Sorry Dr. Oz and Jenny McCarthy: More scientific proof vaccines, GMOs don’t cause autism

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Autism is a term that strikes fear in the hearts of parents and fuels contentious arguments among friends, families, and internet strangers.

Though the 1998 Andrew Wakefield study linking the MMR vaccine to autism has been thoroughly debunked, parents continue to fear childhood vaccines to this day. This is partially due to celebrity quacks like Jenny McCarthy, Rob Schneider, Mayim Bialik, and sadly even Dr. Oz perpetuating the myth that vaccines are harmful.

Not only has Dr. Oz recently added his fuel to the anti-vaccine fire, but he’s planted the seed of GMO-autism misinformation into the collective American consciousness. He recently featured Zen Honeycutt of anti-GMO group Moms Across America, giving her a national platform to make fabricated claims that eliminating GMOs “cured” her son’s autism.

Despite the loud voices of disinformation, the scientific community has overwhelmingly agreed that there is no causal link between vaccines or GMOs and autism. Scientists previously learned that a combination of numerous, very common heritable variants contribute significantly to autism risk. These variants don’t individually increase an individual’s autism risk; the causal factor is inheriting specific permutations of these variants.

Corroborating the fact that GMOs and vaccines don’t cause autism, scientists have now linked mutations in over a hundred genes to autism in two recent studies published in Nature. Unlike the heritable variants I mentioned, about 30 percent of those found in these studies are de novo mutations, meaning they occurred either within the sperm or egg cell from which the baby was conceived, or early in embryonic development. In conjunction with inherited variants, these de novo mutations appear to contribute to causing the more severe, lower IQ autism symptoms on the ASD spectrum. Higher-functioning autism seems to be influenced by inherited variants rather than de novo mutations. Notably, many disease-causing mutations are recessive, meaning that a child must inherit two defective copies, one from each parent. Interestingly, autistic individuals with any of six of the strongest causal variants are heterozygous, meaning they only inherited a defective copy from one parent.

These are the first studies to identify such a large number of high-confidence genes. Of the causal variants identified, 60 gene variants each have a whopping 90 percent chance of increasing autism risk.

These mutations were found by exome sequencing (sequencing only the protein-coding regions) of over 2500 families; usually the autistic child, and unaffected siblings and parents. The variants interfere with three pathways in which deleterious mutations affect typical development. These include effects on normal synaptic function, and normal transcription of DNA.

What are molecular pathways?

Molecular pathways are complex interactions between myriad products created by multiple genes. The human genome has about 20,000 genes, each of which codes for a handful of proteins. Genes all interact in intricate collaboration providing precursor and intermediate products to enable ultimate functional outcomes. When one of these steps goes wrong, like in the case of these autism mutations, the outcome is either defective or doesn’t happen at all.

Here is a very simplified analogy. Consider an everyday task, like hanging a picture on the wall. It requires a couple of nails, a hammer, and a framed picture. A skilled person needs to wield the tools and execute each step to achieve the outcome of a frame placed neatly on the wall. One of the many tasks is getting the nail into the wall. But if the hammer factory messes up and makes a wrench instead of a hammer, or the nail is bent, or the handyman or woman is injured …just think of the repercussions. Either the picture is poorly hung, or doesn’t end up on the wall at all.

The discovery of these high-confidence genes not only advances our knowledge and understanding of autism. These high-confidence variants will undoubtedly have powerful applications in targeted drug development, and early diagnosis and behavioral interventions.

Aside from these worthy implications, these studies offer more proof to refute the dangerous ideas that GMOs and vaccines cause autism. While we know that diseases like autism stem from a complex interaction of genetics and environment, it’s clear that genetics play an irrefutably strong role. Dr. Oz, Moms Across America, GMO Free USA, Jenny McCarthy, Natural News, and others in the fear-mongering business have done enough damage to America’s scientific literacy, and have fueled more than enough anxiety. Their victim-blaming has already gone too far. It’s encouraging to see work like these recent studies providing much-needed debunking of hogwash.

