Do Vaccines Really Cause Autism?

Q: If vaccines arent a root cause of autism, what is?
A range of environmental factors, including infections, medications, diet, and pollutants, may be to blame. For example, a lot of research fingers pesticides. One study measured markers of organophosphate pesticides like malathion or diazinon (commonly used in agriculture) in the blood or urine of children and their mothers, then checked the developmental abilities of the children; it found a higher rate of autism-like disorders in children with higher pesticide levels. Organochlorines seem to interfere with how the nervous system keeps from being overly excited, an issue in autistic children.

Q: How would diet contribute to autism—or prevent it?
Some experts believe that two proteins—gluten (found in barley, rye, oats, and wheat) and casein (in dairy products)—dont get broken down completely in the gastrointestinal tracts of children on the autism spectrum, and that could hurt brain development and function. A gluten-and-casein-free diet is the most widely used for autism. Many families report that it helps regulate bowel habits, sleep, and repetitive behaviors, and improves their kids overall progress, though no good research confirms that. Several large-scale studies of this diet are underway.

Fombonne warns that the improvement seen by parents after a treatment is often due to the placebo effect or their desire to see a benefit. The bottom line: Parents should do whatever they can to help their children, experts say, but its crucial to find proof that any stressful intervention like restrictive diets is worth the cost and time.

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Laurie Tarkan
Last Updated: September 30, 2008

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