Autism clusters tied to educated parents

After a couple of pretty intense nights of partying Friday & Saturday, staying up late, lots of drink, contact with lots of people -- in celebration of my 49th -- I came crashing down with a cough and cold Sunday afternoon that lowered like a wrecking ball. I supplemented perhaps another 15,000 IU of vitamin D over the evening and ended up waking on Monday morning feeling OK. I took some extra D yesterday as well, and today I woke up feeling awful with a big sinus headache and other issues. And now here I sit feeling almost normal at 2pm on Tuesday. Feeling good, even.

I dunno... Anyway, I'm going to take it easy so this will be short.

I got a supplement to Dr. Cannell's newsletter on autism and vitamin D that I posted about yesterday. There's no link on the website, so I copied the email into a comment. Toward the end Dr. Cannell references a recently published study and two news articles about it. I'll quote some interesting bits for possible discussion in the comments.

Geographic distribution of autism in California: a retrospective birth cohort analysis

Adjusted for other covariates, the majority of areas of autism clustering were characterized by high parental education, e.g. relative risks >4 for college-graduate vs. nonhigh-school graduate parents. This geographic association possibly occurs because RCs do not actively conduct case finding and parents with lower education are, for various reasons, less likely to successfully seek services.

Perhaps I'm misreading or misunderstanding, but it appears they are saying that there's no real difference in autism rates, that educated rich people simply seek services and so it's simply more diagnosed. I find that a bit hard to swallow.

Local Environment Not Cause of Autism 'Clusters'

Sure enough, Hertz-Picciotto and colleagues found 10 autism clusters -- with at least a 70% higher incidence of autism than in the surrounding area -- in eight regions of California.

But as it turned out, there was indeed a factor that very likely explained the clusters. Most of the clusters were in areas where women tend to have high educational attainment. Autism cases in all of the clusters were more likely to be reported from families with highly educated mothers, Hertz-Picciotto says.

"I don't think people living in these areas need to be concerned about where their homes are. Thinking about moving away from these areas would be wholly inappropriate," she says.

The California DDS does not go out and look for kids with autism. Parents have to go to the DDS and seek services. Better educated women are more likely to know about these services -- and are more likely to have access to doctors who can diagnose their child's autism.

"The implication is that parents with better awareness of autism symptoms, with better economic means, can better test for early warning signs and find the right kind of help for their children. And that can contribute to increased autism prevalence," Andy Shih, PhD, vice president of scientific affairs for the advocacy group Autism Speaks, tells WebMD. Shih was not involved in the California study.

On the other hand, "it is entirely possible that people with higher education have some kind of exposure that increases autism risk," Hertz-Picciotto says.

Again, it's tied to diagnosis, as well as for the other article.

Well I've got a wild-ass idea. How about that "people with higher education have some kind of exposure that increases autism risk" are too exposed to modern ignorance and fear over just about everything that has made us human (food, animal fat, germs, sunshine, play).

Here's what Cannnell says in that email supplement:

The autism epidemic began in the mid 80s and tracks the sun -scare very closely, as it does the sale of sunscreen.

The neuropsychiatric symptoms of rickets have never been studied in the modern era, as, once the diagnosis of rickets is made all attention is paid to bones and the rickets is aggressively treated. However, as far as the mental condition in rickets, at least two old papers have addressed it, both published before the diagnosis of autism was common.

Hallerhan, M.M. The Effect of Rickets on the Mental development of Young Children. Archives of Psychology, July, 1938 vol 229, pp 1-67.

Gilmour A. The Mental Condition in Rickets. School Hygiene 1912;9:222 pp 6-16

Both papers describe "weak mindedness, feeble minds, mental dullness, and unresponsiveness" as being common in rickets. Gilmour found delays in speech were common. Developmental delays were common in both papers.

Hallerhan reports previous authors found "withdrawal, and negativism" as well as "tantrums, selfishness, depression, and narrowing of interests." However, both authors report that the mental condition in rickets improves with Vitamin D; that is the Vitamin D improves the brain as well as the bones.

