Formaldehyde: Health risks, and Environmental and Dietary sources.

I mentioned in my last post, (a long time ago – I’ve been busy spring cleaning), that I would discuss oxidative stress next – some background information first:

(“Formaldehyde is a cause of oxidative stress.” LMGTFY: 1,450,000 results.)

Formaldehyde:  formaldehyde is a chemical that can be produced within the body as part of metabolism, it is toxic however and the body would continue to break it down further for removal from the body in conditions of normal health. Formaldehyde is found in the environment from a variety of sources and is produced in the body or in food products as a metabolite (a chemical produced from the digestion/metabolism of a larger chemical) of some alternative sweeteners (G.48) and other dietary sources including fruit juices and artificial and natural flavorings. ((G.49, (p476, G.50)) (G.56)  “Formalin” is chemically very similar and may cause similar health symptoms. (G.42(G.25Formalin is used to induce pain in lab animals for experimental purposes and it was determined that the pain was due to activation of the TRPA1 channels. (G.86)

Environmental and dietary sources of formaldehyde include, (G.56):

  1. First and second hand smoke, (G.44); The formaldehyde content of some types of E-Cigarette preparations used for “vaping” instead of smoking the volatile gases have been found to vary significantly. Skipping to the last point on this list may provide the explanation – fruit flavoring based on fruit juice and essential oils from fruit and other artificial “flavorings” are frequently chemicals from a group of chemicals called aldehydes. They can break down over time into smaller chemicals which can include formaldehyde or other toxic types of aldehydes. (G.49) So if you are “vaping” in order to avoid toxins in cigarette smoke then it may be advisable to skip the “chocolate or fruit flavoring” and use an E-Cigarette product that just has the natural tobacco flavor instead. (Yes, tobacco is an herb and it has a flavor and nicotine can have some health benefits, however formaldehyde does not. The nicotine patch provides a steady dose of nicotine without any volatile toxins.)
  2. Poorly ventilated air or smog; (G.45)
  3. Vinyl and PVC plastic products off-gas formaldehyde and other volatile chemicals at levels that can make a sensitive person feel ill. (G.45). A poorly ventilated room would increase the risk of the gases accumulating to more toxic levels. The wax refinishing treatments used to clean and shine vinyl flooring are also sources of formaldehyde and other toxic gases. One re-waxing session can produce as much volatile chemicals from the chemical products that are used to strip off the old layer of wax polish and add a new layer, as the vinyl floor itself would off-gas throughout all the years of its installation. So making a choice about which type of flooring to install is also making a choice about the  type of cleaning products that will be needed to maintain the floor. (G.46) A Cleaning Product Fact Sheet is available from the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board: (G.47). Types of flooring and other building materials are discussed in extensive detail in a review article regarding sources of Formaldehyde in the Indoor Environment: (G.45).
  4. Metabolites of the breakdown of the alternative sweetener aspartame and Neotame include menthol and formaldehyde. (G.48)  
  5. Older packages of fruit juice also may contain formaldehyde in amounts that can continue to increase as the product ages. The formaldehyde is produced as other chemicals become unstable over time and metabolically breakdown into a variety of smaller chemicals which include formaldehyde. The food preservative method of ionizing radiation has been found to increase the chemical breakdown of larger aldehydes in apple juice into formaldehyde and other chemicals with toxic properties. (p476, G.50)
  6. Before leaving the topic of formaldehyde, the symptoms of toxicity with workplace exposure to formaldehyde have been reported to include allergic type symptoms including: “sneezing/airways-related symptoms, itching and watery eyes.” (G.51) Formaldehyde exposure may also be a cause of systemic allergic contact dermatitis, (G.52, G.53, G.54), possibly even with symptoms of rash occurring on the eyelids.(G.55) A diet designed to avoid formaldehyde intake may be helpful for alleviating the eczema like rash. (G.52)

A summary, in reverse order;

Formaldehyde might be accumulating from several sources, (G.56):

