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Diet and Autism – Is High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) the Culprit?

Warning: some may find this treatment offensive. Please refrain from ad hominem attacks on me and internet marketer web site citations as “proof” of your rightness and my wrongness. Use logic, science and facts!  That I respect.

This is a follow on the autism info I published last week; trust me, you will want to read more, if you want a truthful look at the information.  I have looked over the article regarding high fructose corn syrup and autism rates, as well as looking carefully at the posts and comments on various sites that mention it.

I need to apologize again; this is a long blog but it needs to be. It could easily be 3 or 4x as long, but in our ADHD, text, FB etc. culture, most would never read it, and so here is the summary:

High Fructose Corn Syrup combined with heavy metal exposure and essential mineral deficit, lead to the epidemic of autism in the U.S. In at least one country where this does not occur, there is less autism and no epidemic.  Does it or doesn’t it?

Now, once again, the ability to actually read scientific articles is essential.  This was never more apparent than in this particular article.

Allow me a little interpretation, for those of you who don’t want to, or can’t read this article.

The article starts off with the hypothesis that it is diet that has caused the current epidemic of autism we are currently enmeshed in.  It then goes on to look at regional distributions of autism and how they correlate with autism, using Italy (stable and lower incidence of autism), with the U.S.

For the scientific equivalent of a “modus operandi”, it uses mercury toxicity and correlate s the changes, seen in genetic expression, with dietary intakes and dietary exposures.  As I have said and spoken about, at length, at various meetings, this is the crux of epigenetics – how the genes interact with the environment.  It is also “nutrigenomics”, how the genes are directly affected by nutrition.

I pause here, for a moment, so anyone who has decided that food and supplementation are worthless and can’t possibly replace or augment prescription drugs, can digest what I just said. Because, in a nutshell, it says we have been ignoring the way Mother Nature has organized and designed “us”, as we try to fit what goes wrong with us, into drug pathway models.  While drugs may not become obsolete in our lifetimes (unless you are taking TA-65 and plan on sticking around for another 100 years!), the merging of epigenetics and nutrigenomics is the very faint death knell of our “modern science”, as we get one step closer to truly understanding who and what we are! It’s going to get a lot louder very fast!

Ok, off the soap box and back to the study.

The study proposes that Heavy Metal toxicity is a likely cause for autism and its current rise.  It shows how mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium and other heavy metals like copper, commonly found in our food chain, interfere with selenium and zinc levels, which in turn decrease the production of the body’s most important naturally occurring antioxidant; glutathione.

These problems are worsened by lower consumption of calcium, phosphorus and magnesium, which are also common in the American and other Western diets.

Similarly, it goes on to attack the presence of organophosphates in the diet.  I will abbreviate these as OP’s.  Think of them as byproducts of the plastic and fertilizer industries.  In my own study of raw material purity in Omega 3’s, I can tell you that our oceans are the major source of most of these dietary metals and OP’s.  Remember this when I mention my toxicity studies on krill in the upcoming paragraphs.

The study then goes on to hypothesize that the combination of the lack of these essential minerals (calcium, magnesium, selenium and zinc), causes the problem with glutathione production, which leaves the developing fetus and later developing child, at risk for epigenetically induced misfires in gene expression, because they are unable to detoxify the dietary toxins so common in our eating choices.

This then leads to that child landing somewhere in the spectrum of autism disorders. It points out that these defenses are normally able to handle these insults and children who are not exposed to the sources of these toxins, are exposed at lower levels, or who have a more robust genetic/epigenetic constitution, which allows them to overcome these deficiencies, are most likely not going to wind up autistic. This is still the bulk of most kids, by far.

The real bomb this paper drops is that it does not really implicate vaccination. It states that HFCS contains the toxic heavy metals and that mercury and others are found in certain food colorings in tiny amounts, fish and other ocean dwelling animals in not so tiny amounts and yes, even in HFCS in measurable amounts. Similarly OP’s are found in high amounts in marine borne animals and many other food stuffs, due to the use of pesticides. Can you say “fruit bars” anyone!

This paper also correlates low magnesium, calcium and intake with a diet rich in HFCS and that low levels of these essential minerals and high levels of the toxic ones (mercury, lead, arsenic), are found in SOME children with autism.  As far as the OP’s go, the article suggests that a much needed enzyme, which detoxifies heavy metals in humans, is also decreased by the very same combination of toxins and missing minerals. It then correlated the incidence of HFCS intake with OP exposure as well, saying that children aging from 6 to 12 have the highest OP burden, because of the dietary choices they make and are exposed to.  Developing fetuses are obviously at much greater risk, but since the enzyme that detoxifies OP’s naturally lags behind in children, all these kids are at risk to land somewhere on the spectrum of autism disorders if they are genetically/epigenetically vulnerable.

The final very interesting point brought out by this paper, is that in Italy they consume different sweeteners and not HFCS. In the Italian population studied, there is not a deficiency in the enzyme that detoxifies OP’s.  But guess what – they still have autistic children – just not as many!

