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Autism and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

Written by Olivia Cerf.

Mercury exposure causes neurological distress, and is one of the clearest causes of autism. HFCS, a shelf-life enhancing sweetener commonly used in processed foods, has been shown to contain trace amounts of mercury. Mercury has also been found in common food colorings, where it is allowed by the FDA as long as it does not exceed one part per million.

There is now evidence that autism can be caused by a biochemical abnormality that disables the metal clearing function of metallothionein (MT) protein. Zinc is a mineral which plays a critical role in the elimination of toxic metals from the body. It works in concert with MT to eliminate mercury and other heavy metals from the body.

Consumption of HFCS results in low zinc levels.2 It has become clear that zinc depletion actually leads to toxic metal overload, and that mercury exposure causes zinc depletion. Severe zinc depletion and toxic metal overload may disable MT function.
Studies have shown that

  • Prenatal zinc deficiency has pronounced effects on postnatal metallothionein metabolism, which can persist into adulthood.
  • In rats, zinc deficiency along with oxidative stress predisposes the brain to damage by disruption of the blood-brain barrier.

Simply put, when the body is exposed to heavy metals, its capacity to excrete them is impaired. This can result in a systemic buildup, and cause oxidative stress on the brain. Toxic metal burden is associated with the severity of the neurological condition.1

Zinc deficiency also plays a role in ADHD.

Research Evidence on Autism and HFCS

Data collected in California, the only state that has kept records of autism incidence since the mid-1980s, showed that the peak years for annual consumption of HFCS coincided with the peak growth rates of ASD incidence in California.1

American children between the ages of 3 and 17 are reported to have 1.1% prevalence of autism, a number that has grown substantially in the past thirty years. Prevalence in Italy is only .1%.1

A study published in 2012 compared Italian and American lifestyles, assessing risk factors such as fish consumption, dental amalgam, air pollution, and other sources of mercury exposure. It found that environmental exposure to mercury in the two populations is equal, with the exception of the high quantity of HFCS consumed by Americans - around 37 pounds per year.1


1Dufault, Renee et al. “A macroepigenetic approach to identify factors responsible for the autism epidemic in the United States,” Clinical Epigenetics 4, no 6 (2012).

2Dufault, Renee et al. "Mercury exposure, nutritional deficiencies and metabolic disruptions may affect learning in children," Behavioral and Brain Functions 5, no 44 (2009).

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