  • Workplace exposure; Workers more at risk might include health professionals, (G.51); and hair stylists or nail salon technicians, (G.58); and funeral directors may be more at risk for developing the paralyzing chronic disease ALS, (G.59); some industries such as the garment and textile industry may have formaldehyde exposure, (G.63);
  • Aseptically packaged juices, the amount may collect in older packages as the product ages, ionizing radiation methods of food preservation have been found to increase the amount of toxic aldehydes including formaldehyde and therefore is not a recommended technique for the juice industry, (p476, G.50);
  • Nutrasweet (aspartame) and Neotame, alternative sweeteners. (G..48)
  • Vinyl flooring, cleaning products, and other PVC type of plastic products. (G.45, G.46, G.47);
  • Poorly ventilated air or smog. (G.45); *Note, lighting large numbers of decorative candles may be increasing volatile chemicals in your air supply. Also air fresheners and cleaning products may contain chemicals that break down into formaldehyde. (G.60) Lifestyle choices besides smoking cigarettes can negatively affect health. Try a fern for air freshening instead; give it a nickname and you might get some emotional benefits in addition to other physical health benefits. Plants can be useful household decorations because some types can clean the air of formaldehyde and other toxins. The original research was by a NASA scientist for use in keeping the air fresh in living environments for astronauts. For the most effective air cleaning ability, the plant does need to be watered and misted as its particular type requires, because the chemical removal of formaldehyde from the air is dependent on the roots and leaves access to water. (G.61); a mechanical problem with the furnace or water heater and ventilation system may be leaking toxic chemicals into the building’s air supply; increased efficiency of insulation and other building materials have created rooms and buildings that are too good at preventing air circulation, which makes maintenance and cleaning of ventilation systems and fans important – otherwise everyone working or living in the space might start feeling some symptoms of “sick building syndrome.” (G.62)
  • Smoking cigarettes or other products, and flavorings in “vaped” E-Cigarettes may also be a source of formaldehyde. (G.44, G.49)

Fact Sheets regarding Formaldehyde, Environmental Safety and Health:

  • The Centers for Disease Control provides a fact sheet for further guidance regarding risks and precautions regarding formaldehyde: What You Should Know About Formaldehyde, (G.57)
  • The Environmental Protection Agency provides a fact sheet on sick building syndrome: Fact Sheet: Sick Building Syndrome, (G.62)
  • The Cleaning Products Fact Sheet, by the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board provides guidance regarding safer cleaning products: (G.47)
  • The National Cancer Institute’s Fact Sheet: Formaldehyde and Cancer Risk includes research on occupations that may be at risk for formaldehyde exposure and provides a list of organizations that might have more information or other help to offer. (G.63)

Sick Building Syndrome: Symptoms that may occur due to breathing air that contains too much formaldehyde may include sore throat, cough, scratchy eyes, and nosebleeds according to the fact sheet by the Centers for Disease Control. (G.57) So if everyone working in a building, or many workers or family members are all experiencing allergies or a slight cold that just doesn’t seem to want to go away – then bad air may be a problem. See the fact sheet on Sick Building Syndrome by the EPA for more information. (G.62)

Eczema: The eczema symptoms reported in medical research may occur with more chronic long-term exposure to formaldehyde and/or in individuals who also have more difficulties metabolically with detoxifiying formaldehyde – we don’t know all the answers. I have personally experienced skin rashes off and on all my life and was startled to develop it on my eyelids in my more recent past – and then was more startled, or more relieved to learn of the possible cause – formaldehyde exposure (G.55) and systemic allergic contact dermatitis, (G.52, G.53, G.54) Poor air quality was a problem at the time in part due to water heater mechanical problems, and also first and secondhand smoke were contaminants in my air supply – I cleaned up and changed habits somewhat and my eyelid rash got better – yeah science! To me that seems like an example of effective self care and effective use of evidence-based medical research even if I had to read it on my own.

Other health risks include cancer and neurological conditions: The link between cancer and formaldehyde may be less strong than for neurological disorders such as ALS in funeral home directors, (G.59), or autism in a child whose mother had prenatal exposure to formaldehyde, (G.56), however research has found some cancers associated with occupational exposure to formaldehyde. The National Cancer Institute also has a fact sheet on the topic of formaldehyde and it includes a convenient list of addresses and websites for organizations that might have more information for workers concerned about exposure risks such as OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration,. (G.64) See the National Cancer Institute’s Fact Sheet: Formaldehyde and Cancer Risk for more information and resources regarding formaldehyde and occupational safety: (G.63)

Houseplants can help offices as well as astronauts:

If you are looking for a hair salon that is likely to have less formaldehyde and other volatile toxins in the air then look for one with lots of healthy ferns and other tropical low light houseplants. (G.61) If you are a hair salon or other business owner interested in improving the air quality in your establishment with the help of ferns and other houseplants, then hire a staff member who knows and loves plants because they do require some consistent care that can vary quite a bit depending on the type of plant – or buy the book by the NASA research scientist and have an employee learn how to care for your indoor air-cleaning garden.

