Autism and Climate Change

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

I know what you’re all thinking, she’s lost it- what on earth has autism got to do with climate change?!

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Well, nothing really, but what I’m referring to is the impact of the recent Lancet report about the need to change our eating habits to stave off climate change and it’s potential impacts for the autistic community. If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard about the report you can check out the paper here:

https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0140673618331799

or alternatively here’s a handy little summary news report:

https://www.irishtimes.com/business/agribusiness-and-food/meat-consumption-must-drop-by-90-to-avert-climate-crisis-report-warns-1.3760363

The bottom line of the report- we need to reduce our meat consumption by 90% and significantly increase our consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans to achieve our daily recommended caloric intake (18 times as much dry beans, soy and nuts in fact! 😲)

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As a scientist, I’m all for finding ways to reverse the impact of climate change,  however, I have found this report quite infuriating!

I haven’t really talked about food too much as an issue on this blog (mainly because it’s a subject that’s going to take some time to write about!), but food issues are perhaps my biggest struggle. Troubles with textures, tastes, smells- it can be a nightmare sometimes; but if the Lancet report is to be taken seriously, my nightmare has only just begun!

I’m a real meat lover, and vegetables for me mainly consists of baked beans and the old Irish favourite potatoes (some stereotypes are based in fact after all! 😛 😉 ). If this report is to be seriously considered, this would restrict my daily intake of chicken (my staple) to 29g or the equivalent of one and a half chicken nuggets. Worse still for my beloved potato the Lancet recommends 50g or 39 calories of potatoes per day- roughly a quarter of a medium-sized potato!

So basically if we start to crack down on these foodstuffs, I’ll be living on fresh air and sugar- I’ll have a killer figure for sure, albeit with a side of diabetes 😛

What I am most concerned about is the larger autistic community. My food issues are mild in comparison to other autists-what about the poor struggling parents who’s child will only eat the same meal day in day out, or will only eat McDonalds or foods of a particular colour? Has no one stopped to consider the struggles that these recommendations will bring?

Don’t even get me started on the implications for those with food and nut allergies, of which a high percentage of the autistic community suffer from!

The agricultural industry in Europe is responsible for a mere 10% of our carbon footprint whereas our energy consumption stands over a whopping 80%! Why must our food habits change when our energy consumption is so staggeringly high?

It beggars belief that the medical community would think that such a radical overhaul of our eating habits is our best option in the fight against climate change.

What we really need are cleaner fuel alternatives, better range of and services for hybrid cars, and better public transport systems for rural communities (a huge issue here in Ireland- if you don’t have a car, rural life is extremely isolating. Where I live one would have to walk for 45 minutes to get a bus to the nearest town!) to cut down our carbon footprint. Or if someone could invent apparition from Harry Potter that would also work pretty nicely too 😛 😉

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 🙂

Have a wonderful weekend!

Aoife

Vaccines and Autism

Greeting’s Earthlings! 🙂

Yep…I’m going there today- the autism vaccine controversy.

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This issue has been thoroughly debated by scientists in recent years, so I’m going to discuss this once, and once alone.

In 1998, the now completely discredited scientist Andrew Wakefield published this paper in The Lancet:

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Notice the word ‘RETRACTED’ in bold red letters.

In this paper, Wakefield suggested that the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is linked to inflammatory bowel disease and autism.

This is what I like to call:

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Subsequent to the publication of this paper, serious conflicts of interest and falsified data were discovered. This led to the paper’s ultimate retraction and Wakefield was struck off the medical register in the UK. Countless studies have endeavored to replicate the results of Wakefield’s work, but none have succeeded, proving that there is no medical link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

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Here are the real facts about the case:

Wakefield’s work had multiple conflicts of interest:

  • When the paper was first submitted for publishing, he failed to disclose that he was in receipt of funds (~ÂŁ435,000 or $674,000) from lawyers acting on the behalf of parents that believed the MMR vaccine was harmful!
  • During the course of his investigation, Wakefield filed a patent for a new measles vaccine, standing to gain financially from the downfall of the currently available vaccine
  • Patients were recruited to the study through anti-MMR campaigners

Several ethical codes were broken by Wakefield when conducting his research:

  • Wakefield unethically collected blood samples from children at his son’s birthday party (reportedly for ÂŁ5 a pop)
  • Patients were subjected to unnecessary invasive procedures such as lumbar punctures and colonoscopies without prior ethical approval
  • The company that Wakefield sought to establish following the paper’s publication was to be headed by the father of one of the patients included in his study
  • Wakefield further tested out his new measles vaccine on a child without recording it in his medical notes or discussing it with the child’s GP
  • Most serious of all- Wakefield falsified and manipulated his findings!! It was discovered that Wakefield had either misrepresented or altered medical histories in ALL cases described in the study!

Aside from evidence tampering, the design of the study was quite poor. Wakefield’s research examined a very small patient cohort (only 12 children) using case reports- one of the weakest forms of medical research. Large scale studies examining hundreds of thousands of cases have not established a link between the vaccine and autism.

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Of the 12 children examined in the study, 5 showed signs of developmental delay prior to receiving the MMR vaccine, and a further 3 patients did not in fact have autism.

But what of other research in this area?

Studies which are often cited in the MMR controversy suggest a link between thimerosal, (a mercury containing compound), in vaccines and autism- a link which has been largely refuted. Additionally, thimerosal has been removed from or reduced to trace amounts in currently available vaccines- but autism rates still continue to rise.

Studies have also been conducted to explore the impact of the anti-vax movement on autism rates. These studies compare autism rates in those who did and those who did not receive the MMR vaccine. The result- no difference in autism rates between both groups!! 

Furthermore, following the publication of his paper, Wakefield proposed that 3 separate vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella was a safer alternative to the combined vaccine.

But did he have a point?

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Nope- in countries where the practice of giving 3 separate vaccines at 3 separate stages was adopted, autism rates continued to rise regardless.

So there we have the facts about the MMR vaccine controversy. If you’re still a little bit skeptical, I’ll leave you with one final thought:

Wakefield has repeatedly refused to deny or replicate the findings of his study. If there was nothing to hide, then why not prove his claims?

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Aoife

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