EPIGENETICS? Can A New Science Finally Prove Autism's Causes?

Standing on a soap box and calling out, "It's Thimerosal, it's Vaccines, it's Pesticides, it's Mercury from coal burning power plants," without the "Evidence of Harm" to back up such accusations only causes our cries to fall on deaf ears and discredits our point. Especially when the Parma companies, politicians and industry leaders lay back on their laurels and say "There is no conclusive evidence."
But all that is about to change.
Up until now every theory attempting to connect toxins like thimerosal, pesticides and methylmercury from coal burning power plants have always run into a conundrum. When thimerosal was finally removed from infant vaccines one would think there would at least be a leveling off of autism, but just a week ago, the incidence rate of autism increased from 1 in 150 children to 1 in 100 and from 1 in 94 boys to 1 in about 66. The rate is still climbing exponentially. When we call out the pesticide and coal burning power plant companies, they say "show me the evidence," and many times when blood tests are run on our children there are no elevated levels of these suspect compounds. Even when scientists have shown increased rates of autism is directly correlated to proximity of the pesticide ridden fields or coal burning power plants, it's only been relegated as "coincidence."
So where is the "evidence of harm?" Where is the bridge that can finally be built to connect suspect compounds like thimerosal, pesticides and mercury from power plants? How do we prove that subtle poisoning over generations is finally pushing our genetic material beyond its limits when our hard DNA strands show no damage and our blood samples come back clean?
Enter the new science of epigenetics. Our understanding of static genetics, biology, the environment and how they interact is quickly changing. Epigenetic science is proving to be the very bridge we are looking for. In 2001 the mapping of the human genome was thought to solve all of life’s mysteries. Scientists imagined once they had the book of life, they could then compare disease to genetic codes – change the codes back to where they belonged and cure it. But they soon discovered that disease still reared its head without any gene mutation. It was particularly evident in identical twins developing profoundly different diseases. Schizophrenia, autism or cancer would afflict one twin while the other was unaffected. This left the scientists scratching their heads after their genetic codes were proven identical. So what was going on?
When you think about the fact that every cell in your body carries your full genetic code, how do your skin cells know to only become more skin cells? What’s programming them to only use (or express) the genes needed to create that cell? Triggers outside the entire gene strand that individually express or suppress them have been discovered. The gene’s expression is known as methylation. This is the cornerstone of epigenetic science. It’s a tough concept, but I think of it like this. Imagine a grand piano as a cell. Each string on the piano represents a single gene on the DNA strand. Each key (or gene) is designed to express a specific note if triggered or make no sound if untouched or (suppressed). Now imagine a pianist sitting before the keyboard – he is the epigenetic expresser. He begins to play a beautiful song, hitting each key (or gene) releasing its code. He composes a perfect melodic body of sound. He can even play the keys soft to partially express the gene. One set of keys expressed in a certain order create a skin cell. Another set of keys played represent nerve cells. One can close their eyes to the beauty as the soothing cacophony of notes gel in perfect unison to make a whole. But then the Pianist (or epigenetic trigger) gets disturbed by a fly buzzing around his ear or a cough from the audience (the environment) and he hits the wrong key (expresses the wrong gene.) The wrong note rings sour changing the entire melody or in this case, cause a nerve cell to not form and function properly. The body of music or physical nerve cell is no longer in tune. Simply having the notes misplayed can have as dramatic effect as a broken piano string.
A gene mutation would be equated to a snapped piano wire. What has been so elusive to scientists in the past is that the piano (or genes) were not damaged, making it impossible to explain why things were going wrong. What they realize now is errors in gene programming can cause as dramatic and cataclysmic physical problems in the body as hard gene mutation.
So what’s changed over the last sixty years to cause the diagnosis of ASD to grow exponentially? What scientists are proving is the epigenome system is much more sensitive to environmental factors than the hard genes. Even though the genes aren’t mutated, profound adverse affects can still occur not only on the individual, but to our dismay, can also effect many future generations down the line in ways scientists never imagined. Over a person's life time, environmental factors alter our epigenetic programming. What’s worse yet is some of these epigenetic mutations can be passed down to future generations. It used to be believed that the epigenetic changes that took place over a person's lifetime were not passed down, but that's been proven untrue in many experiments. For instance, Michael Skinner, a professor of molecular biosciences at Washington State University and his team described how they exposed rats to a pesticide and documented the ill effects. Not surprisingly, increased cancer and neurological disorders were documented in about 85% of the rats. They were checked for any gene damage and there was none. I repeat – no hard genetic damage.
Here’s the most frightening discovery. As they were bred, the percentage of offspring affected with the same ailments continued at the same rate four generations later. Even though there was no genetic damage or direct contact with pesticide, the offspring four generations down the line behaved as if they had been directly poisoned. Digging for more information, they found altered DNA methylation of certain genes. (Now correlate this finding to our exposure to pesticides since the 1940's, thimerosal since the 1920's and methylmercury from coal burning power plants over the last few generations and you can see why it’s been so hard to find ‘direct causal effect’.) The minute exposure and subtle poisoning began generations ago.
Discovering the rats passing down epigenetic mutations is called genomic imprinting. Indeed, much of the research today illustrates the genetic anomalies associated with autism are improper gene expression that was passed down from parents. In other words the genetic mutations associated with autism are for the most part epigenetic. The piano is whole and intact, but the pianist has lost his ability to play the tune correctly. This helps explain why trying to find the ‘damaged gene’s’ has been so elusive to scientist. The genes are not broken; they’re simply the victim of improper expression or suppression.
Epigenetics ties together the elusive gap of “causal relationship” of methylmercury, thimerosal and pesticides when it comes to connecting it to our children. As this and other startling experiments illustrate that epigenetic changes may endure for at least four subsequent generations presents the argument that so long as thimerosal laced flu vaccines are pumped into our bodies in adulthood, each vaccination chips away at our epigenetic programming and only increases the chances of passing down neurological maladies. (Thimerosal is still laced in vaccination and flu shots for children ages five and up.) The older we get the more damage our epigenetic code endures and the greater chance we have at passing down maladies that will profoundly affect a newborn even though he or she has never been directly exposed to the toxins.
Our sheet music of life is naturally altered as we grow older; however, compounds like thimerosal, pesticides and methylmercury are shredding it beyond repair. Epigenetic expression is designed to be malleable to allow an organism’s quick adaptation for survival so it can endure rapid environmental changes. What nature hasn’t prepared for is the unnatural super toxic manmade neurotoxins that have disseminated into our environment over the past handful of generations. The terrifying specter this raises is these elements are wreaking havoc not only on us, but on our children and possibly for generations to come.
Epigenetic science provides the only comprehensive picture that ties together many of the ‘loose ends’ that the separate theories of autism could not answer:
1.) Why it has it been so difficult for scientist to pin down the genes that cause autism? The genes have not mutated, therefore the scientist are missing what’s really happening. Only when they looked into gene methylation did they start to see many ‘hot spots’ correlating to autism.
2.) Why are some children ‘born’ with autistic symptoms before being vaccinated? The damaged epigenetic code inherited from the parents is expressed in a newborn.
3.) Why are children born with neurological disorders, yet don’t show elevated levels of mercury or pesticides in their system? Their epigenetic code was already altered by the parents grandparent or even great grandparents before they were born. This is perhaps the most profound bridge that has eluded proponents of thimerosal and other environmental poisons from proving causal relationship. No one knew these heavy metals and other toxins could leave DNA intact, yet still wreak havoc down a multigenerational level as proven with recent experiments.
4.) Why are older couples are more prone to sire autistic children? The longer we live, the more our epigenetic code is assaulted by adult thimerosal laced flu shots, pesticides, methylmercury, smoke and all the other every day environmental hazards of life. Furthermore, this presents an excellent argument to rid ALL vaccines of thimerosal. Even though our adult bodies can tolerate thimerosal in flu vaccines and such, we are damaging our epigenetic code for our future generations.
There may be some questions that I’ll try to answer: If epigenetics is true, is there research to being done to reprogram epigenetic malfunctions? Yes as a matter of fact there is, however, it mostly is in the realm of cancer research. In essence epigenetic therapy is to not kill the cancer cells, but to be more subtle. The idea is to correct the expression or suppression of the genes to get the cancer cells to behave as they were originally programmed. To say, ‘hey you’re not a cancer cell,’ and remind it to be the lung cell it was supposed to be. This is wonderful for the treatment of cancer because it would spare the person the poisonous remedy and horrendous side effects of chemotherapy.
Is there any success in this research? Yes. It is very preliminary, but there are tests with some very positive results. Take MDS, cancer of the blood and bone marrow. It is a type of leukemia. There was no known cure and people diagnosed with the disease were typically given only a few months to live. An experimental drug was administered with the idea to correct the epigenetic expression of tumor suppressing genes. It was believed that over the course of life that the tumor suppressor gene was accidentally turned off or suppressed. The drug was designed to turn it back on. In nearly 50% of the patients the disease completely disappeared after administering the drug. This is an immense break though since previous mortality rates were 100%. It’s obvious that epigenetic science is not simply theory or conjecture. It is working science.
Is there any research looking to correct the improper DNA methylation in autistic children? Not that I'm aware of. To me, the problem with taking this approach towards "curing" autism is trying to do it the hard way. As we are seeing, autism has an infinite amount of variables in how individuals are affected. And as scientists delve deeper into discovering which genes are improperly expressed, they're finding this task to be laced with infinite variables. The toxic compounds mixed and exposed to us in variable amounts over generations on something so complicated as our epigenetic system has the propensity for an infinite amount epigenetic mutations. Trying to find every single malady and individually chemically repair it is a road we've been forced to take, but it's ass backwards. I have an idea, let's take a stronger approach to not expose ourselves to the chemicals in the first place. Scientist can try to chemically fix the three legged frogs in the polluted pond, but we're still going to keep getting deformed frogs so long as they're still swimming in a toxic soup. Once we prove causal relationship to certain chemicals and autism we can begin to really get to the heart of stopping it by cleaning up the chemicals that are causing it in the first place.