The scientist, B. C. Wolverton, organized what he learned to help astronauts in an easy to use plant guide that lists the species of plants which were found most effective at cleaning air. The book, How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants that Purify Your Home or Office, includes guidance for caring for each species and also lists them by the types of volatile chemicals that they were able to remove from the air. (G.66)

Large urban areas may have office plant services available where a greenhouse or florist shop supplies and maintains lovely office plants for a subscription or rental type of payment. An employee of the plant business has a route of subscribing businesses to visit each week in order to water, mist, and trim plants of any dead leaves, even a healthy plant will look sad if it is covered in a layer of dust and has a few dead leaves. Plants that are sick are simply returned to the greenhouse for care or recycling and the empty spot is filled with a replacement by the plant business employee.

Ambius is an example of an office-plant company with service locations available in many urban areas in both Canada and the United States. See the Ambius website for more information and service locations: Ambius.com.

Disclaimer

References:

Environmental toxins and neurodevelopmental disorders in children

A consensus statement has been released by the Project TENDR group regarding environmental toxins and the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in children which include ADHD, autism, and learning and other neurodevelopmental disabilities.  Read more: http://scienmag.com/scientists-physicians-and-advocates-agree-environmental-toxins-hurt-brain-development/

An excerpt lists the environmental toxins the group has identified as potentially  increasing children’s risk of developing ADHD, autism or other neurodevelopmental or learning disorders (the bold font was added by me):

The chemicals and pollutants highlighted in the consensus statement as contributing to children’s learning, intellectual and behavioral impairments are:

* Organophosphate (OP) pesticides

* Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) used as flame retardants

* Combustion-related air pollutants, which include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter

* Lead, with primary sources of water pipes and paint

* Mercury

* Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), industrial chemicals that were commonly used in electrical equipment and now pollute landfills and water

More information on each of these compounds and how families can protect themselves from them is on the Project TENDR website: http://projecttendr.com.

A comparison to  a checklist on one of my older post’s for toxins to avoid in the hopes of preventing autism included four of the groups: 2. PBDEs, 6. PCBs, 4. lead and 5. (methyl) mercury. And 3. formaldehyde is also a combustion-related air pollutant but I will need to add the other combustion-related air pollutants and 1. Organophophate pesticides.

Other risks for neurodevelopmental disorders developing in children may include:

A list of toxins to avoid can be useful for generating a list of foods and lifestyle choices that may be more beneficial or more of a risk for an expectant infant.  Note the phrases “May be,” “might help,” or “might harm” are suggestions rather than firm claims; there are no guarantees in life. Evidence based medicine likes to suggest that there is enough evidence to support a recommendation as being conclusive but the evidence typically does not provide guidance that is clearly 100% for or against something and generally is averaging results for a large group of people so the “average” patient may not even exist in real life. Results might have been clustered at extremes, with a group that was helped and a group that was harmed by the research substance. The average statistic would be from the middle of both groups and might suggest that all people will be helped that middle amount of a little bit rather than that half the people may be helped a lot and half the people may be harmed a lot. People vary in their body’s ability to detoxify and in their body’s supply of nutrients available for detoxifying or for growth and repair. Evidence based medicine frequently looks at the averages of all patients rather than looking at individual results.

Preventative health guidance can suggest that something may help or may be more harmful ,but on an individual basis a health suggestion can not be guaranteed to prevent ADHD or autism in every case, anymore than vaccinations can be guaranteed to be safe for every individual or to never have been associated with autism as an adverse reaction in a few individuals. Vaccinations have been associated with encephalitis as an adverse reaction that leads to autism like symptoms over time.

Rates that are increasing exponentially are likely to plateau or slow down at some point but do we really want to find out how much worse an exponential rate can get before trying to do something about it? Autism used to occur at a rate of about 4.5 children in 10,000 just a few decades ago (1966), in 1994 the rate was as high as 15-40 children per 10,000, and now it is somewhere closer to 1 child in 68 or 1 child in 45 depending on which study or group of children you’re looking at. In 2012 the rate was 1 child in 88.

