Autism Dietician Brittyn Coleman discusses what it is and how to reduce toxic burden

Toxic Load and Autism

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Increasing levels of toxics are an issue for all of us, but can be especially troublesome for those who may be predisposed to have higher toxic loads and decreased detoxification, such as children with autism. Toxic load refers to the accumulation of different harmful chemicals in our bodies. These toxic chemicals can come from many different sources including our food, water, air pollution, personal care products, household products, and our environment. Susceptibility to toxic overload varies person-to-person and can be impacted by various factors including genetics, environment & lifestyle, diet, gut microbiome composition and diversity, and immune system capacity.

Research suggests that children with autism have increased levels of oxidative stress and lower antioxidant capacity [1]. This can reduce the ability to detox and excrete different chemicals and pollutants from the environment. Glutathione, a master antioxidant, is often decreased in autism which may contribute to overall oxidative stress, immune dysfunction, and may lead to neurodevelopmental abnormalities [2, 3]. Lastly, those with autism also have a higher risk of genetic mutations, such as the MTHFR genetic mutation [4, 5], which plays an important role in detoxification. For these reasons, children and adults with autism should reduce their exposure to different toxics in the environment to ultimately decrease their overall toxic load. While there are many harmful chemicals that should be avoided or reduced, the following three examples are a great place to start:

Glyphosate

Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide that is used to kill weeds and grasses. It has been linked to cancer development and other chronic conditions and health conditions, but some associations can also be seen with autism. Findings suggest that an offspring's risk of ASD increases following prenatal exposure to ambient pesticides within 2000 meters (~1.2 miles) of their mother's residence during pregnancy [6]. Infant exposure to pesticides could further increase risks for autism spectrum disorder with comorbid intellectual disability. [6]

The ingestion of glyphosate can also reduce the number of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract [7], which can impact the immune system and contribute to other gastrointestinal issues that may affect behavior and increase core autism symptoms. Glyphosate can be avoided by buying organic produce, especially the 12 "dirtiest" produce found on the EWG's Dirty Dozen list.

Air Pollution

Research suggests that children with autism present higher levels of neuroinflammation and systemic inflammation, which are hallmarks of exposure to traffic-related air pollution. [8]. Air pollution can be associated with an increased risk of autism. [9. 10]

Air purifiers with HEPA filters can be a great way to reduce the amount of particulate matter in your home, especially since the air quality inside your home can be worse than the air quality outside. Traditional cleaning products and artificial fragrances can also contribute to poor air quality, so choosing non-toxic cleaning products and fragrance-free personal care products can be another great way to reduce air pollution in your home.

Artificial Ingredients

While more research needs to be done on the effects of artificial ingredients and autism, at the end of the day, food additives are synthetic (not naturally-occuring) chemicals. There are various research studies that show certain artificial ingredients, such as artificial food dyes, are contraindicated in children with autism and may contribute to sleep disturbances, attention deficit, and behavioral issues [11].

Artificial ingredients can be avoided by consuming whole foods (such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meats, poultry, and fish) or by reading the back of an ingredient label to verify no artificial ingredients have been added.

The Bottom Line

There are many other pollutants and toxic chemicals not listed above that are helpful to avoid to reduce toxic load. Increasing intake of antioxidants in the diet, such as wild blueberries, strawberries, pecans, kale, and dark chocolate can help naturally excrete toxics. Certain supplements may increase detoxification and reduce oxidative stress including NAC and glutathione. Consult your healthcare provider to be sure these are a good fit for your child before implementing diet or supplements changes.

If you're feeling confused about how to introduce diet, supplement, and lifestyle changes for autism, sign up for the Autism Nutrition Library, a one-stop hub for all topics autism and nutrition.


References

[1] Manivasagam T, Arunadevi S, Essa MM, et al. Role of Oxidative Stress and Antioxidants in Autism. Adv Neurobiol. 2020;24:193-206.

[2] Chauhan A, Audhya T, Chauhan V. Brain region-specific glutathione redox imbalance in autism. Neurochem Res. 2012;37(8):1681-9.

[3] Rose S, Melnyk S, Pavliv O, et al. Evidence of oxidative damage and inflammation associated with low glutathione redox status in the autism brain. Transl Psychiatry. 2012;2:e134.

[4] El-Baz F, El-Aal MA, Kamal TM, Sadek AA, Othman AA. Study of the C677T and 1298AC polymorphic genotypes of MTHFR Gene in autism spectrum disorder. Electron Physician. 2017 Sep 25;9(9):5287-5293. doi: 10.19082/5287. PMID: 29038711; PMCID: PMC5633227.

[5] Shaik Mohammad N, Sai Shruti P, Bharathi V, Krishna Prasad C, Hussain T, Alrokayan SA, Naik U, Radha Rama Devi A. Clinical utility of folate pathway genetic polymorphisms in the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders. Psychiatr Genet. 2016 Dec;26(6):281-286. doi: 10.1097/YPG.0000000000000152. PMID: 27755291.

