Defining Autism with Dr Stephanie Seneff
I had a dialog in April 2014 with the brilliant researcher Dr. Stephanie Seneff. Dr. Seneff is a senior research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. She
is degreed in both biology and food and nutrition, and she also holds her PhD in electrical
engineering and computer science from MIT. Dr. Seneff has authored several recently
published papers on theories proposing that nutritional deficiencies and environmental toxins are the major causes of most chronic diseases and conditions that characterize the industrialized world.I find that Dr. Seneff’s education background is a stellar combination. I appreciate that bolstering our nutritional status can also help protect us from environmental stressors. The interview started with the very fundamental question of defining what autism is.
What do you think autism is?
“Autism is a neurological disorder that arises from hypomethylation in the brain during
development. The strategy reprograms the brain to implement a policy that results in
parsimonious use of sulfate, so as to preserve sulfate for a larger purpose, which is to maintain healthy blood flow. Sulfate is severely depleted systemically, so this may be a wise choice. However, the result is severely impaired brain function, leading to impaired socialization skills and defects in cognition and sensory response. The most extreme cases are dependent on around-the-clock care by a dedicated caregiver throughout the lifespan.”
What do you think causes autism?
“Glyphosate, working synergistically with aluminum and mercury.”
What is glyphosate, and what about its biological effects would be deleterious to
“Where do I begin? Glyphosate has been patented as both a biocide and an herbicide. Its alleged mechanism of action is to disrupt the shikimate pathway, which does not exist in human cells. This is why [a manufacturer] argues that it is non-toxic to humans. These arguments are fallacious. The majority of people aren’t aware of what autism is. A large contingent of professionals and parents feel that the constellation of behavioral manifestations and functional deficits that we call “autism” is actually an illness affecting many body systems, having been caused by a combination of genetic makeup and environmental exposures. Some people’s genes will be able to withstand some environmental toxins better than other people’s genes, but at some point, certain toxins at certain levels are going to affect many people. Furthermore, our genes can be acted upon – such as by toxins — so that they “act” differently (i.e., epigenetics, where toxins can affect gene expression).
“First of all, we depend critically on our gut bacteria to provide us with important nutrients that we can’t produce ourselves. Three of these are the aromatic amino acids — tryptophan,
tyrosine, and phenylalanine — which are produced by gut bacteria using the shikimate pathway.In the presence of glyphosate, not only do these critical nutrients become deficient, but also the bacteria that produce them are killed off, allowing pathogens to overgrow in the gut. This leads to lots of gut problems such as inflammatory bowel disease and leaky gut, which are strongly implicated in autism. Furthermore, the neurotransmitters, dopamine, serotonin, melatonin and norepinephrine are all derived from these critical nutrients, as well as thyroid hormone and folate. All of these are implicated in autism. These neurotransmitters play an important role in delivering sulfate to the brain, which is why the brain becomes sulfate-deficient when their synthesis is impaired.
“Finally, glyphosate disrupts this pathway by chelating manganese, making it unavailable. Enzymes that depend on manganese as a catalyst are essential for protecting mitochondria from damage and for producing glutamine from glutamate and ammonia. Autism is associated with mitochondrial damage and with excess glutamate and ammonia in the brain, along with GABA inhibition (a direct consequence of insufficient glutamine). All of this is explained by glyphosate.”
Where do we get glyphosate from? How does it get into the human body?
“Probably the dominant source is the food supply. Water supply is another likely source. People who live in agricultural regions have to worry about glyphosate exposure from the air or in the rain. A recent study in the US southern region showed 86% contamination in rainwater [A manufacturer] claims that it breaks down very quickly, but studies have shown that it can last in the soil for years under certain environmental conditions. I suspect that it bioaccumulates in the body and gets stored in body tissues.”
What is its neurodevelopmental effect when present in a mother, fetus, infant, or young
“Glyphosate causes birth defects such as microcephaly (small brain) and anencephaly (no
brain). This has been demonstrated in tadpoles, but evidence for humans comes from the extremely high rate of anencephaly in Tacoma, WA, where glyphosate was heavily used to control weeds in the water supply. It is likely also causing infertility, miscarriages, and premature birth (the US has a very high rate of premature birth, and low sperm count has become a common feature of men in the industrialized world). It interferes with aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen. This likely explains why males are much more likely to get autism than females. Autism has been called a “super male” syndrome due to an excess of testosterone.
“Glyphosate has recently been shown to be present in breast milk in mothers in the US at
alarmingly high levels, and it is almost certainly present in [some particular] GMO soy formula
that children who aren’t breastfed are getting.”
What is the effect of glyphosate to the gastrointestinal tract?
“Glyphosate is a general purpose biocide, but it preferentially kills the “good” bacteria in the gut like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. This allows pathogens like Clostridium difficile (C. diff) to overgrow. C. diff produces p-cresol, which is a known toxin that can destroy the kidney. E. coli similarly produce kidney-destructive toxins when they adopt anaerobic metabolism, which glyphosate forces them to do because it disrupts their ability to use oxygen effectively as a source of energy. Lactobacillus administered as a probiotic has been shown to alleviate anxiety syndrome in women with chronic fatigue syndrome. “Anxiety is a key comorbidity of autism. Another pathogen [called] Pseudomonas aeruginosa has become, along with C. diff, a major problem in hospitals worldwide. Both of these are developing multiple antibiotic resistance.