Excerpt:

Clinicians can identify ASD in children as young as two years old, although children from ethnic minority groups are usually diagnosed at a later age than their Caucasian counterparts. ASD is commonly comorbid with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety disorders, intellectual disability, epilepsy and other genetic conditions like fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, neurofibromatosis, congenital rubella syndrome, Down syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, and Angelman syndrome. Until recently, there was little, if any, epidemiological research focusing on the prevalence of ASD in adults. In 2011, one study reported the prevalence of ASD in an adult sample to be 1%, with higher rates for men (1.8%) than women (0.2%) (Brugha T et al, Arch Gen Psych 2011;68:459–466).

Similarly, there are few studies evaluating outcomes and prognosis for adults with ASD. Given current prevalence rates, the population of adults with autism is expected to rise 625% by the year 2030, and the estimated lifetime cost per individual with autism, including caregiving costs and lost productivity, can reach up to $3.2 million (Ganz M, Arch Ped Adol Med 2007;161(4):343–354).

White male children seem to be the group most at risk for developing autism, currently, and Asian children may be the group least at risk (the iodine content in sea weed may be a protective dietary factor and rice may have less risk of having the pesticides that are suspected of being neurodevelopmental toxins than wheat or corn).

The 2010 U.S. census showed a total of 138,053,563 males (49.1% of total population) and 143,368,343 females (50.9% of 281,421,906 total population). http://www.infoplease.com/us/census/data/demographic.html

If approximately 1.8% of adult men have autism and 0.2% of women have autism that would mean approximately 2,484,964 men and 286,736 women may have autism (2,771,700 total) and which might cost up to  $8,869,440,000,000 dollars in lifetime caregiving costs and lost productivity (almost 9 trillion dollars) — and that estimate would just be for the 2010 total. The rate of autism occurrence has increased since 2010. If the rate increases 625% by 2030 then we may expect 17,323,125 adults to have autism at a cost up to $55,434,000,000,000 in caregiving and lost productivity costs (55 trillion dollars)(and approximately 90% would be males, 15,590,812, (with a 1.8% incidence rate) and 10% females, 1,732,312 (with an 0.2% incidence rate)).

Males are more at risk and white males in particular are at greater risk for developing autism. Female hormones may be helping protect the female infants brain development or a milder form with less behavior changes may not be being diagnosed based on the current diagnostic criteria. If we would like infants to have traditional health expectations in the future then it might be worth considering that the baby factories (pregnant women) are malfunctioning at increasing rates, (autism seems to be set up during the prenatal stage that flairs up in the child later in life), and with a personal cost of increasing rates of autoimmune disease (one in nine women of childbearing years are estimated to be diagnosed with some type of autoimmune disease – (see excerpt below). Glyphosate may be inhibiting the ability to activate vitamin D which is essential for the pregnancy and the baby’s development and the woman’s autoimmune risk. Taking Vitamin D supplements can be great but expected benefits might not be seen if the CYP enzymes necessary for activating the vitamin aren’t functional due to glyphosate.

Iodine, zinc, and folate and B12 deficiencies during pregnancy also seem to be involved in increased risk of autism developing in the child later in life. And vitamin D is involved in autoimmune disease risk. Vitamin D receptors work within the immune system and help the body to be less allergic to self or for the mother to be sensitized to the expected infant’s DNA. Low vitamin D in the mother could be increasing her risk for autoimmune disease later in life (microchimerism – a few cells with infant’s DNA in the mother or cells with maternal DNA in the infant may be involved in autoimmune antibodies developing) and increasing the infant’s risk for developing autism later in life. Just giving more vitamin D might not be helping as expected if the herbicide glyphosate is inhibiting the enzymes necessary for activation of the vitamin.

Depending on which diseases are called autoimmune disease, minimally 23.5 million people in the U.S. have some type of autoimmune disease. Excerpt:

Or slice these statistics another way: while one in 69 women below the age of fifty will be diagnosed with breast cancer, according to estimates, as many as one in nine women of childbearing years will be diagnosed with an autoimmune illness, which strike three times as many women as men — and most often strike patients in their prime. According to the National Institutes of Health, autoimmune disease affects far more patients than the 9 million Americans who have cancer and the 16 million with coronary disease.

