Autism rates are climbing in the U.S.–which is leading scientists to look for some of the genetic and environmental factors which may be leading to the spike. So far, they’ve identified the age of the father and the weight of the mother, just to name a few. But a new peer-reviewed study, which specifically compared known metabolic causes of autism with environmental factors like high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has found some pretty disturbing preliminary findings–including the conclusion that HFCS may not be as harmless as the corn industry would like you to think.
Essentially, the study, which was led by a former FDA toxicologist, noted that HFCS hinders the body’s production and uptake of critical nutrients, such as calcium and zinc. Which is a nutritional concern in and of itself, but also has implications regarding the development of autism. Specifically, zinc is critical for eliminating toxins from the body–like mercury, which has been shown to impede brain development in fetuses, and pesticides, which have also been linked to intelligence levels in children.
But there are some major challenges to studying factors like exposure to HFCS. First, corn has a powerful lobby, which means that it’s unlikely that governing agencies are likely to endorse these kinds of findings in the future–and that corn syrup is ubiquitous, because of its wide support within the USDA and FDA. Which leads to the second hurdle: it’s difficult to truly study something that most of the population is consistently being exposed to at low levels, because, aside from looking outside the country (which the study did–they compared American children to Italian children, who consume negligible amounts of HFCS), it’s nearly impossible to achieve a true control group.
Still, this study presents some major questions about the potential impacts of this “harmless” ingredient–and some problems with HFCS’s big advertising push and various attempts to mislead consumers, like by re-naming it the less-harmful-sounding “corn sugar.”
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