The debate on whether autism is caused by genes or the environment has raged ever since I became involved in this field more than ten years ago. Medicine has always favored the genetic theory and hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into identifying the gene or genes that cause it, with few if any conclusive results to date.
Some – like me – were skeptics all along and argued that you can’t have an epidemic of a genetic disease. Parents have been divided, some hoping that finding a genetic cause could lead to a cure, while others who had seen their children deteriorate after a battery of vaccines or some other event argued that the cause was man-made or environmental.
In reality, the genetic theory of autism was poorly supported from the outset. There were just two very small studies on twins from Europe backing it, but both studies involved too few children to reach conclusive evidence.
In fact, if a study is based on a sample that is too small, almost anything can happen and it generally does not correlate with the population at large. An example of this is tossing a coin only three times. It would not be so unusual for heads to come up every time but we would be hard-pressed to conclude that heads will always come up regardless of how many times a coin is tossed.
Still, studies of twins provide the ultimate proof of genetic causation. If a certain illness occurs predictably among identical twins but not so among fraternal twins, then it is concluded that genes and not environment are the cause. The reason is that only identical twins share the same genes, whereas both identical and fraternal twins share the same environment from the time of conception.
Finally a large twin study, performed to rigorous standards, was released last month. It is known by the acronym CATS, for California Autism Twin Study. It dealt a devastating blow to the genetic theory, actually showing that autism occurred at similar rates whether twins were fraternal or identical. In plain English, genes have very little if anything to do with it. Unfortunately this study is unlikely to put a stop to the faith that medicine has placed in a genetic cause and to the millions of dollars poured into this line of research.
In my opinion, research money would be far better spent in refining the dietary, vitamin, and other natural treatments that are the only ones to have shown promise to date. It is shocking that, in spite of the vast improvements seen with low-pressure hyperbaric oxygen, no significant studies have been done to validate this natural and safe treatment and insurance companies continue to consider it “unproven” and reject claims made for it.
To read more about the CATS study and its implications go to: http://www.ageofautism.com/2011/07/new-autism-twin-study-demolishes-decades-long-belief-in-genetic-causation.html.