The controlled study by Hallerhan was conducted in 1938 where some control children, and not just the rachitic children, would have been on cod liver oil as that was a common hygienic practice in that day. In spite of that, differences were noted in verbal development and significant differences noted in motor development, mental development and social adjustment.

Food for thought.

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Comments

  1. Might support the autism/ultrasound link theory. More education->better job->better insurance->more ultrasound.

    http://carolinerodgers.wordpress.com/2009/12/22/does-prenatal-care-increase-autism-risk-new-cdc-numbers-indicate-it-does/

    Alabama drops medicaid support for prenatal ultrasound in 1993, Hispanic diagnoses drop 67%. Interesting. Far from conclusive, but interesting.

  2. I’m reading ‘The Other Brain’ by Dr. Fields, it’s about the 85% of our FATTY brain and brain cells that are not neurons, but glia. Fascinating.
      I started ruminating on the fact that there is a blood-gut barrier (tight junction control and regulation between the intestine and blood) that is made leaky by gluten. This is problematic to say the least. So I wondered about gluten and the blood-brain barrier and sure enough there is some speculation about this by a Jeremy E. Kaslow, M.D. My interest is peaked for several reasons. I recently heard about non-celiac gluten sensitivity and that you don’t have to be diagnosed with celiac to have problems. Combine that with Lierre Keith of ‘The Vegetarian Myth’ alerting me to the fact that grains are addicting. AND then there’s this… we have NO requirement in human nutrition for grain and wheat….zero, zip, nada. Humans are adapted to eat grains in one and only one spectacular way…..it helps us (and has helped us for a very long time) reproduce like mad. The more we’ve reproduced, the more people there have been; the more chance for genius. Up until about 100 years ago, natural forces kept our population in check.
      Anyway, I’m starting to see that the idea of an inviolable (to mischievous gluten) blood-brain barrier is a dangerous assumption. I sometimes feel like weeping for the poor autistic kids whose parents feed them sugar, bread and no fat. They have no chance.

    • Laurie,

      I absolutely agree. Also there is hope — autistic/spectrum kids are getting recovered with absolute gluten avoidance, vitamin ADEK1K2, probiotics, digestive enzymes (since the gut is j*cked), omega-3 (many benefits incl perhaps repair leaky ‘brain’?), coconut oil (many benefits incl anti-yeast), magnesium, iodine, selenium and detox regimens (including chlorella, kelp, pycnogenol, etc).

      Personally I think affluent and educated women are being duped and they follow instructions too well which may create a storm of future autistic problems:
      –undiagnosed hypothyroidism (which affects fetal immune systems and brain development)
      –excessive prenatal vitamins (for example CYANOcobalamin does not exist in nature)
      –deficiency saturated fat and cholesterol, the architecture and building blocks of our reproductive hormones and BRAIN and every cell membrane
      –deficiency of omega-3 (ditto)
      –high carbs, high insulin
      –high fructose, high insulin
      –high omega-6 veggie oils, high insulin
      –healthywholeautisticstimulatingGRAINS
      –soy (excessive estrogenic and thyroid blocking effects)
      –adherence to mercury containing vaccine schedules

      Richard, thanks for posting on this timely topic. btw happy early BDAY babe!!

  3. Sylvie O. says:

    Has anyone ever found anything on autism vs breastfeeding?

  4. This is very interesting because one of my twins is autistic and I am a college graduate.

    He was born in 1975 and at the time I had Medicaid. Medicaid in 1975 is a totally different animal from Medicaid today. I could go to any doctor and any hospital and the compensation rates would be crazy talk in reference to today’s rates.

    I was very (or so I thought) health conscious. I did believe in lots of protein and followed Adele Davis’s ideas. I also ate way too much sugar. I suppose I drifted away from that when she died, because it was believed to be from all that meat eating.

    I don’t know how to take this information except that I find it interesting about the education.

    • Carla, what gender is the non-autisic one? If the twin is a girl, here’s what Dr. Canell wrote about that in the link I posted on the previous post:

      “Seventh, his twin sister has never had autism, despite the same intrauterine environment.

