cases, which was able to impact people with less regard for their genomics than is true in the sporadic cases.

    Best regards,

    Rich

    Here's the reference to the full paper:

    http://archpsyc.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/archgenpsychiatry.2011.76

    Here's an article from today's San Francisco Chronicle:

    Study: Environmental Factors May Be Just as Important as Genes in Autism
    By Alice Park Tuesday, July 5, 2011

    "Autism is undeniably influenced by genes, but a new study suggests that environmental factors may also contribute significantly more than researchers previously thought to the developmental disorder. In fact, environmental factors may play at least as big a role as genes in causing autism.

    "Dr. Joachim Hallmayer, a psychiatrist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and his team report online in the Archives of General Psychiatry that shared environmental influences may account for as much as 55% of autism risk, while less than 40% can be attributed to genes.

    "The study modeled risk, but did not specify which environmental factors were at play. But other research has implicated increasing maternal and paternal age, low birth weight, multiple pregnancies and any medications or infections to which an expectant mom is exposed during pregnancy.

    "Autism, which affects at least 1% of children, is a complex disorder, so it's no surprise that both environmental and genetic factors contribute to its development. But in recent years, experts have focused intensively on the genetic components of autism; with the availability of more sophisticated tools to analyze genetic changes and development of disease, researchers have identified important clues about autism's roots in DNA.

    "But the rise in autism spectrum disorders has occurred too quickly to be explained fully by genes. And scientists know that genetic changes don't occur in a vacuum. Such aberrations, combined with non-genetic factors, may offer a fuller picture of what causes the disorder.

    "To determine how much either factor may contribute to autism, Hallmayer's group analyzed identical and fraternal twins, in which either one or both were diagnosed with autism or an autism spectrum disorder. Identical twins share identical genetic makeup, while fraternal twins are only as genetically similar as any two siblings. So by comparing the prevalence of autism between the two groups, the scientists were able to determine with relative assurance how much genes and shared environment contributed to the twins' conditions.

    "The study found that the likelihood of both twins being affected by autism was higher among identical than fraternal twins. That suggests that genetics plays a key role in the disorder. But importantly, the chance of both twins being affected by autism was not low among fraternal twins, which is counter to what would be expected if genetics were the dominant factor.

    "The study also found that autism rates among both identical and fraternal twins were higher than in the general population. That further suggests that environmental factors, probably shared by the twins as early as in the womb, contribute significantly to causing the disorder. "The fact that both groups have elevated rates suggests that something is making the two groups of twins similar to each other," says Neil Risch, director of the Institute for Human Genetics at University of California San Francisco and senior author on the paper. "Whether it occurs in utero, during childbirth or soon thereafter, we can't differentiate. But it suggests that something environmental is causing the twins to be alike."

    "Risch notes that the results do not discount genetic factors by any means. "It's not either-or in terms of genetics or environment," he says. "We're not saying autism isn't genetic, because the huge majority of twins don't have autism. Obviously something is priming the risk, and it looks like that may be a genetic predisposition. So a genetic base and environmental factors together may explain autism better."

    "The risk in twins with a genetic vulnerability may be triggered by being a multiple, for instance; something about the more crowded uterine environment may contribute to a greater chance of developing the disorder, Risch notes.

    "The good news is that as researchers better understand the environmental factors that are responsible for autism, the more some of these factors may be modified to help lower the risk of the disorder. A fuller picture of the spectrum of both genetic and non-genetic contributors to autism may also help lead to more effective ways to treat it."

    Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2011/07/...s-important-as-genes-in-autism/#ixzz1RFGzuunU


    Rich
  2. Enid

    Enid Senior Member

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    Thanks richvank - always thought these things much more than "blaming" on genes.
  3. Waverunner

    Waverunner Senior Member

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    I also read the abstract of the study today but what I don't understand is how environmental factors can cause autism. I mean autism has to start before the age of three. What happens in these three years that does not happen in most other children? With a genetic defect this would all be easier to explain because when vaccination or something else triggers autism in one child it's due to a genetic defect but without a genetic defect the vaccine would have to cause autism in every child who receives it?
  4. boomer

    boomer Senior Member

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    I thought you might be interested in this comment that was posted at the end ofthe cbc.ca web site on the autism study. The articles include relationships
    between low magnesium and autism. So here is the comment posted and the web site below that.

    mom2threestandard
    2011/07/04
    at 8:09 PM ETAs a mom of five children and a biochemist, it's about time this study was published! As my overall health became better, that of my infants became better. We need to look at things like diet, undiagnosed celiac disease, history of antibiotics and antidepressants, vitamin D levels, environmental toxins, etc. When we start looking at the basic biochemistry on an individual basis and the interaction of genetics and biochemistry, we will get more answers. For example, the antidepressant link written about here could be indicative of a magnesium deficiency which has the possibility of affecting many, many different parts of the body including brain chemistry.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21312047
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20120072
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19944540
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19271419
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19085527
    .