Finally, the paper looks at B vitamin consumption during pregnancy. The finding should not surprise you. Mothers who take a multi-vite during pregnancy, have fewer autistic children, especially if they were on them at the time of conception and soon thereafter. Once again, I call out the docs and scientists who say vitamins just give you expensive urine.

So, in a nutshell, this paper says that the combination of High Fructose Corn Syrup and heavy metal toxins found in our food chain, are magnified in the U.S by our food industry, our dietary choices and what we feed out kids.  Some children, who are especially vulnerable, will develop an Autism spectrum disorder because of increased oxidative stress and metal/ OP toxicity. It links the increasing rise in autism to these factors and cites a control population in Italy that has a stable incidence of autism to show that, in a country where HFCS is not common, or increasing as it has in the U.S., for the past 30 years, there is no epidemic.

Great, right!? All this human suffering all wrapped up in a tidy little bow and laid at the feet of our Food Industry. The food branch of the FDA (hey, isn’t it their job to prevent this!) is also at fault.  And let’s not forget our schools, especially public schools, for serving our kids this “pink slime” that is so very toxic.

Now here is the truth. Con and Pro in that order…


1)      This is a hypothesis, not a real study. While compelling papers were cited and the logic is strong, scientifically, no actual new studies were done to prove any of this is real. This is a literature review and I suspect it was done fairly quickly to capitalize on some of the most popular search terms like “epigenetics” and “nutrigenomics” and of course autism itself, is a huge search term.  Sadly, scientists and researchers are not above thinking this way. It gets them exposure and grant money!

2)      There are a lot of uses of qualifying words and phrases like “if one assumes”, “model” and other terminology that “wiggles”, or as Wikipedia calls it, ‘weasels’ too much to be ignored.  For instance, the association of HFCS with low magnesium, low calcium, zinc and selenium is weak and not causative. The two conditions may, or may not, coexist and one does not lead to the other.

3)      This paper generates more questions, like any good paper does these days. The hypothesis does little to ease the suffering of those with autism and their care givers. It points blame to what I call the “usual suspects”, with the exception of vaccines, but fails to explain why Italy still has autistic children. So it leaves us in the U.S. with a lot of anger and angst but no real answer. This leads to exactly the reaction you’d expect.  People with “I hate” agendas and conspiratorial theorists, with more ammunition based on hypothesis and conjecture, not fact. There is already too much of that for the beleaguered parents of autistic children. That said, no one questions the need to get our kids to eat better, but folks, whose ultimate responsibility is that, if we ourselves don’t do it first!  The very same things that are cleverly (and who knows, maybe correctly) implicated in this paper as the cause for autism, are playing a gigantic role in our obesity epidemic.

4)      The paper makes no attempt to address “the epidemic of autism” question. The awareness of this disorder and the permutation of the “spectrum” must account for some of the rise we are seeing. It also does not mention how the Italians define autism and whether they are likely to use the same criteria.  My bet is, they don’t and it makes a huge difference.

5)       Similarly, the authors flat out state that the seafood, dental amalgam, thimerosal mercury containing food colorings and additives and food preservative intake in Italy is similar to the U.S. That leaves only HFCS as the culprit. So, come out and say those other things are not the likely cause and blame HFCS full on. Put your money where your mouth is and be willing to incur the critiques from the conspiracy theorists, who’ve built their reputations on selling unsubstantiated theories to people who are suffering.  Was that strong enough?

Please note, I did not say all that stuff was good for you!

6)      I gotta say it. I am already cringing at what the “usual suspects” are going to do with this. I guarantee you they will leave out the most important fact: this is not a scientific study; it’s a literature review that supports a theory – no more, no less. It will be presented as fact and bent to their sales agenda – mark my words! Also mark my words, if they don’t leave it out, it will be because they read this first and know I will call them on their misrepresentation.

OK now the pros

1)      The hypothesis is smart and well thought out and researched. I hope they paid their interns well!

2)      The focus on organophosphates and mercury, arsenic and other heavy metals reinforces what I have been saying for years.  Seafood can be dangerous, so get your Omega 3’s from a highly purified source of pharmaceutical fish oil. By the way, it further underlines the need for the krill marketers to do and publish 3rd party data. I found scary levels of mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium and OP’s in the krill sample I bought from a famous marketer of the product. This was 3rd party independent testing and I showed it at the Longevity Now Conference, the next of which is happening soon!

3)      The importance of glutathione and B vitamins are reinforced for yet another reason – the health of our kids, rubbing it in the face of the “nutritional naysayers”, who say all you should do is eat right and skip the supplements.  By the way, glutathione is notoriously hard to get, so consider using N-acetyl cysteine as its precursor. It is well researched and raises glutathione levels, at a lower cost than most of the glutathione based attempts out there.

4)      It clearly points out that autism is a complex disorder, likely to have many causes and contributing factors and basically minimizes the conspiratorial role of vaccination in causing it.

5)      If the hypothesis is actually ever proven, it will revolutionize our food industry and what we serve our kids in school, raising the current practice to the level of criminal neglect, which I think we all agree on already!

6)      It gives a real world application for both epigenetics and nutrigenomics and in time it might, if proven, lead to therapies for kids who are already affected, as well as minimizing the risk for those who aren’t!

Dr Dave

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