Earlier, we saw that the Autism rate in Israel is orders of magnitude less than in other countries, such as the USA and UK. Might there be a difference in the environment in Israel that leads to this, and can we find it by a directed search?
This is entirely speculative. I’m putting it here mostly just to document the idea and the potential connections. It is, at most, an idea for investigation.
The thesis runs this way: The brains of autistics are known to be larger and to have more neurons. Each neuron is a little smaller, so the brain is somewhat larger, but also has more neurons per unit volume, so total neurons is very much higher. There are several ‘possibles’ here. One is just that the normal apoptosis that prunes cells to proper locations gets interference. As noted in the brain size link, this might be due to a shortage of Omega-3 fatty acids.
It is fairly well established, for example, that a diet rich in fish and their omega-3 fatty acids aid brain development in infants.
Has a nice write-up of how the developing fetus can scavenge omega-3 from the mother and store it to excess as it is needed for brain development.
The wiki has an interesting snippet too:
DHA deficiency is associated with cognitive decline Phosphatidylserine (PS) controls apoptosis, and low DHA levels lower neural cell PS and increase neural cell death. DHA are reduced in the brain tissue of severely depressed patients.
That “controls apoptosis” part. So we have a potential failure of apoptosis at a key point in fetal brain development along with a dietary substance that can control apoptosis… So the potential exists for too high a level of PS causing too low a level of apoptosis (perhaps limited to only a genetic subset of the population). Or an environmental agent could act on the same pathways as PS so as to interfere with the ‘control’.
So one line of investigation would be to look at DHA and DHA analog chemicals in the environment and diet. But there might be other avenues of brain growth to investigate as well. Not the ‘pruning to function’ of apoptosis, but the overgrowth of neurons in general.
The thesis is that at some crossover point of smaller neurons and more of them, the normal ‘wiring up’ of the brain by growing nerve fibers to other regions gets blocked such that capacities fail to form. So my question is simply: What environmental factor might cause the brain cells to have over proliferation?
This might be different from the typical ‘growth hormones’ or it might be the same. I don’t know. What hormone causes cell division in growth vs simply a larger sized cell? I don’t know. My assumption is that growth hormone works by stimulating cell devision (thus more cells) that can then increase in size to normal (for things like muscle cells) as that individual cell develops.
For the brain, things are more complicated. The brain growth pushes the skull plates outward, at least until the sutures fuse. So there is a bit of a ‘race condition’ between skull bone growth and brain growth. An environmental hormone analog might have an impact by influencing either or both of these. Abnormal early fusion of the sutures, or excess brain cell division that was not matched by a corresponding rate of bone growth. There is some statistical correlation of abnormal suture fusion and Autism, but it is not strong. Still, it might indicate a more generalized growth signal disruption via an environmental hormone analog. Or a drug.
These folks are looking to sue over a potential drug connection:
Zoloft and Autism – Lawsuit
Recent studies suggest that the use of antidepressants such as Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, Lexapro, Celexa, Luvox, or Wellbutrin during pregnancy may cause various birth defects including autism in children born to mothers who used antidepressants during pregnancy.
If you or someone you know took an antidepressant such as Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, Lexapro, Celexa, Luvox, or Wellbutrin during pregnancy and have a child with a birth defect, you should contact us right away to determine if you are entitled to compensation.
List of Birth Defects Caused by Zoloft
Recent studies suggest that the use of Zoloft during pregnancy could cause a number of different birth defects including:
They also find it connected more generally to cranial defects:
Zoloft Cranial Defects
Congenital birth defects are many of the most severe side effects associated with the use of SSRI Antidepressants such as Zoloft (sertraline), Paxil (paroxetine), Prozac (fluoxetine), Lexapro (escitalopram) and Celexa (citalopram). They include: Congenital Heart Defects, Congenital Lung Defects, Congenital Abdominal Wall Defects, Congenital Cranio-facial Defects,and other birth defects and malformations affecting various other areas of the child’s anatomy.
Cranio-facial Birth Defects and Zoloft
According to scientific studies, women who take SSRI Antidepressants, such as Zoloft (sertraline), Paxil (paroxetine), Prozac (fluoxetine), Lexapro (escitalopram) and Celexa (citalopram) during her pregnancy are at least twice as likely to give birth to children with serious congenital birth defects like Craniosynostosis. Craniosynostosis is a cranio-facial malformation birth defect. SSRI Antidepressant use during pregnancy has also been linked to congenital heart defects, lung defects, limb deformities, clubfoot, as well as other cranio-facial malformations.
Now, these are lawyers looking to rake in settlement money, so may be stretching the causality a bit… Still, it’s an example of an environmental agent that is causing changes in suture closure of the skull. We also have very high levels of use of antidepressants in the USA. So one immediate check would just be the relative usage in Israel vs the UK and USA and any tendency of Israelis to avoid the use of drugs during or just before pregnancy to a greater degree.
Another point is that hormone control of growth issue.