Rates of type 1 diabetes are perhaps the most telling. Data over the past forty years show that type 1 diabetes, a disease in which immune cells attack the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, has increased fivefold. The story regarding childhood-onset type 1 diabetes is more disturbing. Studies show that the number of children with type 1 diabetes is skyrocketing, with rates increasing 6 percent a year in children four and under and 4 percent in children aged 10 to 14.

Type 1 diabetes researchers insist that today’s rapid rise in this disease cannot be explained by either better diagnostics or by more people suddenly becoming genetically susceptible to type 1 diabetes; rather, a change in environmental factors is the “more plausible explanation.”

The average patient with autoimmune disease sees six doctors before attaining a correct diagnosis. Recent surveys conducted by the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association reveal that 45 percent of patients with autoimmune diseases have been labeled hypochondriacs in the earliest stages of their illnesses. Some of this, no doubt, has to do with the fact that 75 percent to 80 percent of autoimmune disease sufferers are women, who are more easily dismissed by the medical establishment when hard-to-diagnose symptoms arise. In half of all cases, women with autoimmune disease are told there is nothing wrong with them for an average of five years before receiving diagnosis and treatment. Patients — most especially women — are often left feeling both confused and marginalized, or worse, labeled as psychosomatic malingerers.

http://www.alternet.org/story/80129/the_autoimmune_epidemic%3A_bodies_gone_haywire_in_a_world_out_of_balance

Also from that article: the rates of autoimmune disease have been increasing in many industrialized countries, not just the U.S.. And autoimmune disease seems to be more associated with living in urban areas than rural ones. Rates of Type 1 diabetes in children under four years old  has increased six percent and four percent for older children — that is just not right, not traditional, and not fair to our children or their future world. They will have to take insulin shots for the rest of their  (potentially shorter than expected) lives.

If glyphosate inhibits CYP enzymes then it may be affecting the pancreas as CYP enzymes play a role in detoxifying toxins within the pancreas. Chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer may be associated with malfunction of CYP enzymes in the pancreas.  http://www.flandershealth.us/chronic-pancreatitis/the-role-of-enzymes-in-pancreatic-diseases.html

Inhibition of the CYP enzymes might not be involved though, another reference suggests the CYP enzymes in the pancreas of patients with chronic pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer are elevated — but maybe the levels are elevated because the enzymes are not functioning as normal and the body may be making extra to try to compensate for the malfunction – we don’t know what we don’t know until we learn it or admit that we already learned it a long time ago but have been in denial.  https://books.google.com/books?id=J38lUlOxgoEC&pg=PA143&lpg=PA143&dq=CYP+enzymes+role+in+the+pancreas&source=bl&ots=EMkv-013SF&sig=ONq1DMQh6NaVs3uZc77Ay9cKHL0&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjsqZ6G1NzNAhXE2R4KHaWLBAAQ6AEIJTAB#v=onepage&q=CYP%20enzymes%20role%20in%20the%20pancreas&f=false


/Disclosure: This information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./

Autism, formaldehyde, folate, and vitamin D; a theory

Autism can leave a child unable to take care of themselves independently for the rest of their lives. At a rate of 1 child in 45, there were 3,932,181 births in the USA in 2013, so roughly that would suggest that 87,381 of those children will go on to develop some symptoms of autism or pre-primary developmental delay — and that possibly 87,381 parents will no longer be able to work at their normal jobs because they will be needed as full time caregivers for their child with autism, possibly for the rest of their lives. so if that rate held steady for the decade then in ten years there could be 1,747,620 children with autism and parents who may not be able to work at a normal job. When will it be enough children and parents to do something about?

I closed with the following paragraph but I’m going to paste it here too, as the best of the good news:

A method has been developed using samples of umbilical cord blood to identify which infants are likely to develop autism later in childhood. The method checks fifteen “biomarkers,’ — (various lab values or other physical signs, I haven’t read the full article yet, need to buy it) — infants whose values were more elevated or reduced compared to normal in a certain pattern were found to be predictive of which infants went on to develop autism. [] This is early research but it would help identify which infants were at risk for autistic changes in a year or two, but at birth instead of having to wait — and worry — for a year or two.

