For many of us 'epigenetics' is not a familiar word, and least of all, that it has something to do with autism. But the fact of the matter is that it has everything to do with autism. In 1940, the British embryologist and geneticist Conrad Waddington was the first to coin the term epigenetics and he described it as "the interactions of genes with their environment, which bring the phenotype into being." Today, however, researchers are taking epigenetics one step further and looking at how the DNA methylation is being altered.
Basically, toxic environmental exposures can cause abnormal gene expression which is what we are now seeing with the widespread genetic mutation called the Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase (MTHFR). According to the study on the "Association of MTHFR Gene Variants with Autism", 98% of children with autism carry at least one copy of the MTHFR. This means there is a defect in the methylation process which ultimately affects the body's ability to excrete toxins effectively. See the Methylation/MTHFR section of The Autism Exchange. The bottom line is environmental factors can trigger changes in our DNA by turning our genes on and off.
Tom Insel MD, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in his blog "The New Genetics of Autism –Why Environment Matters" states that: "Increasing [autism] prevalence suggests environmental factors like chemicals and microbes changing over the past decade, whereas genes change over generations. Why is anyone looking for genetic causes when there is such a rapid increase in [autism] prevalence? Shouldn't every research dollar be invested in finding the environmental culprit rather than searching for rare gene variants?"
Historically, we have seen that any organism – plant, animal, or human – has somehow found the ability to adapt to various environmental factors in order to survive. So it should be of no surprise that today adaptation and survival is what humans and their DNA are doing now. Time Magazine even published an article called "Why Your DNA Is Not Your Destiny" by John Cloud. Epigenetics not only affects autism, but also affects so many other medical conditions that are on the rise. We all have to learn how to adapt in order to survive in this toxic world in which we live.
Environmental Epigenetics Symposium: Environmental Epigenetics: New frontiers in Autism Research
Description: This is a UC Davis Symposium that took place in 2013. Research from the scientists is available on this site.
The New Genetics of Autism –Why Environment Matters
Description: A blog by Tom Insel, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
Epigenetics and Environmental Chemicals
Description: Epigenetics investigates heritable changes in gene expression occurring without changes in DNA sequence.
Epigenetic Findings in Autism: New Perspectives for Therapy
Description: An article from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Nutrigenomics: Know Your Genetics
Description: Dr. Amy Yasko site helping parents learn about Nutrigenomics.
Epigenetic Mechanisms in Autism
Description: This site explains how epigenetics turns on and off genes in autism spectrum disorders.
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Forum/Blog Name: Questioning Answers: Epigenetics 101 and Autism
Description: Basic information on Epigenetics, Autism, DNA Methylation.
Forum/Blog Name: Epigenetics and Autism
Description: Epigenetics is the new frontier and it seemingly explains the increasing prevalence of ASD in most of the developed countries. It has the potential to open doors to highly effective treatment mechanisms which may be implemented in the future.
Forum/Blog Name: Lifestyle Epigenetics
Description: This Facebook page helps people to understand what foods (formerly believed to be beneficial) are really doing to our emotions, bodies, behavior, and gene expression. It provides support to those wanting to enhance lifestyles through better choices.
Forum/Blog Name: Epigenetic Theory of Autism…Autism: Tornado in the Brain
Description: This blog is an interview taken by Dan E. Burns with William J.Walsh, PhD, the author of Nutrient Power. Dr. Walsh describes his original findings with children with autism at the Pfeiffer Center and how his findings opened new doors for autism in the field of methylation and epigenetics.