Of course, the immediate suspect for me was Bisphenol-A. It is found in various plastics, including the plastic lining of tin cans. It is known to have synthetic hormone like effects. Folks have noticed that it might be an issue, even in Israel:
Health Ministry Warning on BPA Bottles
The health ministry has warned against using baby bottles with Bisphenol A (BPA).
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 2/22/2011, 7:02 PM / Last Update: 2/22/2011, 7:17 PM
The health ministry warns against using baby bottles that contain the compound Bisphenol A (BPA). While there is no prohibition on using BPA in Israel, bottles that contain the compound have been marked with the number 7 inside a triangle.
In Canada and the European Union, BPA has been banned for use in baby bottles. United States governmental bodies have expressed concern as well, and have said they will work to reduce BPA contact with food.
BPA is used to produce polycarbonate, a widely used plastic. Recent research has led to concerns that BPA use near food could lead to ingestion of the compound, which could in turn cause a variety of health problems.
Health Ministry experts have yet to release definitive conclusions regarding the safety of BPA, but suggest that parents take cautionary measures.
The best cautionary measure is to use bottles that do not contain BPA, officials say. If a bottle that may contain BPA is in use, officials recommend avoiding heating the contents of the bottle, as heat is believed to cause BPA to enter food.
Instead, formula or other baby food should be heated in a utensil that does not contain BPA, and poured into the bottle only after it has cooled.
OK, back to the USA vs Israel:
In the USA we have polycarbonate and related plastics all over the place. Canned foods in the plastic can lining (that is heated when the can is cooked in production). Plastic baby bottles (very often heated in the microwave oven…). Plastic lined food retorts (those microwavable plastic food pouches). A very large shift to more plastics in contact with food, tossed into the microwave for heating. As the bisphenol-A can can be accumulating in the mother prior to pregnancy, it would also potentially explain the larger brain size at birth.
That leads to the next question: To what extent are similar food storage and preparation techniques used in Israel? Is there a higher emphasis on fresh foods, not canned, or on foods prepared in traditional ways, not microwaved prepackaged foods? Basically, what is the level of bisphenol-A (or potential similar contaminant) exposure in Israel?
When our children were being raised, we mostly did breast feeding, but when milk was given by bottle, we used glass bottles. At the time, many folks were using plastic bottles in the microwave… I just liked the ‘traditional’ quality of glass baby bottles and, frankly, thought the plastic a bit ‘tacky’. So to what extent do Israeli’s find plastic ‘tacky’ and avoid it? (Could it be that simple?…)
Brains and Hormones
The basic thesis has been given above, along with ideas for investigation. Here I’m going to give a couple of ‘connections’ that are interesting. Turns out that Human Growth Hormone is produced in the brain. This then also implies that things which interfere with the growth hormone releasing hormones would also be a ‘dig here’.
Growth Hormone Is Made In The Brain, Report Scientists
ScienceDaily (Mar. 28, 2006) — Scientists have found that growth hormone, a substance that is used for body growth, is produced in the brain, according to an article published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers — from three institutions — found that growth hormone is produced within the hippocampus, a structure deep inside the brain that is involved in memory and emotion.
The scientists also found that more growth hormone is produced in females than in males, and more in adults. More growth hormone was also produced in response to estrogen. The study has implications for menopausal women using estrogen replacement therapy and for athletes taking growth hormone and anabolic steroids to increase muscle mass.
This could account for the sex ratio differences of Autism. Men and women have different responses to higher levels of estrogen when it comes to production of growth hormone. The female is already adapted to lower response to growth hormone and already has a higher level. Men are more sensitive to it and raising the level has a large impact.
While the rest of the article is rather fascinating in many ways, it is the connection to estrogen that I find interesting. Bisphenol-A and several other environmental contaminants are “estrogen analogs”. A web search on estrogen analog contamination returns too many connections to follow in one posting… Everything from landfill drainage into drinking water to plastic mineral water bottles.
What matters here is simply this: The brain is highly sensitive to growth hormone. It produces it in response to several kinds of stimulus (including various kinds of stress) and in response to hormones ( one of the interesting bits in the article is how women and men respond differently with growth hormone production in response to stress due to hormonal differences). So what happens when a load of “estrogen analog” is in your developing brain and you are subjected to “stress”? Perhaps stress of various kinds, from bad vaccination reactions to a diet poor in the needed Omega-3 fatty acids?
Abstract: The present invention provides a method of increasing neural stem cell numbers by using growth hormone and/or IGF-1. The method can be practiced in vivo to obtain more neural stem cells in situ, which can in turn produce more neurons or glial cells to compensate for lost or dysfunctional neural cells. The method can also be practiced in vitro to produce a large number of neural stem cells in culture. The cultured stem cells can be used, for example, for transplantation treatment of patients or animals suffering from neurodegenerative diseases or condition
Perhaps too much growth hormone in the brain can lead to too many neural stem cells and too many neurons?
So that is where this line ends (or pauses).
We have a known tendency to push the Omega-3 and Essential Fatty Acid ratios ‘crazy way low’ and raise the Omega-6 ratios in the USA with “grain fed” everything and low fish consumption (and more of that fish coming from farmed fish fed on grains…). Israel has a nice Mediterranean coast and is not blessed with excess fresh water for fish farming on grains. The EFAs are important to the ‘brain shaping’ step of apoptosis.