I have some good news and some bad news. It looks plausible that autism could be caused prenatally by a combination of low vitamin D (or possibly a vitamin D system that is blocked by pathogens), and low folate availability (possibly due to a genetic methylation defect, [4], defects that may make the supplemental form, folic acid, not as helpful prenatally and possibly even harmful because the folic acid may inhibit the activity of whatever folate is available, [29] ), and increased formaldehyde either from dietary sources like Nutrasweet or from smoking or living in small enclosed rooms with poor ventilation. Other toxins might also be involved that add to an increased risk for there to be production of autoimmune antibodies in the vitamin D deficient mother and fetus. Malfunction in the vitamin D receptor immune functions could lead to malfunctions in the dendritic cell’s ability to inhibit autoimmune overactivity in the immune system. Autoimmune antibodies might cause problems during fetal brain development or later in the child’s life.

Low vitamin D in infants has been associated with autism – but not for all siblings with low vitamin D — so other factors must be involved. And not taking a prenatal vitamin during the three months prior to pregnancy and the first month of pregnancy has been associated with more risk for having a child with autism and certain genetic defects in the methylation cycle that helps make the B vitamin folate more bioactive have been associated with autism risk [4] – but not every mother who doesn’t take prenatal vitamins during the months prior to becoming pregnant has a child with autism — so other factors must be involved.

Not much information is available about Nutrasweet but during digestion the methanol portion of the larger molecule is released which then is broken down into formaldehyde – which is a known cause of birth defects and a known neurotoxin.

Formaldehyde is produced when something is burned so it could be a concern for any people who are around cigarette smoke or inhale other types of smoke regularly. Formaldehyde can also collect in the air in small enclosed spaces, and increased warmth may also increase volatility of the gas so warmer areas or overheated apartments may allow for more accumulation of the gas in poorly ventilated rooms.

Formaldehyde is also found in prepackaged juice products, particularly in older packages, as formaldehyde is produced as the fruit or vegetable juice ages. Formaldehyde is also produced during digestion from the methanol portion of the alternative sweetener Nutrasweet. Studies on the potential risk of the formaldehyde content that might be available to adults from dietary Nutrasweet found that it was a less significant risk than the amount an adult might receive as a cigarette smoker or from environmental exposures. However an adult has a fully mature liver while a fetus does not. Babies and children also have less mature livers and may be more at risk of having chemicals accumulate to toxic levels because they are not being broken down and excreted quickly enough. (Folate, a B vitamin, is necessary to break down formaldehyde, more on that later.)

Formaldehyde can cross the placenta to the fetus where it accumulates to a larger concentration than within the mother’s bloodstream. The fetal liver tissue is less able to detoxify formaldehyde than the mother’s.

Industrial exposure to formaldehyde is associated with an increased risk of the presence of cancer causing human alpha fetoprotein antigens. Occupational exposure to formaldehyde has also been associated with increased levels of alpha fetoprotein in adult male and female subjects. The study subjects with occupational exposure to formaldehyde were also found to have significantly reduced levels of Total Protein, Albumin, and White blood cell count. Subjects with workplace exposure to formaldehyde reported allergic type symptoms including: “sneezing/airways-related symptoms, itching and watery eyes.” [3] Formaldehyde exposure may also be a cause of systemic allergic contact dermatitis, [15, 16] possibly even on the eyelids. {13] A diet designed to avoid formaldehyde intake may be helpful for alleviating the eczema like rash. [14]

Levels of alpha fetoprotein are normally only elevated in pregnant women and the expected infant.

Levels of maternal serum alpha fetoprotein are already being checked regularly as a prenatal screening test because low levels are associated with having a baby with the genetic condition Down’s Syndrome. Levels of maternal serum alpha fetoprotein have been found to be more elevated for the mothers of children with autism than in mothers whose child did not have autism. [1] Alpha fetoprotein (AFP) has immunomodulatory effects and a recombinant human alpha fetoprotein (rhAFP) version has been found to help alleviate autoimmune symptoms in clinical trials that used mice with “experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), the animal model used for the study of MS.” [2] Alpha fetoprotein is normally produced by the fetus and it does cross into the fetal brain where it seems to be involved with controlling estrogen and helping baby girls to be more feminine and less masculine.