      This is consistent with my theory, that autism is caused from a quantitative, not qualitative, variation in one of the enzymes that metabolize Vitamin D. That is, there are no structural differences in these enzymes in autism, only a genetically determined difference in the amount present. These enzymes are responsive to estrogen; estrogen protects the brain from being damaged by low Vitamin D, probably by increasing the amount of activated Vitamin D present, explaining why boys are four times more likely to have the disease.”

      • What?! A theory of autism that doesn’t blame vaccines and uses a lot of them big fancy science words? How dare you…. I should have known – you’re one of THEM!!1! I’m so glad I put my tinfoil hat on today…

  5. If we’re hypothesizing that Vitamin D is the operating cause, then more educated parents might be correlated with more watchful parents who make sure that their kids never see the sun without being first covered in sunscreen. And who don’t yet know that the RDA for Vitamin D3 is about an order of magnitude off.

    • Whoops, it would also be necessary for the pregnant mother to slather herself with sunscreen before going into the sun and not supplement D3, and the insult causing autism being Vitamin D deficiency at some critical step(s) during gestation.

  6. Matt:

    Could be autoimmune, but here, look at T1 diabetes. I blogged about that a year and some time ago:

    http://freetheanimal.com/2008/12/vitamin-d-deficiency-and-type-1-diabetes.html

    Interesting how it tracks both against latitude and time of year. I wonder if anything similar for autism exists….

    At any rate, yea, how about the novel ideal of eating real food (high or low carb), pay attention to gluten sensitivity, and above all, pay more attention to old grandmas and great grandmas than medical professionals as simply a general rule

  7. Funny, I Jason stumbled upon this researcher today. http://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/ check out her workvon this very topic!

  8. Yes. Cannell has an old blogpost in which he speculates that there might be a mercury toxicity/vitD/autism link because vitamin D helps protect against heavy metal toxicity.

    • And yet…. when they replaced mercury it had no effect on newer cases of autism (not that mercury is harmless… but do you guys even know what the symptoms of mercury poisoning are? Not even close to the symptoms of autism)… nowadays the conspiracy theorists claim that it’s the new preservative that’s causing it, or that its all those damaged viruses and the subsequent immune response that are… what complete bullshit, any child that has gotten a cold has had a greater immune response from that than from vaccines (except in extreme cases). The more people think its vaccines the less they spend time searching for the real cause(s).

      Selenium also detoxifies mercury. Fish have a lot of selenium – tuna and salmon have more selenium than mercury (i.e. enough to neutralize the mercury and with some to spare). When researchers looked at mercury in fish while ignoring selenium and other heavy metal detoxifiers they created the mercury-fish scare, when eating fish could have helped cure mercury poisoning. More educated women would have been more likely to follow this faulty health advice. Mercury as an environmental toxin could be found in many places… (but not in modern vaccines). Therefore, I propose lack of fish eating causes autism…….

  9. Most of the speculation I’ve seen on this is more or less that it’s the lack of vitamin D “pre-natal” and likely in combination with the lack of vitamin D post natal as well.

    Have a couple of links referenced here in #7:
    http://www.eatmoveimprove.com/2009/10/a-closer-look-at-vitamin-d/

    It’s definitely one of the better speculations. In fact, the rises in most everything else in accordance with increased inflammation and lack of vitamin D is probably responsible for a lot of stuff out there or at least worsening it.

  10. *Just a quick question…

    Q: Does this conversation rule out the possibility of diagnostic error?

    *Similar/same symptoms lead to one diagnosis in on area and another diagnosis in other locations. The doctors of a particular region tend to reinforce each others interpretations of symptoms for purposes of diagnosis.

    *With severe autism, this is likely not an issue, but with lesser symptoms being categorized as autism related, could it be that doctors and parents are pre-disposed to this diagnosis…and couldn’t this be the link with education…if educated parents and their doctors are focused on autism, then it may not be surprising when they find it.

    *I am not saying this is the case , but I am wondering if studies along these lines have been conducted.

  11. I´ve aspergers´s and made huge improvements via ketogenic diet. Plus avoiding casein and supplementing with high doses D3, magnesium, selenium and B6. Unfortunately high n-3 results in diarrhea. IMO keto is the way to go for a lot of neuro issues.