Kavin Senapathy is a contributor at Genetic Literacy Project and other sites. She works for a genomics/bioinformatics R&D in Madison, WI. She loves all things genetics, genomics, and bioinformatics. Her interests span the human and agricultural realms. Opinions expressed are her own and do not reflect her employer. Follow Kavin on Facebook, Twitter @ksenapathy and Google +

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  • Eric Bjerregaard

    Kavin, Thanks for the article. I’ll gladly listen to you. Ignore oz. And admire Ms. Mccarthy, while reading your article……Oh poo, You’ve ruined it for me. seeing her name with the list of phonies has just Caused my pathetic brain to surpass my aging eyes.

  • Blue Event 47

    Interesting article, although I wouldn’t necessarily call Mayim Bialik a “quack”: she has a PhD in neuroscience and knows something about genetic disorders.

    • Your Everything

      the author is a quack.. apparently they are so much smarter than a neurologist lol

  • Lisa Carroll

    Kevin what do you think about Benzene, DDT or lead could exposure to
    those chemicals combined cause autism?

    • Mike

      No. Salt and caffeine can kill in the right dose. Learn something about chemistry or shut the fuck up.

      • Kavin Senapathy

        Mike – I think she might have been asking this question sincerely. Let’s not be mean!

      • Lisa Carroll

        I’m sorry , I was exposed to both chemicals while conceived all thru pregnancy and after while I breastfed. My parents were in the air force and sprayed DDT on the runways daily. I did not know I was autistic until my first grandchild. They diagnosed me mentally retarded cognitive language disorder both of my children and both of my grand children are autistic . We start in February to see a genetics doctor. The autism seems tobe getting worse with each generation. I am just guessing DDT.

      • Mark Talmont

        Comparing something that causes serious damage in trace amounts with common agents is idiotic. An overdose of water can be fatal.

    • Exposure to these three chemicals has been dropping steadily for the last 50 years, so it’s unlikely. That’s not to say that there isn’t some *other* chemical whose interaction with genetic predisposition might be causing the increase in reported ASD.

  • Alexander Mark Taylor

    The change points relating to various onset dates of injecting 7 month Olds with live Vaccines (derived from aborted human fetus cells) and the sudden Decline into Autism in said infants is well documented in a dozen countries. Genetic defects would be apparent at birth, as per Mongolism(SADLY). Even worse is that other vaccines brutally injected into infants/sick or not; are preserved with a Mercury based neurotoxin. Get real and stop defending Big Pharma-o sorry-do they employ u? Would u like an intravenious
    shot of naked DNA from me?

    • Ammyth
      • Alexander Mark Taylor

        Point noted!

    • Sensei Dave

      MMR Vaccines haven’t had Thiomersal (Your modified mercury “neurotoxin”) for over ten years, and yet its removal has not had a change in the amount of autism diagnosis. I’m sure “big pharma” makes boat loads of cash from these vaccines they make for people to receive them maybe once… ever. Maybe you should turn your attention to their other money making schemes like Xanax, or Tylenol. The stuff that they actually have return business for.

      • sm

        Sorry but you really need to ask for a vaccine without thimerosal or you may get one.

        • Alexander Mark Taylor

          I had one flu shot 25 years ago and never again thank u. MMR is and always was a Live unpreserved medium- but if u have a flu shot i recommend u Read the Insert Paper carefully!

      • Benjamin Harrison

        It’s not true for most vaccines that you only need them once. You usually need plenty of boosters every few years, depending on which shot you are talking about. But still they usually beat being sick for a while, out of work, etc.

    • Markus

      Why does this always have to turn into an us vs them battle? Alexander – I’m not paid by ‘big pharma’, nor are many people in this conversation. All we want is people like yourself to think critically and objectively about what you read and hear from unreliable sources. This whole epidemic of anti-vaccine sentiment wouldn’t even be a talking point if that happened. Moreover, when you’re looking for sound, objective explanation of what certain data show or do not show, I beg you to consult experts and in the case of science, that means scientists. There are no ill motives for scientists here – we simply report what the data show. Nothing more, nothing less. Please stop projecting I’ll intent and malice onto these people – it is entirely unwarranted and unfair. Your perverse desire for an answer that fits your own, subjective beliefs is what corrupts your position. It is the opposite of objective, critical thought. Throw away your anger, presumptions and ignorance, think critically and objectively about a topic and THEN decide on your opinion. If you’re still unsure, ask an expert. We all have much to learn.