/Speculation: So if alpha fetoprotein antigens are involved in causing autism maybe boys are more at risk for the condition because the estrogen connection somehow is protecting baby girls from developing the antigens. However if the basic problem is a malfunctioning dendritic cell system which is making it more difficult for the mother’s body and fetus’ body to accept the presence of each other’s foreign DNA then other proteins might also have antigen/autoimmune antibodies develop. Male infants may simply be more susceptible to autism because their Y chromosome is more foreign to the mother’s body than a female infant’s X chromosomes. / — Someone already figured this part out and explains it better than me, in a Medical Hypotheses journal – if you have the money for the journal article ($31.50, now added to my shopping list). An excerpt from the Abstract: “Prenatal/maternal factors linked to increased autism risk include valproic acid, thalidomide, alcohol, rubella, cytomegalovirus, depression, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, autoimmune disease, stress, allergic reaction, and hypothyroidism. It will be shown how each of these risk factors may initiate expression of genes which are sensitive to retinoic acid and/or estradiol – whether by direct promotion or by reducing production of alpha-fetoprotein. It is thus hypothesized here that autism is not a genetic disorder, but is rather an epigenetic disruption in brain development caused by gestational exposure to chemicals and/or conditions which either inhibit alpha-fetoprotein production or directly promote retinoic acid-sensitive or estradiol-sensitive gene expression. This causation model leads to potential chemical explanations for autistic brain morphology, the distinct symptomology of Asperger’s syndrome, and the differences between high-functioning and low-functioning autism with regard to mental retardation, physical malformation, and sex ratio.” – CR King [29]

So speculatively,

  • if formaldehyde can make it more likely for someone to make alpha fetoprotein antigens,
  • and maternal serum alpha fetoprotein levels are more elevated in the mother’s of children with autism,
  • and low vitamin D is more common in babies who have autism,
  • and vitamin D helps the dendritic cells of the mother and infant accept each other’s foreign DNA instead of making autoimmune antibodies against each other’s foreign proteins,
  • then low vitamin D might leave the dendritic cells unable to prevent autoimmune antibodies from developing
  • which then may cause changes in the developing fetal brain and may leave the child with autoimmune antibodies that may continue to cause changes in the child’s developing brain later in life.
  • The formaldehyde could be from Nutrasweet and bottled juice products and/or from cigarette smoke or other environmental sources or the combined total of all of the sources. The timing of the introduction of aspartame/Nutrasweet to the U.S. food supply in 1981 and the increase in rate of children with autism is very closely correlated. [5] Nutrasweet and Neotame were both inventions of the Monsanto Company and limited research about them is available. Neotame was invented as the patent for Nutrasweet was expiring and Monsanto was able to get FDA approval for it by 2002. The patent for Neotame was sold to a private equity firm, the J.W. Childs Equity Partners II. L.P.. [https://theredpillguide.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/the-red-pill-guide-neotame/]

So in summary the good news is autism may be preventable – but the bad news is that it will be difficult to prove and preventative education and treatment will likely need to be individualized as so many factors are involved.

A summary of the factors that may interact during the prenatal and/or perinatal  (three months prior to conception) time period in a way that may lead to the development of autism within the fetal brain.

Possible Vitamin D Issues – it might not just be a lack of vitamin D or sunshine:

  • Simple vitamin D deficiency
  • An underlying genetic defect in the Vitamin D Binding Protein causes a tendency to become vitamin D deficient more easily than normal. [10, 11, 12] (Might a simple protein deficiency then also add a risk to a simple deficiency of all important proteins?)
  • An underlying infection is present with a pathogen that is suppressing the vitamin D receptor system.

Possible Folate Issues:

  • Simple folate/folic acid deficiency/lack of prenatal vitamin during the perinatal time period. [4]
  • Genetic defect in mother affecting the methylation cycle makes her more susceptible for folate deficiency. [4]
  • Genetic defect in the fetus affecting the methylation cycle makes it more at risk for autism. [4]
  • A methylated form of the vitamin may be more effective for reducing risk of developing autism. The natural food form, folate, is more bioactive than the supplemental form, folic acid, that is used in prenatal vitamins. [29]

Formaldehyde might be accumulating from several sources [3, 5]:

  • Aseptically packaged juices
  • Nutrasweet
  • Neotame
  • Smoking
  • Badly ventilated air.
  • Workplace exposure

