Heavy metal poisoning appears to be a primary driver of autism, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology. Researchers from the University of Chicago found that environmental pollution, and particularly mercury and mercury-containing compounds, may be responsible for increasing a child's risk of developing an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by nearly threefold.
Data collected from health insurance claims filed by 100 million people in the U.S. over the course of many years revealed a strong correlation between ASD and mothers' exposure to environmental pollution. According to the research, children born to parents exposed to high levels of pollution are about 1 percent more likely to be born with birth defects. But these same children are also about 283 percent more likely than other children to develop autism.
Pregnant women living in the top 20 percent of the most polluted areas evaluated were found to be twice as likely as women in the least polluted areas to birth a child with autism. Similarly, women directly exposed to the highest levels of mercury chemicals were determined to be about 50 percent more likely to have a child who develops autism.
It is believed, based on these findings, that children exposed to chemicals during their most intense developmental stages experience major physiological changes that affect their brain development. Tiny molecules from plasticizer chemicals, prescription drugs, environmental pesticides and heavy metals such as mercury interfere with normal childhood development, leading to symptoms that qualify on the autism spectrum.
"Essentially what happens is during pregnancy there are certain sensitive periods where the fetus is very vulnerable to a range of small molecules," says Audrey Rzhetsky, lead author of the study from the University of Chicago. "Some of these small molecules essentially alter normal development. It's not really well known why, but it's an experimental observation."
Mercury causes autism, and many vaccines still contain mercury
Those most affected by chemical pollution are young boys, according to the study, whose reproductive systems are most hampered from exposure. This disparity between the sexes is also seen with autism, which affects boys at a much higher rate than girls, further supporting the notion of a causal link between mercury exposure and ASD.
"Autism appears to be strongly correlated with rate of congenital malformations of the genitals in males across the country," adds Rzhetsky. "This gives an indicator of environmental load and the effect is surprisingly strong."
Scientifically speaking, these findings also apply to vaccines, many of which still contain mercury derivatives in the form of thimerosal -- in the past, many more vaccines than today contained added mercury. Injecting this toxic heavy metal directly into the muscle tissue of babies, bypassing their innate immune system, most definitely puts them at an increased risk of developing ASD.
"[M]ercury, including and especially ethylmercury in vaccines, caused the environmental, manmade, iatrogenic autism epidemic," wrote Dan Olmsted from Age of Autism following the publishing of an earlier Harvard University study that came to similar conclusions about mercury exposure and autism.
Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health observed elevated risks of autism associated with exposure to air pollution containing mercury compounds, which is typically released from diesel trucks and coal-fired power plants. The first of its kind to investigate a possible link between mercury exposure and autism, the Harvard study furthers the case against mercury-containing vaccines.
"A large body of research has concluded autism is a type of genetic damage that is caused by mercury exposure," reads a research paper on the subject written by Mark Reman Hamilton, Esq., as posted in the comment section at Age of Autism. "Besides autism, many types of neurological problems are caused by mercury. The long list includes: depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)."
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