Do Toxins Cause Autism?

It took a few thousand years for us to realize the severity of lead poisoning, although the signs were certainly there: “crazy as a painter” was a catch phrase rooted in the demented behavior of lead-poisoned painters in antiquity. Mad as a hatter? Before the use of mercury was banned in the 1940s, hat makers used it in their craft–which left many of them drooling, twitching, lurching, befuddled and mumbling. Seems to me that when a segment of the population is suffering from a mysterious condition, it would be prudent to examine the possibility of environmental toxins as the culprit.

Lead, mercury, asbestos–can phthalates be next? Phthalates, called “plasticizers,” are a group of industrial chemicals used to make plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) more flexible or resilient and also as solvents. Phthalates, as described by the EWG are nearly ubiquitous in modern society, found in, among other things, toys, food packaging, hoses, raincoats, shower curtains, vinyl flooring, wall coverings, lubricants, adhesives, detergents, nail polish, hair spray and shampoo.

According to a recent story in The New York Times, concern about toxins in our products and the environment used to be a fringe view, but now concern has moved into the medical mainstream. Toxicologists, endocrinologists and oncologists seem to be the most alarmed. One area of particular concern? The relationship between toxins and autism.

Autism was first identified in 1943–recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control now claim that autism disorders affect almost 1 percent of children, and suspicions are increasing that the cause may be environmental toxins. An article in a forthcoming issue of a peer-reviewed medical journal, Current Opinion in Pediatrics says that “historically important, proof-of-concept studies that specifically link autism to environmental exposures experienced prenatally.” It adds that the probability of many chemicals “have potential to cause injury to the developing brain and to produce neurodevelopmental disorders.”

The author of the study, Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, professor of pediatrics at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and chairman of the school’s department of preventive medicine, told the Times reporter that he is increasingly confident that autism and other ailments are, in part, the result of the impact of environmental chemicals on the brain as it is being formed.

In the meantime, a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives also suggested the risks. Researchers measured the levels of phthalates in the urine of pregnant women. Among women with higher levels of certain phthalates (those commonly found in fragrances, shampoos, cosmetics and nail polishes), their children were more likely to display disruptive behavior.

As quoted in the Times story, “there are diseases that are increasing in the population that we have no known cause for,” said Alan M. Goldberg, a professor of toxicology at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. “Breast cancer, prostate cancer, autism are three examples. The potential is for these diseases to be on the rise because of chemicals in the environment.”

For now nobody has a clear answer about the cause of autism, but until more is known I recommend that we rely on the precautionary principle and  do our best to avoid phthalates and other toxins that find their way into our lives through plastics and personal care products. At the very worst, it can’t hurt–at best, declining numbers in cancer and autism. What are your thoughts on this? Do you have personal experience with someone with autism? Please share.

Related Stories:
Top 15 Dangerous Ingredients in Skincare
5 Guidelines for Keeping Plastics Out of Your Kids
Easy Greening Hair Conditioners


LMj Sunshine

Thank you for article.

LMj Sunshine

Thank you for article.

LMj Sunshine

Thank you for article.

Chris C.
Chris C.5 years ago

There is a database of autism risk factors , including toxins at

John S.
John S.6 years ago

Toxins from the environment are important causes of autism, but there also toxins that are made in the body. Once the many genetic, epigenetic and environmental causes of autism have affected a child, the digestion is compromised. When digestion is hampered in any way, Candida and other pathogens set in. Eating sugar, starch and grease, allows the Candida etc. to flourish and produce toxins that add to the toxicity that disrupts metabolism and nervous function. Here is a diet that I worked out for myself over a period of more than 35 years of testing one food at a time. Many years ago I had to eliminate carbohydrate foods because of indigestion and muscle cramps etc. Six years ago, I had to eliminate most Iron containing foods because I was diagnosed with hemochromatosis, a genetic disease that causes Iron toxicity. This diet is not for everyone, is just an example of what it takes to straighten out a food-sensitive person's diet:
Sample of a Limited Diet for Someone Who
Cannot Digest Many Foods
Strategy: to eat the greatest variety possible, which will contribute the largest amount of macro-nutrients, minerals and vitamins possible, yet does not contain foods that will interfere with digestion in any way. It limits variety, but for a person who reacts badly to many foods, dealing with a lack of variety is better than dealing with rashes, pimples, heartburn, spasms, joint aches etc. etc.
For many years before diagnosis at age fifty-four, avoiding all sugar and

