Theories about origin of autism have always been very controversial. Let’s recollect that Andrew Wakefield first proposed a causal relation between vaccines and autism. At the time, this relation was perceived as fraudulent and Wakefield was even forbidden to practice medicine again.
Presently, we can still see the effects of the Wakefield’s unaccepted theory: A significant part of the general population has retained a deep distrust of vaccines caused by his theory.
In the past months a new theory about the origins of the autism has evolved. Dr.Stephanie Seneff, a Senior Research Scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, mentioned at a conference that she had discovered a link between the broad-spectrum systemic herbicide called glyphosate and the autism, and delivered a warning message. Namely, she declared that by the year of 2025 half of the children will be autistic.
You will all agree that this is a very serious message and certainly cannot go unnoticed!
So, now we question: What did she found her theory on? Is there enough evidence for the connection between a herbicide (a substance or preparation for killing plants, esp. weeds) and a disease that we have thought to be almost entirely genetic?
What is autism?
Autism is a mental condition that affects a person’s social development that is his ability for interactions with others. It is diagnosed before age 3 and, as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it cannot initiate after this age.
Children with autism cannot develop within a social spectrum, and even adults with autism will always find it difficult to socially interact with others. Since there is no good autism treatment, patients’ lives cannot be changed in a significant way as yet. For this reason, it is really important to find a definitive etiological cause of this condition because if we find what causes it, we can certainly cure it.
However, all aspects of the autism have been widely investigated since its first description in 1943. Currently, there are many theories of the etiology of autism and, as time passes by, new theories are being formulated.
What we know about autism etiology
Several factors have been theoretically proven to be contributory to the development of the autism. In the beginning, it was maintained that the cause of autism was psychological. In the following years, the speculations changed to a possible anatomical problem in the brain, with some studies validating this theory.
Some pregnancy disorders have shown an incremented risk of autism, such as seizures and the use of anticonvulsants. Right now, the most accepted of all causes of autism is the genetic factor because of the discovery of some genes related to the Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Yet, the discovery of these genes doesn’t explain the cause of the autism in detail because people with epilepsy (a disorder of the central nervous system that causes a person to become unconscious suddenly) have mutations in the same genes.
Now researchers like Dr.Stephanie Seneff are proposing a new theory of a direct relation between the ingestion of glyphosate and the autism. Dr.Seneff explains that the damage inflicted to the gut bacteria by the glyphosate herbicide causes not only autism, but also Alzheimer’s disease, coeliac disease (autoimmune disorder of the small intestine) and other intestinal disorders.
The glyphosate theory
At the conference on the risks of the glyphosate ingestion, Dr.Seneff mentioned the glyphosate as an agent that kills the gut probiotics, thus causing a wide range of diseases. But, her investigation doesn’t show whether the entire immune system, the gut endothelial cells and the carbohydrate metabolism are affected, which are exactly the areas where the probiotics play a really important role. It doesn’t explain either whether other factors that cause probiotics loss can predispose a child to autism.
Furthermore, the paper doesn’t establish a clear cause-and-consequence relation between the probiotics loss and autism. In fact, it only says that the increase in the autism diagnoses is related to the global increase in the use of glyphosate.
In Dr.Seneff’s own words, there are very little data on our exposure to the glyphosate. The biggest question is how this substance can cause autism in the short term, and not in the long term, since autism cannot be developed in the adulthood. The idea that substance ingestion can be related to the autism isn’t new at all: for instance some studies have shown a connection between the symptoms of mercury intoxication and autism.
It seems that the glyphosate theory can establish a causal relation between glyphosate and some intestinal diseases like celiac sprue and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but it still lacks a physiological support in terms of autism.
To sum up, this theory has to undergo an extensive evaluation that is further investigation in order to clearly determine the ways in which the glyphosate causes autism.