    • Keto means lack of carbs that turn into sugar, and sugar/glucose in excess messes with the brain’s excitatory pathways… if I remember correctly it’s the subsequent insulin response that does the damage (of course, oxidating sugars that turn into A.G.E.s also cause celullar damage) …too much sugar/insulin can sort of make the brain “overheat” and damage itself over time.
      Low-carb, low-inflammatory/high-Omega 3 & Vit.D diets seem to also help people with ADD/ADHD such as myself (milder form of the inattentive type). I’ve noticed when I started oging paleo and had some relapses of eating carbs or pop drinks that they seem to make me more mentally hyper, but in a bad way (I seem to be able to think faster than some people, which might be due to the ADD, but with sugar/insulin spikes it felt like my brain was either clogged from overthinking or not thinking in any useful way at all)

  12. Mathurin says:

    Regarding the geographic distribution and clustering of autism, some have speculated that the increased cases of autism in certain regions of California can be credited to nerds gaining prestige and money (IT boom), thus increasing their odds of attracting mates (which leads to more babies). And since computer nerds share characteristics common to autism and asperger’s sydrome (some saying these people are often slightly autistic), the odds of their babies displaying similar signs are high.

    On top of that, with the advent of the autism spectrum (used for early diagnosis), many argue false diagnosis is more common — especially among children from highly educated parents. A child once considered intellectually gifted is now often labeled highly autistic or suffering from Asperger’s syndrome.

    This phenomenon brings about another problem too, the false conclusion that early treatment cures some of these children. In reality, many children classified as autistic are merely late talkers. Economist and Hoover fellow, Thomas Sowell, has done a lot of research into this (http://www.amazon.com/Late-Talking-Children-Thomas-Sowell/dp/0465038352). He argues some bright children are late in talking or display other signs of autism precisely because the demands of their analytical abilities, localized in the left half of the brain, are being met at the expense of the speech function, among others. Children (like his son), he warns, are frequently misdiagnosed as retarded or autistic and thus risk being placed in special- education classes, from which release may be difficult or other unintended consequences may occur.

    So to recap, the increased cases of autism could be a result of nerds procreating more in recent decades (due to the internet boom and wealth that resulted, which improved their status in the eyes of potential mates). And since nerdy individuals often share characteristics similar to autistic folks….and with the advent of the autism spectrum and earlier testing, it makes sense that there has been a rise in autism among children (often times misdiagnosed — the late talker phenomenon).

    Kind of gives credence to Lewis in his speech to Adams college alums when he said he has news for the beautiful people…”There’s a lot more of us then there are of you.”

    • One problem I see with this intriguing theory is that socioeconomic status is usually inversely correlated with fertility. The wealthy have on average fewer children than the not-s0-wealthy.

      In support of this theory is the well known finding that people with higher levels of creative intelligence tend to have a higher incidence of mental disorders, notably schizophrenia. I do not know if childhood autism is associated with schizophrenia though.

    • No, that’s not interesting; that’s old news, and anyone who believes that better not talk about paleo at the same time, since nothing they can say from then on would be considered credible from the viewpoint of someone who actually is doing good research on autism and doesn’t believe in conspiracy theories. Seriously, crackpot theories like these scare people away from alternative forms of healthcare like paleo diets, no matter what their ailments are…

  13. Yes, diet and Vitamin D are the big concerns. But also look at vaccines. While vaccines are generally useless to mildly harmful (read up if it sounds controversial), their use has skyrocketed since 1980. One has to wonder at the wisdom of hitting the developing immune system with all that crap.

    • all that crap? seriously? First the mercury, now that that’s gone, they blame the pathogens… given how the damaged viruses in vaccines induce such a minor immune response (meaning they aren’t even considered such a major threat by the infants’ immune systems), wouldn’t it make more sense to say that childhood colds, or any bug that can cause diarrhea or fever even, could cause way more damage to the infant’s brain than some wimpy little vaccine microbes that can’t even multiply and infect enough to cause anything more than a localised elevated body temperature at the limb of injection (i.e. a warm arm) for most people.