      • Alexander Mark Taylor

        Please note my Apology posted Sunday 14 Dec

      • Mark Talmont

        Because “science” isn’t objective. I spent a lot of time working in the same university town I got my degree in and was surrounded by all kinds of high-IQ people. I started out thinking they would be more truthful than average just based on the supposition they would see the logic in not causing deliberate confusion in others by way of deceit. I wound up thinking that not only were they NOT better than average they might even be worse! Time and again I was shocked at their even childish venality (and their own special versions of tribalistic racism too). People who see themselves as above it all are tempted to look at others like lab rats. I’m afraid you’ll see more and more of this from the younger ones coming up, we’ve already gotten a big dose of this from the financial elites, who is to say “scientists” are any better?

        Hitler, Stalin, and Mao all had scientists working for them (however risky that might have been). And are the “western” scientific elites so clean? Do you know what MK-ULTRA was? Heard the tale of Dr. Ochsner who wound up killing his own grandson? The nuclear downwinders? How about Unit 731 and Dr. Mengele! Recent US history is littered with numerous examples of horrific abuse by “scientists” who treated humans like lab animals (for one well-documented episode look up “The Plutonium Files” by Eileen Welsome.

        Can you show me where anybody has done the study the autistic parents groups have been pleading for–compare different groups with one having their vaccine doses spaced out at slower rates and intensities? This is the specific recommendation Wakefield made, get the doses at slower rates using the single-dose versions instead of the multiples. The British government response was to take away the single dose options!

    • skepticalguy

      Please check (or at least, start by learning some) facts…. About vaccine ingredients….. Then, have an opinion….

      • Alexander Mark Taylor

        OK 🙂

    • bob

      it seems sir you are a bit slow, not all genetic disorders are visible at birth because not all of them are on the outside of the body. ‘Brutally injected”?? try dying of measles or polio, thats brutal. Or watching a child die or a preventable illness. You call an injection brutal but you seem like the type to support circumcision, which is totally humane right?

  • Sorex Pacificus

    The comment regarding “injecting 7 month Olds” [sic] not only makes no
    sense, but also reveals much about the character of the commenter when
    he feels so threatened by the article (and the gender of the writer)
    that he has to resort to rape threats. Sad, pathetic little man.

    • Ammyth

      I didn’t get that that’s what he meant by “shot of naked DNA” until you clarified that for us. I almost wish you hadn’t.

  • Already heard some of the bs spouted by the others, but Mayim Bialik in the same group haven’t heard any unsupported claims from her. Can someone enlighten me?

    • Kavin Senapathy

      Here’s some info on Bialik. She’s in the “too many too soon” camp for vaccinations among other unscientific views. http://scienceblogs.com/aetiology/2014/03/28/mayim-bialik-is-a-problematic-ambassador-for-science/

      • thanks, too bad that someone with a phd takes these kinds of positions, i guess it’s hard to merge one’s ideology with rationality.

        • mdwooten

          Or, she could be right.

      • It’s common in the sciences & engineering worlds to assume that knowledge in one area means that other areas are either easily learned or are known already. So we have former programmers who think they’re management gurus, and neuroscientists who think they’re experts in immunology. Doesn’t work that way.

        The ‘too many too soon’ idea is an interesting hypothesis, but that’s exactly what it is – an untested hypothesis. I’ll believe it when I see *evidence*, and I doubt that will ever exist.

        Keep up the good work, Kavin!

  • mdwooten

    Quack, quackademic, quackery, quackers, quackerific. This is the pro-Vax crowds’ favorite “words”. I doubt they can communicate without it.

  • sm

    So what if a child has IgG subclass def. isn’t this a potential for increased risk of autoimmune issues if vaccines are given? How can you say vaccine don’t cause autism if your not considering all areas? Even in the canine world vets have decreased vaccines given. Well educated breeders have titers done instead of pumping their pets full of chemicals. Even vets believe it isn’t so healthy to inject these chemicals.