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2011/07/04/autism-twins-womb.html
  5. WillowJ

    WillowJ Senior Member

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    not necessarily, if there were batch differences, or manufacturer differences (or accidental contamination issues in the lab where they were made). however the model is genes + environment, needing an underlying genetic problem and then, say, too many vaccines received at once (whereas another child with the same or similar genetic problem might have them comparatively more spaced out)

    rich can probably say something more specific
  6. In Vitro Infidelium

    In Vitro Infidelium Guest

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    It's important to understand what 'environmental' means in this context, the authors clarify this issue: Increasingly, evidence is accumulating that overt symptoms of autism emerge around the end of the first year of life. Because the prenatal environment and early postnatal environment are shared between twin individuals, we hypothesize that at least some of the environmental factors impacting susceptibility to autism exert their effect during this critical period of life. Nongenetic risk factors that may index environmental influences include parental age,24 low birth weight,25 multiple births,26 and maternal infections during pregnancy.27

    The authors are not saying that genetics are not relevant to autism, nor that environmental factors are separable from genetic factors, nor that any single combination of factors is causative of autism, but that research needs to have a wider reference than just genetics, if there is to a proper undertanding of autism and ASD causation.

    IVI
  7. Mark

    Mark Acting CEO

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    WillowJ has done a good job of explaining one of the many logical flaws in this kind of reasoning; there are others. Much broader imagination is needed to consider the possibilities here but, unfortunately, over-simplistic reasoning about the problem seems to be extremely widespread amongst many very well educated and influential people.

    Another assumption in this confusion that I'd like to briefly highlight is the assumption that the genetic factors involved are necessarily "defects" because they are associated with a condition we define as pathological or undesirable. Aside from the fact that many in the autism community are increasingly focusing on celebrating the unique strengths of many people with autism spectrum disorders, it is a loaded judgment to assume that the genetic factors are "defects".

    If, for example, it were to turn out (as I suspect to be the case) that certain genetic factors are interacting with novel retroviruses engineered in the lab and distributed as occasional contamination in specific batches of vaccines, then the question would arise as to whether it is fairer to define the genetics of those who are susceptible to these new organisms as "defective", or whether instead we should say that the specific novel pathogens that are being artificially created happen to disproportionately affect specific genetic subtypes.

    To take this argument to an extreme case, as a thought experiment: consider a scenario of biological warfare, where pathogenic agents were created which selectively induced diseases in particular genetic (eg racial) groups. In the absence of full information regarding how the novel pathogens were created, it would at first glance seem fair to say that those who were susceptible to those pathogens had "genetic defects" which would ultimately be weeded out by the processes of natural selection. But in this scenario, with access to all the information, one might instead be asking what was wrong with the people who created the pathogenic agents, and one might even ask whether the genetic types affected actually had some kind of genetic strength which their persecutors were keen to undermine.

    Not a realistic thought experiment, perhaps, but technically an imaginable scenario in the modern world, sadly, and I still think it's helpful (even perhaps necessary) to think about these problems from different perspectives.

    A more realistic scenario would probably involve many different factors that play into the aetiology of ASD, and I suspect boomer's excellent post is likely to be along the right lines...
  8. Mark

    Mark Acting CEO

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  9. WillowJ

    WillowJ Senior Member

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    that's a good point, Mark. obviously brain inflammation and gut pathogens are problematic, but there are aspects of autism spectrum disorders which are indeed strengths, for instance heightened ability to focus on specific things. it could be that the genetic influences are not involved in the disease process, but I'd have to go digging through the journals to see what genes are implicated (and whether they are saying the gene makes a malformed protein, or just that the expression is changed) to see (and I don't have the time for that just now)
  10. redo

    redo Senior Member

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    Many claim the reason why more people have autism now, than 100 years ago, are because more are diagnosed. I am sure, that's right, but in my opinion, I doubt it can explain all.