We have a known tendency to pop antidepressants in the USA ( I vaguely remember some statistic like 1/3 of the population at any one time, but don’t feel like searching a reference to get it right…). Antidepressants that are accused of causing autism in some and cranial growth defects too. What is the relative usage in Israel?
We have a known large number of “estrogen analogs” as environmental and food contaminants in the USA. Especially in plastics. Folks in the USA do a LOT of microwaved foods in plastics. We use a lot of plastic dishes and plastic baby bottles. So much that estrogen analogs are showing up in surface water contaminations. These estrogens are involved in control of growth hormone. Milk is often produces with BST, another growth hormone. Growth hormone is produced in the brain in response to stress. We are deliberately exposing infants to significant stress via multiple vaccinations and dietary shortage of just those fatty acids needed by brain cells. What is the prevalence of environmental ‘estrogen analogs’ in Israel? What is the exposure to environmental ‘growth hormone’ and estrogen analogs?
My thought is just that we have a system where things are fine, and perhaps even better, with small added amounts of estrogen analogs in the environment and modest stress to the infant. Larger brains of a functional sort. Then we have a ‘cross over’ to too much. At that point, we get a brain that can not ‘wire up’ correctly. Too many neurons that are unable to reach across to the places they need to connect. At the margin, adding a sudden stress can push a growing brain ‘over the edge’, but the exact stress may be semi-random and the impact of any given stress will be strongly dependent on the environmental exposure of the given cohort of infants.
Basically, a mercury containing vaccination or a huge number of vaccination in a developing infant brain may cause a burst of growth hormone, that will only be a major issue if their were the needed precursor events. Perhaps anti-depressant exposure during pregnancy or nursing. Perhaps estrogen analogs in the environment (in the mother or in the microwaved plastic foods…). So we get the sporadic ‘anecdotal story’ of a ‘normal’ kid given injections and then ‘becoming autistic’. Potentially all exacerbated by low dietary levels of the needed Omega-3 and Essential Fatty Acids.
Testing any one factor in isolation will find that “it is not causal”. Yet all of them act in the same way on the same organ. Pushing the growing brain into stress induced overgrowth.
So that’s my thesis, and the direction I think will be most productive for figuring out what causes Autism and how best to use the Israeli low levels vs USA high levels to sort out which bits of the thesis are most supported.
As I look at my family, I see that I’ve had a tendency to avoid the microwave and cook traditionally on the stove. We don’t do much with plastic in the microwave ( I like ceramics ;-) and we used glass baby bottles. There are some pre-packaged frozen foods, but mostly it’s whole vegetables in plastic bags that get dumped into ceramic for heating. Some burritos and similar that get placed on ceramic plates for warming. Some pot stickers similarly done. Very little from the ‘microwave in a pouch’ or ‘heat in a package’ foods. Beverages rarely come from plastic bottles. Milk never with BST in it. Lots of Omega-3 sources, and a move away from Omega-6 oils. Plenty of the EFA and saturated fats that the growing brain needs. Nearly no trans fats. My kids got MMR and similar vaccinations (though I think we delayed it by a couple of months as we talked it over) and both are in the ‘very smart’ and normal range.
We have a genetic tendency to “large heads” (as evidenced by family pictures going back a long ways and our need for very large hat sizes ;-) and both were C-section. I’ll leave it for others to decide if this is due to large brains or lots of bone ;-) It does leave me wondering to what extent a genetic component might be involved. If we are of the sort that already makes a large amount of growth hormone in the brain, might it be easier to ‘tip us over the edge’ with environmental influences? Could my generally traditional and slightly paranoid approach to food and environmental contaminants have been what stood between my family and “geek disease”? (There are so many bright silicon valley types with an autistic kid that it’s been called ‘geek disease’ by some locally.. what you get when two geeks mate… Perhaps it is more that folks naturally blessed with brain growth are easier to ‘push over the edge’ with environmentals…)
That’s the ruminations for today. Yes, it’s all speculative; but it ‘fits the known patterns’. I’d also guess that the folks in Israel have much more traditional food preparation, closer to natural ingredients, and far removed from microwaved plastic retorts of preprocessed packages where bisphenol-A can be heat migrated into the food. With more lamb and natural cheese and less corn oil and soymeal fillers (with the soy estrogen analogs). Less grain fed “everything” and more fish from the sea and lamb fed on grasses. If nothing else, I can see an easy way to ‘check that’ via looking at Italians from that northern area with longevity and lots of lamb and sheep milk cheeses, very little ‘plastic food’. What is their rate of autistic kids? I’d also look to do a study on other ‘primitive’ societies. Are folks removed from the “modern world” of plastics and grain fed industrial food production also showing low rates of autism? Folks who don’t get a little ‘medical help’ with their depression via a pill? It ought to be pretty easy to study.
And if the multi-factor thesis is correct, the ‘fix’ would be easy too: disrupt ANY of the factors…