    • Rosalind Dalefield

      Some crank vets have cut down on annual vaccinations, yes. The veterinary profession as a whole, no.

      • Mark Talmont

        They called Ignasz Semmelweis a crank too. Also Tesla.
        People making sweeping generalizations about GMOs ruin their credibility. The issue is complex and particular points (such as the “superweeds” emerging as a direct result of the massive application of Monsanto’s RoundUp product) must be dealt with by particular analysis. What we seem to get are airy dismissals from people brandishing their PhDs. During the campaign to force labeling of GMO foods in California the massively funded opponents bought themselves a Stanford professor who actually went on TV ads proclaiming there was “no difference” between grafting a fruit tree onto root stock and GMO technology.

        • Derek Bickerton

          Right on, Mark! I loved “airy dismissals from people brandishing their PhDs”–perfect!
          Pro-GMO science is outdated and the new stuff is going our way! I think you’ll enjoy reading smokinggmogun.blogspot.com where I’m trying to get some REAL science into the debate.

  • Alexander Mark Taylor

    I apologise if a misconception was created in reference to a Naked DNA shot Sorex-but it is known from Gene Therapy that isolated(naked) DNA used in the treatment given intraveniously can find its way into the Brain of the Subject-still active! This relates to the finding of DNA and DNA fragments in the MMR Vaccine. Any way I also see that Ms Senapathy is correct in Saying that further research has found no causal link between Autism and Vaccines-and so no disrespect was intended.

  • LadyTaJ

    This article states there is scientific proof but where are the reputable list of scientists and links to there studies at??? I’m not just going to read this and say “Ok” SMH

    • Kavin Senapathy

      Not sure if you didn’t notice, but there are hyperlinks, and one specifically to the studies in question.

  • Reb49

    So where have these high-confidence genes & variants been for the last 2000 years? No matter what “science says” there is a notably huge spike in the rate of autism. 40% of all males – wrap your head around that – in the USA now develop autism. This is NOT a global epidemic, it’s a national one.

  • fedup

    Right..just ignore actual studies that show vaccines can and do at times trigger the dormant autism gene.

    And theres nothing more fear mongering then saying everyone get vaccines or the flu will kill everyone, or the measels or any number of non preventable viruses

  • Benjamin Harrison

    I Don’t like Jenny McCarthy one bit, but I would like it if the author showed what the actual proof is that GMOs are completely environmentally harmless. McCarthy is whacked but the merits of GMOs don’t rely on hating the messenger to prove something. Cognitive dissonance and attacking the person are fallacies.

    • Benjamin, with due respect it’s silly to demand that anything be “completely harmless.” By that standard as hundreds if people die every year from eating organic foods, and tens of thousands get ill, organic foods should be banned until organic growing is proven completely harmless. Nithing so much as a doggie has been linked to GM foods. What can be said scientifically is that GM foods are as safe and sustainable as organic it other conventional foods.

  • Derek Bickerton

    Sorry, Kavin, this article was out of date even before it was written. You wrote “the scientific community has overwhelmingly agreed
    that there is no causal link between vaccines or GMOs and autism”.

    Okay for vaccines; no longer for GMOs. Have you not visited the UC Davis webpage lately? There you would have read about the CHARGE (Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment) which was “launched in 2003 as the first comprehensive study of environmental causes and risk factors for autism and developmental delay.” The two relevant reports for the GMO issue are:

    Shelton JF, Hertz-Picciotto I, Pessah IN. Tipping the Balance of Autism Risk: Potential Mechanisms Linking Pesticides and Autism. Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Apr 11. PMID:22534084

    Janie F. Shelton, Estella M. Geraghty, Daniel J.Tancredi, Lora D. Delwiche, Rebecca J. Schmidt, Beate Ritz, Robin L. Hansen, and
    Irva Hertz-Picciotto (2014) Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Prenatal Residential Proximity to Agricultural Pesticides: The
    CHARGE Study. Environ Health Perspect; DOI:10.1289/ehp.1307044

    You can see discussion of these and similar very recent scientific advances at smokinggmogun.blogspot.com

  • Your Everything

    All I have to say is this is a a fluff job. There is zero evidence that genetics cause autism aside from fragile x… ZERO.. it is not genetic.. you can say it until you are blue in the face and lie all you want but it will never show that genetics cause autism

  • iknowbetter

    hmm so these Non Autistic kids are just magically becoming Autistic after vaccines ? But the vaccines aren’t responsible ? hmm
    you’re all so intelligent (fml) -_-

  • Wadeless

    So what is causing the spike in gene mutations noted as the cause of autism in the article? The study listed in the article above notes that environmental factors contribute to autism risk also.

