Editorial/Opinion – According to new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), autism may begin in the womb with an overgrowth of brain cells. Scientists at UC San Diego examined the brains of six boys with autism who had died and compared them with non-autistic boys of the same age. They found that the boys with autism had 67% more neurons in their frontal lobes than the non-autistic boys. To get a good picture of this type of overgrowth, watch this 60 Minutes video clip where a UC San Diego neuroscientist looks at the brain of Temple Grandin, the famous autistic author and animal rights advocate, compared to a normal brain. This exuberant overgrowth makes it easier to understand why, for so many autistic children, part of the problem is TMI—too much information!
The problem isn’t just with overgrowth in the womb, it’s also with a lack of so-called “pruning,” of brain neurons that normally occurs before birth and in infancy. In my primitive understanding of this process, I think of the overgrowth as a scaffolding built around the developing neurons that’s normally removed by the time an infant is a few months old. The job of these pre-frontal neurons is to sort and interpret an almost unimaginable amount of information into consciousness-sized bytes that allow us to function in the world.
Of course with my bias towards hormonal effects, I’m prone to think of the grow! grow! grow! messages of the potent environmental estrogens that a fetus is assaulted with via pesticides, air pollution, hormone-treated meat, soy foods, and the endless list of scented products (air fresheners, laundry soaps, candles, body lotions, cosmetics, paints etc etc etc). At the same time, the message of progesterone, the primary hormone of pregnancy, is to modulate the grow! messages and instruct the cells to differentiate into various cell types, and progesterone is an essential part of the myelin sheath that protects nerve cells. What happens to a fetus that is over-exposed to xenoestrogens and developing in an environment of lower-than-normal progesterone levels? Pure speculation on my part, but these are factors that should be considered and need to be researched. For starters, researchers could measure estrogen and progesterone levels during pregnancy and then follow up to find out if there were differences in gestational hormone levels in the mothers of autistic children.
In the various media pieces about this new autism research, I have seen comments by some scientists to the effect that, “This should settle the notion that vaccines cause autism.” I couldn’t disagree more. Thousands of mothers swear that their children were developing normally before vaccination and I believe them. What if their babies had the neuronal overgrowth, but their little brains were slowly but surely sorting things out and steadily pruning away when they were bombarded with brain toxins via vaccinations? I realize that the mercury compound thimerosal has been removed from most vaccines, but just to demonstrate what a brain toxin can do to brain neurons, watch this video, Brain Neuron Degeneration via Mercury.
The so-called “inactive” ingredients in vaccines are a cocktail of potential brain toxins, from MSG and antibiotics to albumin and detergents. A healthy brain may be able to cope with these ingredients, but a brain with neuronal overgrowth that’s teetering on the edge of chaos? I would like to see neuronal brain imaging before and after vaccination.
This new research on autistic brains should inspire new avenues of research that include gestational hormone levels and the effects of vaccinations on brain neurons.
Courchesne E, Mouton PR, Calhoun ME et al, “Neuron number and size in prefrontal cortex of children with autism,” JAMA. 2011 Nov 9;306(18):2001-10.