Other, other factors that may be involved in development of autism may include a variety of chemicals known to be toxic for brain development and which may be common in our modern environment. From the Abstract of a review article by Dr. Philippe Grandjean, MD and Philip J. Landrigan, MD, Neurobehavioural effects of developmental toxicity., (The Lancet Neurology, 2014):  “In 2006, we did a systematic review and identified five industrial chemicals as developmental neurotoxicants: lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic, and toluene. Since 2006, epidemiological studies have documented six additional developmental neurotoxicants—manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene, and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers. We postulate that even more neurotoxicants remain undiscovered. To control the pandemic of developmental neurotoxicity, we propose a global prevention strategy.” [30]

To help prevent autism from occurring prenatally we may also need to work together and we may need to work together as individuals rather than waiting for the government or a medical corporation to look further into a problem that might leave them at some risk of legal repercussions. Historically there have been several examples of government and corporate interests blocking the lawsuits of factory workers or townspeople whose health was damaged by industrial chemicals by showing expert testimony demonstrating that the supposedly ‘harmful’ toxin really had some beneficial use and was really a safe and helpful ‘treatment.’

Part of the bad news that didn’t make it into the earlier discussion of the digestion of menthol and formaldehyde is that humans have a genetic defect that makes menthol extremely more toxic to us than to all other animals — so lab research would demonstrate that menthol isn’t really that bad after all –(to lab animals, that is, but let’s keep that part a secret between corporate research scientist’s and their consciences). So in a global corporate NAFTA/TPP type world where a corporation can sue nations over lost profits, feasibly corporate research scientists and lawyers could force nations to either accept the products made with aspartame and Neotame whether it is a risk to their citizen’s health or not, or else pay the corporation for their estimated lost profits.

Aspartame and Neotame are so much sweeter than sugar that they are simply cheaper to use in food products than sugar, and since its introduction in 2002 Neotame has never even had to be listed with the ingredients, so sweet, delicious, calorie free and guilt free, no alternative sweetener was used in that product according to the label. Aspartame is the number one food additive for consumer complaints to the FDA about adverse side effects. With Neotame not ever being listed on the food label consumers have no idea if they consumed it or not even if they do have an adverse effect and we have no idea if the FDA would have received consumer complaints about the food additive because it was never required to be added to the ingredient label. People who avoid aspartame due to it causing migraines can’t look for Neotame on the ingredient list.

Avoiding all processed foods and all restaurant meals seems like a lot to ask of pregnant women but that might be necessary in order to avoid Neotame. And with Neotame as a possible source of formaldehyde for the developing fetus then as a prenatal nutrition counselor that would be the most cautious advice given the research that is already known about menthol and formaldehyde’s risks to fetal development. Avoiding all toxins and reducing stress and risk of infection would be the ideal goal for all pregnant women.

Working towards removing aspartame/Nutrasweet and Neotame from the food supply may be an impossible goal given the deep pockets of corporations but trying to get Neotame added to the ingredient list seems like a necessary compromise or first step if we are really going to be able to help prenatal and perinatal women avoid all sources of formaldehyde in the hopes of helping prevent autism from developing in the child later in life.

*This got long and complicated and there’s more: Other, other factors include undiagnosed hypothyroidism and undiagnosed iodine deficiency and BPA/pthalate exposure. Each individual mother/child with autism may have a slightly different combination of genetic and nutritional susceptibilities and load of various environmental toxins and maybe even folic acid (supposedly helping prevent spina bifida but may be adding to autism risk for the babies of moms who have certain genetic defects in the methylation cycle).

So this is a preliminary draft of a preventative health education strategy for trying to prevent autism. A longevity study that started with women at least three months prior to conception and followed them and their children for years would be able to try a multi-factored prevention plan and wait and see if fewer of the children developed autism than compared to the rate of children developing autism in the average population. [rate at 1 in 45 births, Nov. 2015, CDC, http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2015/11/13/cdc-child-autism-rate-now-1-in-45-after-survey-method-changes] Imprecise diagnostic criteria makes it easier for insurance companies to deny coverage.

A method has been developed using samples of umbilical cord blood to identify which infants are likely to develop autism later in childhood. The method checks fifteen “biomarkers,’ — various lab values — infants whose values were more elevated or reduced compared to normal in a certain pattern were found to be predictive of which infants went on to develop autism. [] This is early research but it would help identify which infants were at risk for autistic changes in a year or two, but at birth instead of having to wait — and worry — for a year or two.

/Disclosure: This information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./

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