“P. aergunosa is one of a very few species that can completely break down glyphosate. It
produces formaldehyde as a byproduct, a known neurotoxin. But this may be preferred over the
glyphosate in terms of system-wide damage.”
Is there an interrelationship between the gastrointestinal tract and central nervous
system related to this issue?
“Researchers are increasingly realizing today the intimate connection between the gut and the
brain, which is described beautifully in the book The Second Brain by Michael Gershon. I alluded to this idea above when I mentioned how Lactobacillus can alleviate anxiety. They do
this by communicating with the brain through the vagus nerve. Our gut bacteria outnumber our
own cells 10 to 1, and our bodies can in some sense be viewed as a “comfortable home” for the
gut bacteria. We have established a remarkable symbiotic relationship with them, and I suspect
that they give us more benefit, in terms of the multitude of nutrients they provide, than we give them in providing them with a comfortable place to live — particularly when we subject them to glyphosate poisoning.”
Do you feel that the use of glyphosate corresponds with the rise in autism?
“I have no doubt. Nancy Swanson has provided an amazing plot showing the remarkable
correspondence between the rise in autism (as measured by enrollment in the US school system under the disability program with the “autism” label) as compared with the use of glyphosate on corn and soy crops. (The Pearson correlation coefficient is 0.99, with a p-value of 0.0000011).”
Does glyphosate cause autism or set up a susceptibility?
“Absolutely — both directly causal through all the effects I described above and indirectly causal
by enhancing the toxic effects of other chemicals in the environment. Another thing I have not
yet mentioned is that glyphosate disrupts cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes in the liver, which
play many essential roles. One of these is to detoxify other environmental toxins. So, glyphosate makes everything else much more toxic than it would otherwise be. Glyphosate also disrupts vitamin D3 activation through this effect on CYP enzymes. Vitamin D3 prevents sulfate wasting from the urine, so low vitamin D3 leads directly to sulfate deficiency. Autistic kids have been shown to have low serum sulfate and high urinary sulfate — which fits directly with the low vitamin D3 that they also often have.”
How does the issue of aluminum tie into the topics we’ve covered here?
“To answer this question, I will start with a bit of a seeming digression. There has been an
alarming incidence of kidney failure among agricultural workers in sugar cane fields in Northern
Sri Lanka in recent years, and investigations have led to the realization that it is due to a synergistic effect between glyphosate and arsenic. The soil there is highly contaminated with
arsenic, and the recent practice of using glyphosate as a desiccant right before the harvest has
been linked to the rise in kidney failure. A paper on this subject proposed that glyphosate chelates arsenic and carries it into the body like a stealth bomb or a Trojan horse, carrying it
right past the liver and directly to the kidney, where the acidic environment breaks the bond and
causes both glyphosate and arsenic to become activated as toxic chemicals in the kidney. This
leads directly to kidney failure. The government instituted a ban on glyphosate in response to this crisis.
“I had already been suspecting a similar effect with aluminum before I came across this paper.
Glyphosate chelates aluminum and carries it into the brain, where it is then unloaded in the
acidic environment of the brainstem nuclei. Particularly susceptible is the pineal gland, which
produces melatonin that regulates the wake/sleep cycle. Melatonin is derived from tryptophan,
one of the amino acids whose synthesis is disrupted by glyphosate. So, glyphosate both
attacks the pineal gland (rendering it ineffective in its job) and depletes the precursor to the
molecule that the pineal gland synthesizes to regulate sleep. Sleep disorder is associated with
a number of neurological diseases that are currently alarmingly on the rise in the US, including
autism, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, depression and schizophrenia.”
Do you see parallels between autism and Alzheimer’s, and would these have common etiologies?
“Absolutely. It’s essentially the same disease, with different manifestations in different age groups. I would say that depression and schizophrenia are also closely related.”
How can we safeguard ourselves and babies from these deleterious exposures?
“It will be hard, since glyphosate is pervasive in our environment. Obviously, the most important thing is to adopt a 100 percent organic diet. I’d recommend, at the very least, avoiding the foods that are known to be [of certain] GMO [cultivation history] — soy, corn, canola, high fructose corn syrup, cottonseed oil, alfalfa, and sugar beets, as well as the foods derived from crops that are sprayed with [particular herbicidal chemical] right before the harvest — wheat,barley, and sugar cane, among others. There are very few places left on the earth whereglyphosate is not a constant presence.”
I thank Dr. Seneff for this excellent interview, and I can see many of the manifestations she
mentioned throughout my work with families in the autism arena. You can take steps to increase
protection for yourself and your family by instituting nutritional purity, avoiding toxins like mercury and aluminum, and supporting metabolic pathway function.