Curah B.
Curah B.6 years ago

Since my son's diagnosis of autism 4 years ago we have taken steps to detoxify our home. I encourage everyone to do your best to reduce risk ... assess daily exposure: personal care & cleaning products, food toxins. And NEVER believe INDUSTRY studies ... and frankly I don't even believe the FDA because they are so pervasively influenced by big industry! Eliminate High Fructose Corn Syrup from your diet. They are discovering "minimal" levels of mercury in HFCS caused by the chemical manufacturing process. They claim it is harmless amounts ... but when you start realizing HOW MANY products now include HFCS ... the daily doses we are getting are crazy dangerous. (plus HFCS also feeds and multiplies cancer cells at a MUCH faster rate than regular sugars.) Just like the claims that the parabens, SLS, dioxin, PEG, MEA, DMDM, and all the other chemical cocktails and acronyms in our personal care products are allegedly minimal and harmless ... unless you use 5-10 products EVERY DAY. Their claims are based on studies of INDIVIDUAL products, and do not take into account multiple exposures/products and their cumulative effects. Oh and by the way ... some of the WORST chemicals are in childrens' products. PS: Still recommend vacs but to hell w/ the accelerated schd. Spread them out!! We freq got 7-8 shots at once as a baby (DPT MMR=6) Examine state school requirements - some shots should have waited til he was 4 ... now he's due an EXTRA dose bcs 4 doses were given b4 age

Lynn C.
Lynn C6 years ago

I totally agree with the premise of this article! Really, how can toxins be healthy and I suspect many of the 'illnesses' of our modern world can be laid at the door of the chemical companies, as well as our own willingness to put them on our lawns, and gardens, in our houses, in the air we breath and believe that the quick fix for a problem will be worth risking long-term health and welfare of our families.

Claire Sayers
Claire Sayers6 years ago

I think toxins do cause autism. We bring so many chemical-laden products and food into our homes and bodies and pump so many pollutants into our atmosphere that of course they're causing problems. And it doesn't have to be autism that is increasing more and more and more. Asthma and ADD/ADHD are skyrocketing as well--and all of them only came on in epidemic proportions after the chemicals and pollution started piling on too.

Melissah Chadwick
Melissah C6 years ago


Jasen Anderson
Jasen Anderson7 years ago

If thermisol caused autism, then literally millions upon millions of children would be autistic by simple causative statistic probability. They are not however, only a few are and it is very rare at that. No more proof needed. The underlying cause MUST therefore be different. This is an extract from a recent paper from a Dansih research group far removed from the previously mentioned accused US fraudster linked to this field:

Association Between Thimerosal-Containing Vaccine and Autism
Anders Hviid, MSc; Michael Stellfeld, MD; Jan Wohlfahrt, MSc; Mads Melbye, MD, PhD

"During 2 986 654 person-years, we identified 440 autism cases and 787 cases of other autistic-spectrum disorders. The risk of autism and other autistic-spectrum disorders did not differ significantly between children vaccinated with thimerosal-containing vaccine and children vaccinated with thimerosal-free vaccine (RR, 0.85 [95% confidence interval {CI}, 0.60-1.20] for autism; RR, 1.12 [95% CI, 0.88-1.43] for other autistic-spectrum disorders). Furthermore, we found no evidence of a dose-response association (increase in RR per 25 µg of ethylmercury, 0.98 [95% CI, 0.90-1.06] for autism and 1.03 [95% CI, 0.98-1.09] for other autistic-spectrum disorders)."

and this one among others explains the recent increases in autism diagnosis which is has been a hot topic at some of our conferences in Australia:

Vaccines and the changing epidemiology of autism
B. Taylor