Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Update on

A few days ago I googled somethingcausesautism and hit a site that looked good. But when I clicked the 'causes' link I found only a page of sponsored links.

And unfortunately these sponsored links appeared exactly that... sponsored. Right down the list, peeping out as though an afterthought, was the word 'causes'. When I clicked on that I found nothing connected to environmental concerns, and indeed very little material inquiring about 'causes' at all, except one link proclaiming it to do with genes.

The latter page went on to talk about left and right handedness and human prehistory, as though all of prehistory has been an inevitable progression toward the one-in-a-hundred-and-something (or one-in-ten if you count ADHD) autism rate we have now. The forgotten facts of evolution are that genetic conditions reduce in a population unless they confer a survival benefit. The problems with infant autism — inattentiveness, social withdrawal, peculiarities of sense and motor function — are severe enough in modern society, but in a palaeolithic society they would surely have been lethal.

Even the wider research used to support a genetic link proves that there's no complete relationship between genes and autism — nearly 10% of identical twins don't share autism even when one has it. The author of the website opening with the plain view that autism is genetic should really do some baseline research.

Sponsors should stop trying to settle people's puzzling minds with dead ends and unconvincing 'science'. If they really want to settle people's minds, they should run (and make public) decent investigative research into autism and substances that might account for its symptoms, taken one-by-one as well as together (for instance demyelinisation, brain cell death, enzymatic oddities). A list of causal agents could then be compared to autistic population data to try to narrow down most likely culprits. Of course, I have a feeling mercury will still be high on the list. But the call for research shouldn't start with a bias. And it may be that pesticides also figure high.

You won't read anything like this if you stay on the sponsored path. It's a shame, because asking questions is the road to understanding. Alas, some sites (or rather paid advertisements) seem determined to block the road.

Happily, after a friend suggested it, this morning I purchased the domain and had it redirected here. At the very least people reading this blog might be inclined to question sponsored 'facts'... If not, then at least I've done no harm. After all, there's no such thing as reading too widely when it comes to a condition medical science admits is still fundamentally a mystery.

Something causes autism.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Naphthalene warning because of a gene mutation: 'catastrophic brain injuries'...


Under 'Mothball warning sounded by experts', yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax, Feb 7, 2011, page 3, print) ran an article by Kelly Burke about naphthalene.

Describing one infant death and two others developing 'kernicterus, a debilitating disorder which [...] leads to profound brain damage in infants with a common gene defect' after exposure to naphthalene, the article makes terrifyingly clear the possible link between genetic mutations and environmental toxin sensitivity.

Indeed after reading the experts' view on naphthalene being so toxic it should be banned, it becomes clear that 'gene defect' may not be the right way to describe the mutation involved. As mentioned later in the article, that very same 'defect' is carried by 'as many as one in 20 people of Asian, African, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean descent' and confers protection from malaria.

The paediatricians don't say the 'gene defect' means those at risk of catastrophic brain injury from naphthalene should suck it up. Humanely, in my view, they instead advocate the withdrawal of naphthalene. It's tempting to compare this to what's happening (or not) with autism, where even as it's known that something environmental contributes, interest in locating and removing that factor seems nonexistent.

It's funny, isn't it? If your genes, however sturdy they may be in the face of other challenges, are susceptible to a particular toxin, they're labelled 'defective'. Yet toxins such as naphthalene and mercury are still powerfully lethal even in small doses to supposedly 'normal' people. If a toxin is this powerful, it seems to me that the 'defect' isn't in the gene that renders someone extra-susceptible to it, but in the overarching science that fails to ensure product safety across all genetic types.

Of course, banning a product is just one way to go. The other way is to accept that those poor 'defect' carriers (who would be great survivors of malaria) are allowed to die out. But the end point of that chain of decisions would surely be the accumulation of the toxin to a point where other gene-types become noticeably affected too.

Maybe with autism we've already reached that point?