  • AM Devine

    The study wasn’t debunked, it was coerced out of existence. These medical issues are directly related to all the toxins Merck has convinced the FDA and pediatricians to inject into our kids. Why don’t you do some REAL investigative reporting and tell the truth about the conflict of interest between FDA staff and Merck? With the billions they rake in, they are able to slander parents and doctors who have no other motive than to protect children. If you took the time to listen to these dedicated doctors, you’d hear first hand how the pharma companies had the money and legal means to crush these people at YOUR chlid’s expense.

  • AM Devine

    You may also want to read this article about the DNA retrieved from aborted fetuses to create the chicken pox vaccine. Why are some of you so willing to allow them to introduce things into our child’s body – no questions asked? Do you really think pharma companies have no agenda? This is a BILLION dollar industry! Of course they don’t want any investigations to stop the avalanche of cash. http://healthimpactnews.com/2014/dr-oz-warns-about-mercury-in-flu-shots/

  • GMOs and Pesticides as well as other, chemically altered environmental substances, irrefutably impact Methylation systems, intestinal permeability and Mitochondria. (aka enzyme function). To say they are not neurotoxins, nor toxic to the body, is a farce of epic proportions. The facts are and have been, they cause dysfunction. Look at any study NOT funded by acronyms or Big AG, and the facts are irrefutable.

    • Actually there are about 1500 studies not funded by “Big Ag’ that totally refute the baseless claims you are making. There is not one study that supports your claims. I guess you believe the European Commission, the German Academy of Sciences, The African Academy of Sciences, The French Academy of Sciences, the Royal Academy of Sciences, the US National Academy of Sciences and the World Health Organization are all on the pay of Big Ag, as each as issued statements endorsing the health and safety of GM foods. And by the way, what do you eat if you do not eat foods grown with pesticides, as almost all organic food is grown with pesticides?

      • I did not say I do not believe any of the studies, I said I do not believe studies that are funded by the big three ag corps. If you do, without doing your homework first, that is your prerogative. Just as mine is to believe what I see daily, read in medical journals and study overseas in relation to epigenetics and chemical exposure.

        If you guzzle a bottle of apple cider vinegar, you will get sick. If you are overexposed to glyphosates, you will get sick, on a mitochondrial level. GMO crops apparently must use copious amounts of the herbicide, and more is needed than before, as the GMO crops are becoming resistant, is this correct? So, more exposure.

        I understand everyone has viewpoint, facts are, WHO et all take about a decade to fully test and report chemical toxicity findings, if that early. Yet even they published about the Carcinigens in these herbicides.

        Here: http://biblio.cpepesc.org/pdfs/glyphosate/28_Article_Elsevier_Toxicology_juin2009.pdf

        “from concentrations 100 times
        lower than the recommended use in agricul-
        ture; this is noticeable on human placental
        cells after only 18 hr, and it can also affect aro-
        matase gene expression. It also partially dis-
        rupts the ubiquitous reductase activity but at
        higher concentrations. Its effects are allowed
        and amplified by at least 0.02% of the adju-
        vants present in Roundup, known to facilitate
        cell penetration, and this should be carefully
        taken into account in pesticide evaluation.
        The dilution of glyphosate in Roundup for-
        mulation may multiply its endocrine effect”

        http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.276.7132&rep=rep1&type=pdf

        Published By WHO in 2015 :

        http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/iarcnews/pdf/MonographVolume112.pdf
        ” The herbicide glyphosate and the insecticides malathion and diazinon were classified as
        probably carcinogenic to humans
        (Group 2A).”

        These are some of the first ‘unfunded by corporate entities’ studies. They have been consistent in effects.

