Posted by: Ticktock | July 18, 2008

ADHD and Autism: The Gene Hunt Continues!


What causes autism and ADHD?  Are they born from environmental toxins, or are they genetic disorders?  Or perhaps both?  Scientists are scrambling to find answers by interpreting the complex gene code, performing studies, and publishing peer reviewed papers.  Meanwhile, autism activists and Feingold Diet proponents are speculating that autism and ADHD are respectively caused by vaccines and artificial food coloring.  I doubt it on both counts, but at least Feingolders have collected some scientific data (in the decades since the diet was first proposed) to help corroborate their claims.  The vaccine crowd, on the other hand, have resorted to anecdotes, misleading propaganda, and bad biased science to support their speculations.

Well, for the first time, scientists have revealed two promising leads to understanding the genes that cause both autism and ADHD.  I doubt that these findings will quiet the alarmists quacking about toxins; they’ll just say that the environment triggered the genes.  I’m not sure how such a triggering would work, but inevitably something like that must be proven.  I’m open to an explanation, since I plead ignorance on the topic.  But, it seems to me, that if the microscopic antigens in vaccines can trigger genetic disorders, then so can anything, really.  Unless your kid lives in a bubble.  

On the autism front, Harvard researchers have identified inactive learning genes in the DNA of individuals with autism.  These genes are different than previously identified genes for autism because they are not permanently disabled.  This indicates that the new genes can be stimulated and activated; it gives hope to parents that early intervention and therapy can help their child make progress.

As far as ADHD, the genetic discovery by scientists at Vanderbilt University Medical Center can be isolated to a biological rewiring of the dopamine transporter.  This protein behaves as if amphetamines are present and causes dopamine to flow backwards.*  The research indicates that children with ADHD have pathways of neurons that are disturbed in similar ways to the disturbances caused by amphetamines, but of course amphetamines are a complex drug that affect the brain in ways that make it an imperfect analogy. 

The discovery that dopamine is flowing backwards gives encouragement to the advice (and science) that Ritalin, a dopamine reuptake inhibitor, can help prevent symptoms of ADHD.  I’m not sure how Feingolders will interpret the discovery, but I know from previous responses to my posts that an ADHD gene will be news to them. 

*Update*  An ADHD gene is not news to them, even though Shula Edelkind said this in the comments of my last post:  “no scientist has yet discovered any such gene”, which would imply that the discovery is news to them.



  1. Hi Colin,

    Actually, finding a gene that is related to ADHD and Autism is not in the least surprising to us at Feingold. Indeed, Dr. Feingold himself said way back in the 1970s that the children affected by the additives were those that were GENETICALLY PRONE to it.

    On the other hand, what has been found so far by various researchers is a whole slew of genes that appear to be related to ADHD and/or autism …. it is obviously not going to be anything so simple as finding a single gene culprit. We’ll be lucky if they can identify a “genetic profile” before the end of the next decade.

    As far as your explanation about the stimulants inhibiting dopamine, and that in ADHD there is too much dopamine so that the kids appear to be on amphetamines ….well this is certainly different from anything I have learned at the university. First of all, a side effect of amphetamine use is an INCREASE in ability to concentrate – not ADHD!!

    Ritalin and other stimulants STIMULATE – they are not inhibitors in any sense of the word. They “slow the children down” by stimulating the neurons that stop movement (the “brakes” of the nervous system) first. If you give enough methylphenidate or other stimulant, then all the neurons get stimulated – that is the “speed” effect of amphetamine use. They were doing studies on that with monkeys at Emory University Dept of Psychopharmacology back in 1998 when I was there for an internship.

    If you want to learn about Ritalin, go look at the Brookhaven National Laboratory description of how Ritalin works by INCREASING dopamine levels in the brain —

    Finally, I wanted to thank you for the faint praise that we have “collected some scientific data after the fact.” You appear to be saying that we should have collected such data “before the fact,” but I must be incorrect since it makes no sense. Perhaps you could explain what “fact” you are talking about?

  2. What I mean by “after the fact” (I’ve since edited for clarity) is that your diet treatment was originally based on a hypothesis and anecdotes, and not on the types of studies that would be needed to test (or understand) such a hypothesis. Now, years later, you have the luxury of cherry picking scientific studies “after” you’ve been promoting your diet for decades, and yet you still don’t know how or why it works. That is my main point of contention… that the Feingold treatment of ADHD may be effective for reasons that are more complex than salicylate removal, and that a genetic component seems to negate any environmental cause such as diet.

    Thanks so much for the response. I’ll make a few edits based on your comments, and I’ll check out your link. Many of my statements were interpretations of other science articles, so I’ll look to see if I need to make appropriate changes.

    *I changed the amphetamine analogy, so that it accounted for the differences and complexity of amphetamines. My analogy was admittedly over-simplified.

    *I looked at ritalin, and it does indeed, as I said, block the reuptake of dopamine. This latest discovery confirms that blocking the reuptake of dopamine can help children with ADHD. It might very well over-stimulate dopamine production in the appropriate direction. I don’t know that for sure, and will be checking that out. Perhaps that’s a side-effect of too high a dose?

  3. Well, it’s been a while, but I just came across your article again. FYI, the reason to block reuptake of dopamine (or anything else) is to make it stay longer in the synapse between neurons. This gives the same effect as having “more” of the neurotransmitter available.

    Scientists don’t know how lots of things work; they don’t even know how aspirin “works” … but they use it anyhow, because it DOES work. To tell people that they would have to wait generations for “more studies” while their children suffer before trying a simple diet that is basically the way ALL people ate not too many decades ago is ludicrous. Even if the diet didn’t work at all, it is a healthy diet. For sure nobody ever suffered a Red 40 deficiency yet. And as more studies have been done, it is quite clear that removing toxins works on more than one level.

    We have recently begun sending products to a lab for analysis of the level of food dye and found that it isn’t hard to ingest far more food dyes than were ever tested in most studies. Studies usually used 10 mg to 50 mg of food dyes on the assumption that this is all a child would eat in a day …. well, one single cup of red jello contains 83 mg Red 40.

    Of course, food dyes are not the whole story, and you are quite right when you said, above, that “the Feingold treatment of ADHD may be effective for reasons that are more complex than salicylate removal” … but you also said that “a genetic component seems to negate any environmental cause such as diet.” Not at all — susceptibility to diabetes and high blood pressure, for example, are genetic, but diet certainly is important, too. American Indians were not diabetic before they adopted the Western diet and sedentary habits. Now they have very high rates of diabetes. What happened? Did their genes change? Nope — their DIET changed, and that impacted their genetic makeup. Darwin found that when there were environmental stressors, those animals whose genetic makeup allowed them to adjust and survive passed on their genes and the ones who could not simply died out so that over a period of many years the gene pool changed. Do we really want to create a situation where only those who can genetically withstand the environmental onslaught of toxic chemicals and pollutants will survive intact, while those who cannot will suffer illness, disordered behavior, etc.? I’m sorry, but since a good many of these environmental toxins are introduced for the sole purpose of increasing sales of products and profits of companies, such results don’t appear justified to me.

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