What causes a child to be sick?
Take asthma for example. We know it’s at least partially genetic as it seems to run in families, but what other factors might be involved?
A recent study entitled “Traffic and Childhood Asthma” from the University of Southern California, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Environmental Protection Agency might provide some answers, as well as shed light on the complex interplay of factors involved in other disorders.
According to the study’s lead author, Muhammad T. Salam, a Ph.D. candidate at the USC Keck School of Medicine, the researchers found that those children when lived within 75 meters of a major road and carried variations in two glutathione S-transferase P1 (GSTP1) genes were more than nine times likely to develop asthma than those who lived farther away. Previous research has shown that traffic-related pollution near the home increases the risk of asthma.
Salam claims that, “This is one of the first studies to report that children with certain genetic backgrounds are even more susceptible to asthma than if they did not live near major roads and did not carry the variations.” The report even appeared to impress the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health, David A. Schwartz, M.D., who said of the study, “This finding demonstrates the critical role of gene environment interaction in determining disease susceptibility.”
A genetic variation combined with an environmental exposure appears to trigger the disease process of asthma, in at least some people. No reasonable person would claim that automobile exhausts are healthy, but like mercury, the question is at what level it is harmful. It appears the answer to that question might be in your genes.
Curiously, the GSTP 1 gene has also been implicated in autism.
In the April 2007 issue of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine is the article “Risk of Autistic Disorder in Affected Offspring with a Glutathione S-Transferase P1 Haplotype” which found a high percentage of the mothers of autistic children had the genetic variation. According to Dr. Michael Syvanen from the University of California Davis Medical School, glutathione appears to aid organisms to “detoxify certain chemically active agents that can be toxic” and specifically, organophosphates.
An article in the July 30, 2007 edition of the Los Angeles Times entitled “Pesticide Link to Autism Suspected” reported some preliminary findings which seemed to greatly disturb public health officials. The story detailed exploratory research from the California Department of Public Health in which 300,000 children born in the Central Valley were cross-referenced with state records detailing the location of fields sprayed with different pesticides. Looking at a group of 29 children whose mothers lived within 500 meters of fields sprayed with organochlorine pesticides while they were pregnant, they found that 8 of the subsequently born children or 28% had autism. Italian scientists had reported in 2005 that their research showed that such pesticides could cause the neurological changes which lead to autism.
Could those children have a GSTP 1 genetic variation? Would they have autism if they hadn’t lived so close to those fields? Would a GSTP 1 variation also mean that those children wouldn’t able to detoxify mercury as effectively as other children?
It seems to me that you need to look at two issues: the genes and the environmental exposure of these children. Logically, either one should give you an association.
In a study commissioned by Generation Rescue representing a total of 17,000 children it was found that vaccinated boys stood a 155% greater chance of having a neurological disorder like autism of ADHD than unvaccinated boys. Another finding was that the vaccinated boys and girls had a 120% higher risk of asthma than their unvaccinated brethren.
I’ll bet that if a genetic study was done of those children, looking for those with variations of GSTP 1 and some of the other genes suspected in autism, we’d find an even higher association. We’d know who was at risk.
But until that time, maybe it’s a good idea to live some distance away from a major roadway, avoid being sprayed by an organochlorine pesticide, and not give your child a mercury-containing vaccine including the flu shot.
Kent Heckenlively has worked as an attorney, television producer, and is now a beloved science teacher.