Vaccines are not the cause of Autism
A study published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the brains of autistic children show abnormalities that are likely to have risen before birth, which is consistent with a large body of evidence. Dr Eric Courchesne, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego found that in every case he examined, the autism occurred in the womb and was only diagnosed after birth.
Yet most of the media coverage focuses on vaccines which absolutely do not cause autism and are given after birth. There have been some babies who develop paralysis and severe reactions to vaccines but these are rare genetic abnormalities and represent less than one in one million infants and they are not cases of autism. How can we help people separate real risks from false rumours; especially when it results in outbreaks of measles in many areas of our country right now?
Besides his own research, Dr. Courchesne looked at a database of more than 34,000 scientific publications mentioning autism which dates back to the first reported case in 1943. Over half of these studies have been reported since 2008 since autism has been linked to a wide variety of genetic and environmental factors.
Based on all the scientific evidence and his own studies, this researcher suggested a different approach which I would call a “risk factor” or a way of measuring the odds of having a baby born with autism. This allows a bigger picture and does not put the blame on any one single entity.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the recorded rate of autism today in 2014 is 1 in 68. When I started to research this article, I found that number to be quite larger than what I had expected. In any case, in order to follow Dr. Courchesne’s logic, suppose the rate of autism of babies born in yellow hospital rooms was 2 in 68. Does this mean that the colour of the room doubles the chances of having an autistic child? Before we repaint all the hospital rooms you have to understand that the coincidence of the event is not the cause and we must find more accurate data.
To find the true causes of autism, we must examine the baby before the age of 2 when a positive diagnosis can be achieved. There is speculation that becoming a mother or father in your late 30’s or after can result in this disease, but the risk factor is only 1.4. The risk associated with enhanced or accelerated labour in full term babies is only 1.2; after all other complications are taken into account. And of course, the risk from vaccination is actually less than 1, meaning there is no added risk whatsoever.
If you put the risk factor into perspective, the risk factor for a pack-a-day smoker for lung cancer is 25. In other words, that smoker is 25 times more likely to get lung cancer than a non-smoker. In the case of autism, the risk associated with parental age is less than the risk factors of inheritance or genetic factors.
Studies that compare twins who grew up in the same environment allow researchers to study the effect of shared genes. A majority of children with an autistic identical twin are likely to be diagnosed with autism as well and have a risk ratio around 80. A lower risk ratio comes from sharing half of one’s genes, as in fraternal twins or siblings. For these reasons, researchers believe that autism’s roots are primarily genetic.
The human genome is dotted with hundreds of autism risk genes. Individually, each gene is usually harmless, and is in fact essential for normal function. This suggests that autism is caused by combinations of genes acting together. Think of a 13 card bridge hand and a specific combination that would only cause autism if the hand came out a particular way.
New mutations can also arise during the life of the child and that might account for a greater risk associated with late fatherhood or even environmental risks that could trigger a genetic mutation.
Although autism has a gene-based beginning, growing brains are also influenced by their environment and external events. You must remember that the brain is starting to develop in the womb and most hazards occur prior to birth and fall into three broad categories, prematurity, prenatal stress, and brain development.
Many known risks for autism occur during late pregnancy and birth. Premature birth carries many risk factors for developmental disabilities, of which autism is only one of them. The resent study showed that elective caesarian section is associated with an autism risk of 1.9. Since these births are elective, the risk is preventable. Stress is a very serious risk and for pregnant women who emigrate to a new country, the risk is actually 2.3. In the 5th through 9th month of pregnancy, getting caught in a hurricane strike zone carries a risk of 3. Maternal post -traumatic stress disorder during pregnancy also carries a risk of 3. Stress hormones can actually enter the fetus’s blood stream and have a negative effect on brain development. Stress may also affect the mother and her immune response may affect the fetus’s brain development.
Although air pollution caries a risk factor of 1.4 for autism, the risk might be caused by chemicals or by living in a poor or crowded neighborhood where pollution is worse. Old buildings may have lead pipes, lead paint, and asbestos in the walls or a number of harmful chemicals not found in newer homes.
A larger risk comes from households that already have an older sibling less than 1 year of age, where newly conceived children have a risk ratio for autism of 3.4. So besides the environment, parents should think about spacing their children at longer intervals.
After birth, known risks diminish, but the baby’s brain acquires a new need: social experience. In one group of Romanian orphanage children, babies were nearly isolated from social contact, and some later showed autism-like symptoms. The need to hold your baby, cuddle it and provide all kinds of stimulus such as musical mobiles above the crib allow their brains to acquire a normal human experience. Extreme deprivation can be very dangerous and cause effects that last a lifetime.
Using ratios can help both parents and researchers keep their babies on track and allow them the ability to have a good pregnancy with a minimum of stress factors. The study also had to consider whether autism causes other functioning brain regions to go off track and make the condition worse. In one study, 51 children who had damage to the cerebellum at birth had a risk factor of 40 for autism. The cerebellum links information arriving from different senses and communicates with nearly all regions of the cerebral cortex. Many known risk factor genes for autism are turned on together in the cerebellum in early life. Although these types of injuries are very rare, they enhance researcher’s ability to study brain development and the effects of autism.
If you look at the possibilities of odds, we may understand why more children are being classified as autistic. It is a spectrum disorder and some cases are very minor such as poor social skills and some cases are very major such as the lack of speech and inability to communicate at all.
The bottom line is that the mother should try and avoid all the news media hype that causes her stress. Look carefully at the risk factors and try to have a healthy, comfortable, stress free pregnancy, delivery and motherhood. That is until they become teenagers; when stress becomes part of your daily life.