    I'd very much like them to study some hundred random children in a undeveloped country without vaccines, and than do the same in the US (prevalence studies). I doubt the results would be the same...

    Even if they tested africans in africa and the US, I think many poor countries in Africa would come out better... Simply because they are in a different environment.
  11. Glynis Steele

    Glynis Steele Senior Member

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    Hi Redo,

    There seems to be a "coincidence" of autism developing in Somalian children who travelled to the US and had to be vaccinated as part of this. It might be due to a Vitamin D deficiency, plus vaccines, see below.

    Glynis


    Autism Fraud Sets Research Sights on Minnesotas Somali Community


    by Tom Lyden / FOX 9 News
    Thursday, January 06, 2011



    MINNEAPOLIS - Dr. Andrew Wakefield has been called a hero and a fraud, and now the man who says vaccines are linked to autism has his sights set on Minnesotas Somali community.

    An estimated one in 28 Somali school children have been diagnosed with autism twice the normal rate in Minnesota and five times the national average. Dr. Wakefield believes the Somali community in Minnesota may even be the key to a cure.

    Just last month he was in the Twin Cities recruiting Somali parents for a research study, even though he no longer has a medical license. Dr. Wakefield was careful to say he just wants to help finance that study.

    Wakefield spoke to a room of anxious Somali parents his last time in town, spreading his message that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine is linked to autism. It was a receptive audience, because many parents like Abdi Hassan, who has a son with autism, will tell you there is no autism in Somalia.

    It's not a disease we have back home, Hassan said. Somalis call it an American disease."

    Yet their children now seem to be developing autism at an alarming rate. Dr. Wakefield told them he wants to help finance a study of Somali children in Minnesota to find out why, believing a vitamin D deficiency from Minnesotas dark winters may explain the phenomenon.

    Dr. Steven Miles with the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota is no fan of Wakefields and believes Wakefield is exploiting the Somali community.

    "His license wasn't just suspended, it was ripped away permanently, Dr. Miles said. This is not the kind of charlatan we want responsible for conducting research in Minnesota."

    Yet, the Somali parents are just like any others who have children with autism, struggling to find answers and willing to listen to anyone who has a new approach.

    Dr. Miles disputes the fact that there is no autism in Somalia. He says the health care system there, if you can call it that, wasnt able to diagnose it. Yet the cluster of cases in the Somali community is enough for the CDC and the NIH to launch a study of Somali children in the Twin Cities to see if it is a real outbreak or a statistical fluke.
  12. Snow Leopard

    Snow Leopard Senior Member

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    The 95% CI, for environmental factors in Autism was 9%-81% and 8%-84% for genetic heritability.

    I'm not so sure these results are so clear cut. The problem is we need larger studies - but larger twin studies are unlikely...
  13. Sing

    Sing Senior Member

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    Hi Rich,

    I was hoping that you would "weigh in" on these new findings about autism, since you look at ME/CFS as a similar illness/dysfunction, though arriving later in life.

    In Jamie Deckoff-Jones blog, she said that when she spoke with Dr. Ian Lipkin at his WPI talk, he mentioned that he is leaning towards the idea that vaccines are indeed implicated in the rise in autism. I know that he has been doing a study on autism called the Autism Birth Cohort. (You probably know all this, but I am mentioning it for other readers.)

    What I want to know now is what is the current information on mercury, thimerosal, in vaccines? I thought the manufacturers were supposed to eliminate it because of the questions about its safety. I know that infants and small children are getting a pile of vaccinations currently, like Hep B before they even leave the hospital. Including premature infants! So anyway, can you give me a link for the latest information about mercury in vaccines? Also, do you think there are other elements which are harmful in those vaccines? Like challenging the immune system of an immature body with those virus particles? I know that dogs and maybe cats are subjected to far too many vaccinations as well, and many of them develop serious health problems now.

    What is going on? Where is the brake pedal?

    Thanks, Rich

    Sing
  14. kday

    kday Senior Member

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    I'm not so sure about that. There could have been a huge environmental trigger (such as spraying of the entire areas with certain types of toxic organophosphates and/or other chemical compounds for example). I guess there could be natural phenomenons as well, but I can't think of any off the top of my head other than a really weird virus that would only cause an epidemic in very specific areas. If there is a virus/retrovirus involved, it makes more sense that a toxic exposure (perhaps with a combination of a virus) would activate the syndrome.