[6] Von ehrenstein OS, Ling C, Cui X, et al. Prenatal and infant exposure to ambient pesticides and autism spectrum disorder in children: population based case-control study. BMJ. 2019;364:l962.

[7] Argou-cardozo I, Zeidán-chuliá F. Clostridium Bacteria and Autism Spectrum Conditions: A Systematic Review and Hypothetical Contribution of Environmental Glyphosate Levels. Med Sci (Basel). 2018;6(2)

[8] Volk HE, Lurmann F, Penfold B, Hertz-picciotto I, Mcconnell R. Traffic-related air pollution, particulate matter, and autism. JAMA Psychiatry. 2013;70(1):71-7.

[9] Costa LG, Chang YC, Cole TB. Developmental Neurotoxicity of Traffic-Related Air Pollution: Focus of Autism. Curr Environ Health Rep. 2017;4(2):156-165.

[10] Flores-pajot MC, Ofner M, Do MT, Lavigne E, Villeneuve PJ. Childhood autism spectrum disorders and exposure to nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter air pollution: A review and meta-analysis. Environ Res. 2016;151:763-776.

[11] Bakthavachalu P, Kannan SM, Qoronfleh MW. Food Color and Autism: A Meta-Analysis. Adv Neurobiol. 2020;24:481-504.

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We know climate change poses a real and serious threat; scientists have observed Earth's temperature steadily rise by one degree Fahrenheit over the last 100 years (1). But when we think of climate change, an image of a polar bear on a dwindling iceberg usually comes to everyone's mind. There's so much emphasis on the environmental impacts of climate change, we often forget that climate change is also negatively impacting our health. How? Read on…

Air pollution

Even though you can't see it unless it's a super smoggy day, air pollution is a huge threat to our health. Burning coal, oil, and gas are big contributors to climate change, and they also release harmful air pollutants like particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere. These pollutants have been linked to serious diseases, and can cause severe symptoms in people with heart and lung conditions. When you breathe in, these pollutants get trapped in your nose, travel to your airway, and even enter into your bloodstream. Exposure to these pollutants have been linked to death in people with heart or lung disease, heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, and increased respiratory symptoms (2). It is estimated that 4.2 million people a year die from air pollution (3).

Extreme Weather Events

Nowadays, it's hard to not hear about extreme weather on the television or radio no matter what time of year it is. Extreme weather events like heat waves, drought, floods, and hurricanes are increasing both in intensity and frequency due to climate change. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions created an interactive map that highlights just how many extreme weather events occurred in the past decade. The Guardian also has published a visual guide of the human toll from 2018 climate disasters. In 2018 alone, Europe faced both heatwaves and freezing weather, Argentina suffered through droughts that decimated croplands, India experienced record high flooding, and the United States endured hurricanes and fires. That same year, 10,373 people lost their lives due to disasters, and 61.7 million people were affected by natural hazards (5). As climate change continues, these numbers will only get worse.

Increased Vector-Borne Disease

Very few things can ruin a beautiful summer day, but a swarm of mosquitoes is definitely one of them. Just the thought of their buzzing has us lathering on bug spray and lighting citronella candles! Unfortunately, with worsening climate change, we are in for a lot more buzzing.

Changes in temperature, rainfall, and humidity brought on by climate change have allowed vectors like mosquitoes, ticks, and rodents that carry infectious agents to migrate to new areas (6). With the expansion of their habitats and breeding grounds, these vectors are coming into contact with more people, and more interactions with people means more chance of infection. We've seen higher incidences of diseases like malaria, Lyme disease, and West Nile virus in recent years. To make things worse, a warming climate also allow vectors and the microbes inside of them to grow and reproduce at a faster rate (7).

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While the statistics on climate change are sobering, there's a lot you can do to protect your health! Being prepared and taking small precautions can keep you safe no matter what a changing climate throws at you.

  • If you are travelling to a heavily polluted area, you can limit exposure to harmful pollutants by wearing an air mask. Look for masks called a "particulate respirator" with the word "NIOSH" and either "N95" or "P100" on the package information. Make sure to replace your mask with a new one every few days (if the mask if reusable to begin with).
  • If you live in a buggy area, apply bug sprays before going out to ward off disease-carrying insects and reapply when necessary. Check out our insect repellent guide to find out which repellent is right for you!
  • And if you live in an area that is prone to natural disasters, purchase or assemble an emergency kit to store in your home. There are kits that are specific for flooding, hurricanes, heat waves, and other natural disasters. Make sure to have these kits readily available know how to use them.


References

  1. https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/health-and-environmental-effects-particulate-matter-pm
  2. https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/k-4/stories/nasa-knows/what-is-climate-change-k4.html
  3. https://www.who.int/airpollution/en/
  4. https://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights/report-findings/extreme-weather
  5. https://reliefweb.int/report/world/2018extreme-weather-events-affected-60m-people
  6. https://www.iamat.org/blog/5-must-read-articles-on-climate-change-and-infectious-diseases/
  7. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mosquito-borne-diseases-on-the-uptick-thanks-to-global-warming/
  8. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/safer-bug-spray-natural-bug-repellents#1
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