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Eating is certainly serious business

Published January 25. 2014 09:01AM

Been there. Done that.

That's the response I fear regular readers will have when they first see the headline of this column. After all, they've probably read a dozen "Fitness Master" articles explaining how poor eating choices lead to weight gain, which increases the likelihood of obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, certain cancers, diabetes, depression . . . .

Yada, yada, yada.

While all those diseases are certainly "serious business," I can't help but think there's something worse. Because in all those aforementioned cases, you make choices that eventually create them.

But what if your parents already made those choices for you? Or what if you're making food choices right now that will predispose your eventual children and grandchildren to one or more of those diseases? That's the belief behind an emerging theory called epigenetics, a theory that certainly sees eating as serious business.

Especially when it comes to autism.

Before we go any further, there needs to be a caveat. The link between diet and autism is far from a done deal. For every researcher supporting it, there's another slamming it.

But the theory is worth considering because something bone-chilling is occurring. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 78 percent increase in autism in eight-year-olds between 2002 and 2008.

Furthermore, an American child is more than 11 times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than an Italian one.

I can't say for sure what's going on in the good ol' USA, but a serious affliction increasing 78 percent in five years puts a whole new spin on the phrase, "the land of opportunity."

So I'd like to take this opportunity to review the research to allow you to decide for yourself if the staggering increase in autism is indeed a monster of our own creation.

An article published in April 2012 issue of Clinical Epigenetics links autism and ADHD to the body's inability to rid itself of toxic chemicals and the body's inability to do so to what we now eat, called by the researchers SAD, an acronym for the standard American diet. (And who ever said academicians don't have a sense of humor?)

SAD disposes us to certain pesticides and dangerous levels of high-fructose corn syrup.

The use of HFCS depletes the body of zinc, the mineral that helps the body cleanse itself of toxins like arsenic, cadmium, aluminum, and mercury, a metal found in low levels in HFCS. From studying children with autism, we know that they generally have neural toxicity, a buildup of toxic materials that adversely affect the neurons the cells that react to stimuli, transmit to other cells, and influence the cells in the muscles and the glands.

HFCS also depletes the body of calcium, another mineral helpful in battling toxins.

Combine the ingestion of large amounts of HFCS with our ingestion of pesticides, another element known to disturb neural development, and you have the factors that, according to a Clinical Epigenetics article found online, "play a definitive and synergistic role in the development of autism."

For Evolutionary Psychiatry, Emily Deans, M.D., reviewed a study of hair samples of 2000 children that found the youngest autistic children had a dramatic zinc deficiency. She wrote in response, "Zinc deficiency could very plausibly be part of what causes the symptoms of autism. Zinc plays an important role in protein synthesis, cell growth and repair, and levels need to be super topped off in pregnant women and infants."

And with the mention of pregnant women, we tighten the epigenetic circle.

Dr. Richard Deth, co-author of the 2012 Clinical Epigenetics article and a professor of pharmacology at Northwestern University, believes that "it is imperative to incorporate this new epigenetic prospective into prevention, diagnosis and treatment strategies" and "we should realize that we are eating for the health of our children, our grandchildren, and beyond."

While to what degree Deth's last statement is true can be argued, proof of epigenetics dates back to research done as a result of WWII, so its legitimacy is fairly well established.

More recent research done at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, for instance, showed a positive side to the theory: that eating a certain way can actually suppress "bad" genes from expressing themselves.

That's because there are components in certain foods that repress certain gene aberrations that create diseases. After UAB researchers identified a number of these disease-fighting compounds in vegetables in their labs, they reviewed studies done internationally and found enough evidence to declare that cabbage, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, soy beans, fava beans, grapes, green tea, and broccoli though chances are there dozens more can keep bad genes from expressing themselves, thereby reducing the incidence of diseases like cancer.

Declarations like this one and the others linking diet to autism certainly suggest that you should be picking your foods with something in mind other than taste.

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