    Those living in these areas all shared a common environment, and it may have primarily been the genetically susceptible that got ill. That doesn't explain why the Truckee girls' basketball team all got ill, and why almost all the teachers using the same teachers lounge got ill. However, I think it indicates some type of toxic exposure(s). Didn't some recover within a couple years and others go on to develop a never-ending illness?

    Natural environmental factors just don't make sense to me. If it were a natural environmental factor triggering these epidemics, I would still think there would be much more epidemics than the sporadic cases we see today.

    However, that doesn't mean natural environmental factors doesn't play a role in sporadic cases.

    And then there are parallels with things like gulf war illness and aerotoxic syndrome (possibly both having an organophosphate trigger).

    And more recently, there have been many (workers and civilians) who have complained of illness resembling that of GWI and ME/CFS after spraying the chemical dispersant Corexit (and others). Corexit also caused long lasting health problems in many that were involved in the cleanup of the Exxon Valdex oil spill.

    Anybody know if there was an increase in pesticide spraying during the Spring of 1984-1985 in Lake Tahoe? If I recall correctly there was a very large snow load in 1985, and wonder if Incline Village sprayed heavily to decrease the population of snow melt mosquitoes.
  15. richvank

    richvank Senior Member

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    Hi, Sing.

    Here is a quotation from the FDA's website:

    "Since 2001, all vaccines manufactured for the U.S. market and routinely recommended for children ? 6 years of age have contained no thimerosal or only trace amounts (? 1 microgram of mercury per dose remaining from the manufacturing process), with the exception of inactivated influenza vaccine. In addition, all of the routinely recommended vaccines that had been previously manufactured with thimerosal as a preservative (some formulations of DTaP, Haemophilus influenzae b conjugate (Hib), and hepatitis B vaccines) had reached the end of their shelf life by January 2003."

    My opinion is that good studies should be done to determine whether giving several vaccines on the same visit to very young children is a factor in causing autism. The studies should be funded, sponsored and conducted by organizations and individuals who are not connected to the vaccine manufacturers, or to the pediatricians society, or to the CDC, which oversees the committee that recommends vaccines for children.

    Best regards,

    Rich
  16. Sing

    Sing Senior Member

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    Thank you, Rich!

    I feel very relieved about the discontinuation of thimerasol in early childhood vaccines. I hope in all vaccines, naturally.
    But like you, I am suspicious about giving all those vaccines at once--Maybe the majority of bodies can handle it but maybe some can't. Like the Somali children, perhaps.

    I wonder what Dr. Lipkin was thinking about in regard to the link between vaccines and autism? Whether it was just the thimerasol in the past or the way they are made now too? I don't expect you to know the answer but maybe you can speculate.

    Sing
  17. Mark

    Mark Acting CEO

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    In Incline Village, there is allegedly a strange species of toxic mold that was prevalent at the time of the outbreak. Slayadragon and Erik Mold Warrior have been saying this is significant for years. I am particularly interested in this because there was black mold in the basement of the house where I first got sick, and two other members of my family got sick with other related illnesses during this time. I recently found somebody (the first person I've spoken to) with the same pattern of neuropathy, mold sensitivity and 'itching and burning' as myself, and speaking to her it was very clear that her pattern of itching and burning is the same thing. I was intrigued to learn that she also attributes those symptoms to black mold in the house where she acquired those symptoms.

    If the onset is multifactorial, and the mold is seasonal and specific species are involved, then it's all quite consistent - if the teachers lounge had a mold infection in the building and the spores were in the air, for example, then that would work.

    I'm still convinced that toxic mold is at the least a significant factor for many of us, but I think there has to be a combination of factors (maybe just 2 or 3) here, and that's enough to make it very complicated to pin down.
  18. SilverbladeTE

    SilverbladeTE Senior Member

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    Didn't they just change over to aluminium based preservatives instead?
    so instead of neurotoxic mercury, you get neurotoxic aluminium!

    The pesticide angle's interesting, since they do cause severe allergic/autoimmune respons,s and, despite the lies told for decades, they are incredibly powerful carcinogens/mutagens

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