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

Toxic Load and Autism

Family

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.

Life

Flame Retardants in TVs Need a Commercial Break

Watching your favorite shows doesn't have to involve harmful chemicals

Beth Kemler is the Mobilization Director for Safer Chemicals Healthy Families

The holiday season always feels like a great time to buy a TV- think of the Black Friday sales! Plus, watching holiday movies is always better in HD. But did you know that the plastic casings of many TVs on the market contain hazardous chemicals called organohalogen flame retardants. Of course, you don't want your TV to catch fire during a binge-watching session, but there are better ways to protect ourselves rather than flame retardants.

What's the problem with flame retardants?

While they may seem like a good idea, flame retardants actually do more harm than good. These chemicals have been linked to cancer, neurological disorders, impaired fertility, and developmental problems. They also don't stay in your TV (or other products where they're found)—they leach into the air and stick to household dust. Children and adults alike breathe them in, eat them when they touch surfaces coated with them and then handle food and even absorb them through their skin.

Studies have found them in the bodies of adults, children, and fetuses in the womb. They've even been found in breast milk and scientists suspect that the rise in flame retardants in our homes is linked to a rise in thyroid disease they've seen in indoor cats.

And when products containing flame retardant chemicals burn, the chemicals can make the smoke even more hazardous for firefighters. They can also be especially dangerous to workers and children who recycle the plastics from TVs and other electronics in facilities around the world. And these chemicals make it much harder to recycle the plastic—adding to our global plastic waste crisis. There's basically nothing good about flame retardants.



Toxic TV Binge: hazardous flame retardant chemicals uncovered in Best Buy, Amazon TVs

Despite the hazards, it's almost impossible to find a TV in the US that doesn't contain flame retardants. A recent investigation by Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, where I work, and our partner organization Toxic-Free Future found flame retardants in every TV tested. Every single TV contained organohalogens, the worst class of flame retardants. One TV even contained deca-BDE, an organohalogen flame retardant that is banned in five states.

There are other ways manufacturers can reduce fire risk without relying on these harmful chemicals. Apple, for example, has replaced brominated flame retardants with safer alternatives and, in some cases, the company "eliminated [them] altogether through the use of naturally flame retardant materials such as aluminum." Remember when your Macbook used to be made out of plastic? That's a key reason they switched from plastic to aluminum — so they didn't need toxic flame retardants.

Let manufacturers know you're ready for a change!

Here's the good news: electronics companies can replace these harmful chemicals with safer alternatives. Some companies are already using alternative chemicals or innovating to avoid these chemicals altogether. Some electronics brands, like Apple, have done this for computers, and TV brands can innovate too!

In fact, the European Union recently voted to ban these chemicals in TV plastic casings starting April 2021. If the European Union can do it, so can the US!

That's why we started a petition to Best Buy, North America's #1 electronics retailer. We're asking the company to use its power to get toxic chemicals out of the TVs it sells. If European families will be getting TVs without these toxic chemicals, American families deserve the same. And Best Buy has the power to make it happen!

In the meantime, how can you reduce your family's exposure?

Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to avoid all organohalgen flame retardants. Since manufacturers and retailers aren't required to disclose their use of chemicals in most products, we can't recommend any alternative TVs. But research has shown that you may be able to reduce your family's exposure with frequent cleaning. Dust, vacuum and wash everyone's hands often, especially before eating. Because flame retardants end up in household dust, reducing exposure to dust can help. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter and regularly wet dust and wet mop.

The bottom line is that buying a TV shouldn't pollute your home with toxic chemicals—or exacerbate the plastic waste crisis. If you agree, please sign the petition to Best Buy!

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Procrast-cleaning, spring-cleaning or regular ole-cleaning. Whatever it is, you're determined to clean every nook and cranny and you might just do so by scouring the grocery aisle for the strongest cleaners you can find. If you're on a roll, you might not stop until your house smells spick and span. And safe...right? When it comes to household cleaners, this is a case of stronger isn't necessarily better. The "clean" smell often associated with traditional cleaners are the result of A LOT chemicals that haven't been proven to actually clean any better. Plus, they come with their own set of health risks.
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