PBS report part 3 – digging into Autism’s genetic and environmental triggers

By Alive & Well


Marj here — I tell you, this stuff is blinking FASCINATING. And I’m the totally non-sciencey one! I would encourage you to watch it and hear from four of the top Autism researchers in the world:

They share what they know and think so far about the root causes of Autism – and here’s a summary of what they say:

  • There are multiple causes of Autism, both genetic and environmental – as we touched on in our post earlier this week
  • They have identified multiple genes that may be involved, but it’s not like every person with Autism has all of the same ‘problem’ genes – each has just a handful, and all in different combinations, making it an incredibly complex genetic puzzle to put together. It’s made even trickier by the fact that in some cases, it’s genetic but not hereditary – so the person’s parents may not have any of the ‘problem’ genes
  • The environmental factors that cause disruption to the immune system, and as a result compromise brain function, could be anything from diet to infections to chemicals – and most likely, it’s exposure in the womb that’s the problem
  • It is possible that, for a subset of particularly vulnerable children with pre-existing conditions such as mitochondrial defects (see below for a definition if you need it), vaccines may be one of the environmental triggers that tips them over the edge into Autism – and that the reason this hasn’t come up in studies to date is that they’ve all been general population studies, not studies of a subset of predisposed, vulnerable children for whom this is relevant.

A quick aside — that last point is a controversial one, of course, and it’s been fuelled recently by the U.S. government’s agreement that vaccines had aggravated one child’s existing mitochondrial disorder to the point where she developed Autism (note, that sentence has been worded inordinately carefully to reflect the specifics of the agreement). As a result, they’ve awarded $1.5 million to her family to cover her care. It’s not known how many children have this kind of underlying vulnerability, but there’s no doubt there will continue to be great interest in getting to the bottom of this mystifying issue, so we can expect more studies will be done.

But back to the video — as Dr Herbert says, “There are a lot of things environmentally that are overwhelming our ability to cope metabolically, that are overwhelming our immune system. And the … collective impact of that is to deplete our protective systems. And I think that’s what’s causing Autism.”

[Mitochondria are the energy factories of our bodies’ cells, powering cell function by converting energy from food into energy for the body.]

You can also read our posts about each episode here: