Autism Linked to the ‘American Diet’

The typical American diet may be to blame for more than just the obesity epidemic: A new study also links it to the autism epidemic. The study by Renee Dufault and his team explores how mineral deficiencies, affected by dietary factors, such as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), could have a potential impact on how the human body frees itself of common toxic chemicals, for instance, pesticides and mercury. 

Dr. David Wallinga, a physician at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and co-author of the study, said, “To better address the explosion of autism, it’s critical we consider how unhealthy diets interfere with the body’s ability to eliminate toxic chemicals, and ultimately our risk for developing long-term health problems like autism.”

By using a macroepigenetics model, researchers can take nutritional and environmental factors as well as genetic makeup into account and observe how these interact and contribute to potential developments of a certain health outcome.

Leading author, Commander (ret.) Renee Dufault (U.S. Public Health Service), a former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) toxicologist remarks, “With autism rates skyrocketing, our public educational system is under extreme stress.”

The researchers decided to establish how environmental and dietary factors, such as HFCS consumption, could together contribute to the autism and related disorders. For instance, consuming HFCS is associated with the dietary loss of zinc. Zinc insufficiency has a negative impact on the body’s ability to eliminate heavy metals. Several heavy metals, including arsenic, cadmium and mercury are potent toxins that have adverse effects on young children’s brain development.

Other beneficial minerals, like calcium, are also affected by HFCS consumption, as a loss of calcium further aggravates the devastating impact of exposure to lead on fetuses and children’s brain development. Insufficient calcium levels can also debilitate the body’s ability of getting rid of organophosphates, which belong to a class of pesticides that the EPA, as well as independent scientists have long ago recognized as having especially toxic affects on the young developing brain.

Dr. Richard Deth, a professor of Pharmacology at Northeastern University and a co-author of the study explained, “Rather than being independent sources of risk, factors like nutrition and exposure to toxic chemicals are cumulative and synergistic in their potential to disrupt normal development. These epigenetic effects can also be transmitted across generations. As autism rates continue to climb it is imperative to incorporate this new epigenetic perspective into prevention, diagnosis and treatment strategies.”

This study provides insight into the comprehensive interaction between several of the factors that could lead to the development of autism. However, in order to control the autism epidemic within the U.S., researchers must continue to analyze the affects of industrialized food systems and exposure to environmental toxins on ASD.


“A macroepigenetic approach to identify factors responsible for the autism epidemic in the United States”
Renee Dufault, Walter J Lukiw, Raquel Crider, Roseanne Schnoll, David Wallinga and Richard Deth
Clinical Epigenetics, April 2012, doi:10.1186/1868-7083-4-6

Petra Rattue. (2012, April 16). “Autism Linked To Industrial Food Or Environment.” Medical News Today.

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