Epigenetics is the study of how environmental factors can influence gene expression. It is believed that epigenetic changes can cause genes to be expressed differently, which may lead to autism.
Epigenetic affects how genes are expressed, and environmental factors can influence gene expression as well. This means that a person’s genetics won’t necessarily lead to an autism diagnosis, but environmental risk factors could trigger an expression of those genes.
Epigenetic changes can be caused by a few different mechanisms, such as alterations in DNA methylation. Methylation is the process of adding a methyl (CH3) group to DNA, which can alter gene expression without actually changing its sequence. There's strong evidence that methylation levels are different in people with and without autism. These studies suggest that epigenetic changes may affect autism.
Environmental factors such as toxins, lack of essential nutrients, and stress can all contribute to epigenetic changes. For example, exposure to certain chemicals or pollutants has been linked to an increased risk of autism. Additionally, a lack of essential nutrients such as folate and zinc can also lead to epigenetic changes.
Emotional stress can be another environmental factor that can impact genetic expression. Studies have shown that when a person is in a long-term state of emotional distress, the body produces hormones that can cause autism-related epigenetic changes. This does not necessarily mean that parents need to keep their emotions checked, but rather that they should address certain feelings or experiences. In other words, parents need to look after themselves to improve the epigenetic expression in themselves and their children.
Even though environment, lifestyle, and emotions can play a part in the expression of autism, we also have the power to affect our epigenetics. Taking proactive steps, such as physical exercise or mindful activities, avoiding toxic chemicals, reducing stress, and consuming nutrient-rich foods can all help reduce the risk of developing autism. Even if you already have a genetic predisposition for autism, these preventative measures may still be beneficial.
For ways to help your child with autism improve their health at home, please read our post with 4 natural ways to heal autism at home.