        There are others that clearly show reduced and/or blocked enzyme function in the GI as well as mucosal damage. I do not know if they are also linked to autism. I do know I feel better nt eating them, and the studies (including the above) gave me information I felt had bearing.

        • Those two links are to the same (much criticised) study, by the same group that gave the world the unethical & retracted rat tumour study. The key features to note are a) even they say that glyphosate was less toxic than the adjuvants (soaps) in Roundup-like herbicides (although they say this is “surprising”, despite it being well-documented and indeed pretty much the feature of glyphosate that has made it so successful), and b) it’s not a “real-life” study but a cell culture one.

          Of course soap is toxic to exposed cells — it dissolves their membranes, think of how a burst blister stings in soapy water — but that’s not a realistic mode of exposure. The concentrations are also not realistic exposures for consumers: they are orders of magnitude closer to the herbicide mix in a spray tank than to the strictly regulated levels of residue permitted on foods. Finally, they chose placental cells to politicise the results.

          I suggest you read this http://monsantoblog.com/2009/06/23/seralini-safety-study/ which is an *excellent* description of the limitations of this study — yes, it’s by Monsanto, but judged on the merits of the arguments rather than the identity of the messenger it is very compelling. At least compelling enough to want to find some alternative, high-quality studies to support your view (as Jon said, there are a *lot* of non-industry studies which contradict these claims: try the references on this independent NPIC summary: http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/glyphotech.html)

          In fact, a recent study that aimed to reproduce those results couldn’t even reproduce the claimed endocrine sensitivity: see http://www.gmoevidence.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/IPTG-1-104.pdf
          Both with pure glyphosate and with Roundup-like formulas, they ramped the concentrations up until the cells died (bound to happen at some point), without seeing endocrine disruption. Again they seemed surprised to find that adjuvants are toxic to in-vitro cell cultures, something the above Monsanto blog and many other sources have been open about for years. Since adjuvants don’t penetrate plant tissue they are not expected to be found in foodstuff residues — something the Flinders researchers seem not to have appreciated — and even if they are, similar adjuvants are present in much greater quantities in your toothpaste, dish-washing liquid, etc. etc.

          Those studies say nothing about carcinogenicity, and again the NPIC summary also doesn’t include any evidence in favour of that. The IARC classification is based entirely animal rather than human studies (because the human studies are negative), are an assessment of potential risk rather than actual risk, and it has been criticised for misuse of the studies that they cited. GLP is an excellent source of articles on this, by the way; see this article search: https://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/?s=iarc&submit.x=0&submit.y=0

          Here’s a bunch of selected links:
          * http://www.nature.com/news/widely-used-herbicide-linked-to-cancer-1.17181

          * http://www.skepticalraptor.com/skepticalraptorblog.php/glyphosate-causes-cancer-apples/

          * http://www.producer.com/daily/toxicologist-pans-un-glyphosate-report

          * https://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2015/03/25/iarc-chairman-explains-glyphosate-assessment-real-world-circumstances-not-considered/

          The evidence is a heck of a lot weaker than you seem to think: in summary there *may* be some limited toxicity and carcinogenicity of gyphosate see in in-vitro studies, but that is not representative of real world exposures. If anyone should be worried, it should be agricultural workers who spray the stuff and hence have greatly inflated exposures to it… but the Agricultural Health Study, including thousands of farmers, raised no health concerns. Nothing to see here, I think.

    • Actually, my apologies. We do not KNOW about GMO’s yet, but the herbicides and pesticides used on GM crops have measured impact in the studies. They say GMO foods study is too soon so say def one way or the other. However, since the chemicals sprayed on them do not just wash off, this implicates GMOs in some studies, as they absorb the toxins from the spray(s) and are then ingested.

  • Jeylan

    The vast scientific community thought Semmelweis was a crack for suggesting serilisation between surgeries, The vast scientific community thought Darwin was a crackpot also. Whenever i read or hear “The vast scientific community” my bias is formed in the inverse. Not because they are all corrupt but such language i feel is peculiar to people that really don’t make the case. Stick to the facts and do not forget the payouts Big Pharma HAVE ACTUALLY paid for atrocious behavior. Its ion record no conjecture there.