So is any amount of toxic exposure safe?
The Federal Government has standardized what it perceives as a ‘tolerable or safe level’ of mercury and pesticide exposure and they still have not removed thimerosal from adult vaccines. But at that time they had no understanding of epigenetic accumulation, environmentally induced epigenetic alterations nor how parental epigenetic mutation can be passed down to children. The revelations in epigenetic science illustrates there will never be a safe or tolerable level of these toxins.
Methylmercury, pesticides, and thimerosal are much like the deadly gases in the coal mines. They’re silent, odorless and invisible – especially when their effects are epigenetically passed down to our children. They have insidiously poisoned the minds of our helpless children without leaving behind a telltale trail of genetic mutations or toxic chemical/heavy metal signatures in the bloodstream that everyone was looking for. The causal relation of these neurotoxins to autism has been elusive, but our eyes are now open, at least for some. I imagine soon controlled lab tests will reveal how minute amounts of pesticides, thimerosal and alike will directly affect specific gene expression. These results can then be compared to expression in afflicted children and the evidence will become undeniable.
This is a man made catastrophe and only man can turn this around. But perhaps the most frightening revelation of epigenetic science is that even if widespread environmental changes were immediately instituted, it may take generations before the tsunami of autism will ebb.

More information is available from the book, Dads And Autism, How To Stay In The Game. You can visit the website or find the book on Amazon. Godspeed to all.