      Think about it. Pathogens that give infants high fevers and/or diarrhea do so because of the immune system response trying to kill them, because the immune system sees them as real threats. Why don’t we hear, except in extremely rare cases, of infants getting generalized high fevers from vaccines? Because the immune system of infants (which, while lacking in immunity, is extremely powerful and pro-inflammatory when it needs to be), sees the microbes in vaccines as no real threat, but as a minor nuisance to be patched up, just like if you give yourself a papercut you won’t suddenly develop a high fever, because the few microbes that make it into your body will be killed quickly.

      But of course, to these anti-vaccine true-believers, there’ll always be something wrong with vaccines no matter what the evidence says, won’t there?

  14. Natasha Campbell-McBride has ideas that abnormal gut flora causes autism (and a host of other problems). I just finished reading her book. It made a lot of sense to me. I would also agree with one of the Amazon reviewers that her thoughts go far beyond Autism and the other psychological disorders she is interested in. Well worth reading.

  15. STOP OPPRESSING THE TRUTH! AUTISM IS CAUSED BY VACCINES!

    On a more serious note, this post saddens me. One of the many ways that authority-worship is ruining the lives of children and their families. Even if D *doesn’t* help autism at all, there’s very little risk in trying, and no risk in hunting down information about it.

    I’ve got an acquaintance with an autistic daughter; I wonder how to suggest Vit D without sounding too far outside the mainstream. Any ideas out there?

    • Too bad it’s been months since you posted this… but here goes anyways: It helps to acknowledge all the crackpot, flawed or incomplete theories to the cause of autism before suggesting an alternative – to get them to see that your idea has merit and isn’t based on junk science. This applies to many health problems where there are alternative treatments – some of them like the principles in paleo/caveman nutrition are good, but some alternative health treatments are crap and possibly harmful – which is what they fear you might be pushing. So present a lot of data to them and objectively state the pros and cons. (But if they’re too confused and/or seem already on board, also have a simplified verson of your position ready)

  16. I know for a fact that vaccines or something in them cause autism. I had twins, they were both raised by me and they both had the exact same childhood and ate the exact same food. The autistic one even started talking before the normal one until shortly after his 1 1/2 year vaccination and he started developing ear infections and fevers and all of a sudden stopped talking. My twins are fraternal but the dramatic change in my autistic one happened shortly after the vaccination. I thought my son was just a late bloomer and I didn’t worry about his not talking at first but when he turned three I was very concerned and had him tested. After all the testing they just told me he was mentally retarded with autistic features. In the 70’s I didn’t know you could cure autism or help your child get better so I don’t know if he could have improved or not. I work with doctors who say the autism vaccine connection has been disproved. But they probably think the food pyramid is genius.

    • Yes, but you don’t have billions of dollars to throw around and push your view. Novartis does.

    • You know this for a fact??????

      • Yes I do. My autistic son is allergic to penicillin and rasberries, why couldn’t he be allergic to something in the vaccine?

        I am not saying it is the only cause but I know until I am convinced otherwise ( and it would take a lot more than someone with a PHd throwing around a bunch of fancy words with even fancier statistics). I believe in every fiber of my being that if I refused to have my son’s vaccinated they would both be normal. In fact I was leaning in that direction until I found out I may have problems getting them into school. So because public health physicians wanted to protect children from pertussis (whopping cough), my son is disabled for life.

    • People are vaccinated at around the same age as they develop autism. They used to believe it was a problem possibly caused by mercury. (despite mercury poisoning symptoms not being the same as autism symptoms). Mercury was removed. Nothing happened.

      Penn & Teller did an episode on vaccines explaining everything that goes in it – you could probably find on youtube or somewhere, and there are people who blog about ongoing autism research (from actual scientists) I have to admit I’m too lazy to go back and dig up all the info I found and I never believed I’d actually need to bookmark this stuff… but people who are serious about finding the cure for autism (even people with asperger’s, who would want to know the truth no matter what) are seriously pissed off at anti-vaccine proponents because they act like a cult, preying on the emotionally vulnerable with junk science, changing their story once mercury was removed and nothign happened, because it means you’ll always get some researchers interested in the vaccine-autism connection, which is a waste of precious resources since there does not appear to be any correlation that stands up to scrutiny. What if instead of an autism researcher doing another study on vaccines, they did a study on vitamin D? Omega-3? Pre-natal diets? There are tons of theories out there, all of which are better than the current vaccine theories which makes absolutely no sense (nowadays they’re blaming the immune response from all the viruses in the vaccines – oh please, any infant with a fever or diarrhea is having an exponentially greater immune response than when they get vaccinated, most of the time having no noticeable immune response).
      If it were vaccines researchers would have known by now; the few who study autism have over-studied vaccine effects and under-studied everything else.

