Family

Toxic Load and Autism

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

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.

Roundups

Non-Toxic Bathroom Cleaners

products you can buy to make your bathroom squeaky clean without dangerous fumes

Nobody likes doing it, but it's got to be done! Cleaning the bathroom doesn't have to be gross or involve lots of chemicals with dangerous fumes that leave your eyes teary and your head hurting. You can use an all purpose cleaner on most surfaces in the bathroom, but sometimes you need a little extra oomph to get rid of hard water stains and mold or mildew. Every now and then we also find ourselves needing to clear the drains too! We checked out all the lists and figured out which bathroom cleaning products are the safest and effective.

In addition to these products, we also love using a simple non-toxic all purpose cleaner and have lots of DIY cleaner recipes for getting your bathroom squeaky clean.

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Healthy eating should be about more than just healthy ingredients! While there are many different specific diets, most definitions of healthy eating involve choosing fresh, nutrient-dense whole foods that provide maximal nutritional benefits. Refined grains, sugar, vegetable oils, and other unhealthy ingredients are left off the plate. But if healthy ingredients become contaminated with harmful chemicals, are they really healthy? It is time for healthy eating to incorporate more than just ingredients. Healthy eating should also include how the food is packaged and what materials the food comes into contact with while it is being processed, cooked, and stored.
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Roundups

The Best Non-Toxic Dish Soaps

Healthy, safe, and effective grease-cutting dish soap power

Updated for 2021!

Get your dishes clean without worrying about the chemicals in your dish soap. We rounded up the top 6 dish soaps without toxic chemicals or preservatives that are well-reviewed and easily available. You're welcome! We've had some questions about whether parents need a separate soap specifically for bottles and dishes. With these 6 picks, you can be rest assured that they will work well on your dinner plates but are also safe enough for baby bottles and toddler dishes. Also, for all the dishes you choose not to hand wash, take a peek at our dishwasher detergent roundup.

a) Attitude Dishwashing Liquid

b) Aunt Fannie's Microcosmic Probiotic Power Dish Soap

c) Better Life Dish Soap

d) ECOS Dishmate Dish Liquid

e) Common Good dish soap

f) Cleancult liquid dish soap

g) Trader Joe's Dish Soap Lavender Tea Tree


We rely on EWG's consumer databases, the Think Dirty App, and GoodGuide in addition to consumer reviews and widespread availability of products to generate these recommendations. Learn more on our methodology page.

*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

Roundups

Eco-Friendly and Reusable Gift Wrapping Ideas

Spread holiday cheer without creating waste!

Since this is a safe space we can admit that one of the best parts about the holidays is the presents, right? But the amount of wrapping paper we go through every year is just insane... and most of it isn't even recyclable! Unless "recyclable" is specifically mentioned on the label, you'll have to throw used wrapping paper into the trash. And sometimes, we could do without that mountain of used wrapping paper after presents have been opened, even if it is the recyclable kind.
That's why we wanted to find the best wrapping options that could actually be recycled or reused year to year! Check out these great alternatives to tranditonal wrapping paper!


a) 2 Pieces Christmas Canvas Tote Bags Buffalo Plaid Check Shopping Bags

b) joywrap

c) Hallmark Recyclable Kraft Wrapping Paper

d) Eco-Friendly Reversible Wrapping Paper

e) Hallmark Reusable Fabric Gift Wrap

f) Hallmark Black and Red Drawstring Gift Bag Set


g) Furoshiki Reusable Gift Wrapping Cloth


h) Organic Cotton Reusable Gift Wrap (Set of 3)

i) Brown Kraft Paper Jumbo Roll

Looking for non-toxic, sustainable, and fun gifts for your home chef? We created a gift guide this year for those people on your list who love cooking and hosting. Whether it's elaborate dinner parties or weeknight meals, these gifts are sure to bring some joys in the new year. We looked for gifts that avoided waste (like a stovetop popcorn maker), or that avoided harmful chemicals (like a cast iron skillet), or that could bring a little fun into the kitchen (like these fabulous cloth napkins).

This year, we have highlighted many products by many Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) owned/founded brands. Buying from these brands is a great way to support economic opportunities in BIPOC communities and celebrates diversity in the sustainability space. Additionally, since climate change is an urgent issue with so many health impacts, we are also highlighting brands that are Climate Neutral certified. That means that the brand has committed to measure, offset, and reduce the carbon they emit. We believe that consumers and companies must work together to embrace and make true commitments to diversity and sustainability. Look no further for the ultimate gift guide!

$: Under $50

Handheld milk frother

This stainless steel milk frother is the perfect way to warm up your milk (or milk alternative) without having to sacrifice counter space! Whether you're drinking coffee or matcha, this it the perfect tool to take things up a notch.

Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes (BIPOC brand)

Want to eat less meat, but don't know how to make vegetable dishes stand out? Step up your cooking game with delicious recipes from this unique cookbook from Bryant Terry. Bryant is renowned for his activism and efforts to create a healthy, equitable, and sustainable food system, so this cookbook is right up our alley.

Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution (BIPOC brand)

Looking to up your whole grain intake? Expand your baking skills with Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution. You'll be amazed how a simple cookie can change texture and flavor based on the flours you use. Learn about the world of ancient grains like buckwheat, sorghum, rye, barley, and heirloom wheat and bake some delicious treats.

GreenLife Bakeware Healthy Ceramic Nonstick, Muffin Pan

This ceramic baking pan by GreenLife is non-stick without harmful chemicals and comes in a bunch of cute colors. Weekend muffins are calling you!

Great Northern Popcorn Original Stainless Steel Stove Top Popcorn Popper

Microwave popcorn is expensive and the bags are coated in Teflon like chemicals, but it's so convenient. Enter this amazing popcorn maker. You'll never look at microwaved popcorn the same way after you use this Great Northern stovetop popcorn popper! It's stainless steel body perfectly cooks kernels to tasty perfection.

Heath Ceramics large coffee mug

Elevate your morning coffee with this beautifully crafted mug from Heath Ceramics. It comes in many lead-free glazes and is as sturdy as it is beautiful.

$ $: Between $50-100

Hamilton Beach Belgian Waffle Maker

Sunday brunch just got so much better with this waffle maker by Hamilton Beach. Most waffle makers use a Teflon-like coating in their waffle makers, but this waffle maker uses a ceramic non-stick. It's really easy to use and the ceramic grids pop out for easy cleaning.

Diaspora Co. Single-Origin Spices (BIPOC brand)

Spices can make or break a dish, which is why we love upgrading our spice drawer with this set of single origin spices from Diaspora. We love that they pay a living wage to partner farmers and their partner model allows them to provide quality control that results in fresher, more delicious spices. That also means that they can also better control potential contamination and test for lead contamination. They are also working on organic certification for their partner farms.

Emile Henry Deep Food Storage Bowl

Who says food storage has to be boring? Beauty meets function with this deep food storage bowl by Emile Henry. The cork top serves as a fruit bowl, while the lower level with vents and darkness acts as a mini pantry to store root vegetables and onions.

Siafu Home Congolese Napkins

The scalloped edge and fun pattern of these napkins make them a great hostess gift! These are screen printed by hand in Kenya and are a great way to add some color to your table.

$ $ $: Over $100

Graf Lantz Felt Placemats

These sturdy place mats will protect your table from the messiest of eaters! The merino wool material is naturally water and odor resistant, and also offers amazing thermal protection.

Olivewood Serving Board

These hand-carved cheese boards are made from a single piece of olivewood, which means no glues or adhesives are added to the wood. They are the perfect backdrop to your next charcuterie board.

East Fork Serving Bowl (Climate Neutral certified)

This handmade pottery serving bowl from East Fork is perfect for all your serving need- whether it's for movie night popcorn or a salad at a dinner party for 10!

Brightland Olive Oil Duo (BIPOC brand)

There's a reason you've seen Brightland all over social, it's high quality olive oil and beautiful bottle make it a star! The Duo set is the perfect way to try two of their most popular flavors! The olives come from a family-run California farm that does not use pesticides and is committed to organic practices.

Le Creuset Cast Iron Skillet

Le Creuset is known for it's quality and beautiful color choices and this enameled cast iron skillet is no exception! This pan will last you a lifetime and is naturally non-stick enough for scrambles and fried eggs. No Teflon chemicals needed.

Fellow coffee Pour Over Coffee and Electric Kettle

This Fellow electric kettle and pour over set are perfect companions for your coffee! These products don't contain any plastic and will make you feel like a certified barista.

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What toxic chemicals are in artificial Christmas trees and tips for how to stay safe

Artificial Christmas trees are becoming increasingly popular for families. They're seen as being convenient since they don't shed needles and can be reused year after year. Some even come with lights already on them! But is the convenience of artificial Christmas trees worth it? We break down the science and the pros and cons of artificial Christmas trees and farm grown real Christmas trees to help you have a healthy and sustainable Christmas!

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You may need to be careful rockin' around the Christmas tree this year! Why you ask? Well, there might be some unexpected chemicals in that holly jolly decoration above your head. Holiday decorations can bring great cheer, but sometimes they can contain an unwanted surprise. Some decorations may be made with toxic chemicals - keep a look out for the ones below!
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