  17. “STOP OPPRESSING THE TRUTH! AUTISM IS CAUSED BY VACCINES!”

    LOL ,I just said it was interesting-I never said I agreed with that guy. :D

  18. Elizabeth says:

    HI Richard, Happy Birthday to you – sounds like you had an amazing weekend just as it should be. Please tell me how much Vitamin D3 I should have – do you think around 20,000 a day, is it weight related? weigh 40kg, am a 40 year old female living in a cold (Swiss) country. Have osteo too… so, what do you think and do you recommend any type of pill particularly – bearing in mind I am importing from Europe.

    Thanks to you…. eliza

    • Oh, 20k per day is probably way to much. If one is just starting out, 50k for the first three days is something I’ve heard people do, then back off to 10k per day and have 25-OH-D tested and adjust. I typically take 6K per day.

  19. Aside from the nutritional points here, which I believe are probably quite valid, there is another anecdotal explanation which seems interesting from a sociological basis. The sort of thing that Malcolm Gladwell would have looked at or might in future.

    Caveat: I live in what is Australia’s highest socio-economic ranked suburb and only encountered this idea from other couples once my wife and I moved here. No statistic evidence or studies that I know of, and correlation of an idea doesn’t equal causation…

    The idea goes that autism rates are higher in areas of higher socio-economic levels as many of the women are older as first time mothers. Many are working women, professionals, etc, and there is a tendency to focus on career and advancement in the younger child-bearing years. Incidence of chromosomal and other abnormalities increase with the age of both the mother and father on an exponential basis, and the key issue is the age of the mother’s eggs… women are born with their eggs and don’t create new ones unlike men and sperm, so a 30 or 40 y.o. egg is at a disadvantage to one that is at 20 y.o. somewhat “fresher”.

    But with finest modern medicine definitely within the reach of these groups, why the high incidence? The idea follows that many of the women choose to continue with their pregnancies regardless of the higher risk (say, comparative to a 20 y.o.) on the basis that they don’t have the timeline or luxury of being able to try again and again, etc. They have one shot, maybe two, and the position is simply “If I want to have kids I’m going to have to take the chance.”

    These ideas are definitely in play when it comes to IVF assistance which is usually for women in the older range of child bearing years, and where there are definite risks owing to age and the process of IVF itself. Of course, the process of going through IVF clearly shows a commitment to the idea of having kids no matter what the risks (or financial cost).

    Now, this is, as far as I know, only anecdotal so I do not wish to raise anyone’s ire here. I’m certainly not passing judgement on anyone’s decisions, either – I’m a parent and know the emotional/biological arguments only too well. I find it interesting nonetheless from an evolutionary and economic perspective, and from the nutritional side of things, many of these mothers are almost religious about their diet and nutritional supplements.

  20. Folks keep looking for the ONE GREAT CAUSE of autism. The body is made up of many interdependent systems that are balancing and reinforcing. You can impact one little area and mess up a whole lot of things. You can impact different areas and still have similar results. The nervous, GI, endocrine, immune, etc. systems all interact and rely on each other. There are numerous ways to impact any one of those and cause a chain reaction that we’ve come to know as autism.

    The reductionist approach isn’t going to cut it unless you are simply an evangelist for a narrow belief system or profit-maker looking for the next angle to cash in on. Accept that life can be complex. Genetics, vaccines, nutritional deficiencies, environmental toxins .. all play a part. All — and more — should be addressed.

    • Lets not forget that some forms of autism, like ADD/ADHD, not only re-wire the brain but also makes it more efficient in some places at the same time it can become deficient in others. This is most noticeable in what was once called “idiot-savants” … I doubt mercury/”junk”-filled vaccines could do that little trick