Recently published research has found that children with autism had elevated levels of the plastic bisphenol A (BPA) compared to the children in the control group.  BPA is a contaminant in the food supply from its use in the plastic lining of cans and in other food packages such as plastic drink bottles. It may also be found on the slick surface coating of some types of register receipts.
This is a significant step compared to “we don’t know what causes it or how to stop it,” because BPA is something that could be avoided by prenatal women and people with autism. It is also good news because it may also be possible to reduce the risks of exposure to BPA by increasing intake of the plant phytoestrogen, soy genistein, or methyl donors such as vitamin B12 and folate and choline. 
/Disclosure: This information is provided for educational purposes and is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./
Proper methylation of DNA regulates which sections of DNA are active and will be used to direct metabolic activities in the body and which sections are turned off. Some people have metabolic defects in their ability to methylate normally. Problems in the normal methylation cycle may be more common for people on the autism spectrum and in some other genetic conditions like Down’s Syndrome.
The following website has a book available to read online that includes information about metabolic differences that have been found to be more common for people on the autism spectrum. Methylation differences in metabolism are discussed in Chapter 2 of the book Autism: Pathways to Recovery, by Dr. Amy Yasko. In the chapter coffee and Ritalin are described as methyl donors, and it is suggested that they might be helpful for some people for that reason. Defects in the normal ability to methylate DNA is impaired in some people which may leave their immune systems over active with autoimmune symptoms or underactive and more susceptible to actual threats. [dramyyasko.com/resources/autism-pathways-to-recovery/chapter-2/]
A book available online, thanks to the author Dr. Amy Yasko. She mentions in the opening paragraph of Chapter 1 that the U.S. population grew by 13% in the 1990s and the number of people with autism grew by 172% in the same time frame. Read more: [dramyyasko.com/resources/autism-pathways-to-recovery/chapter-1/] *She is a Ph.D. professor in genetics rather than an M.D. Medical Doctor.
In 1975 the rate of autism was 1 in 5000. Approximately one child of every 88 born in the year 2000 were found to have autism and the rate was 1 in 68 – one infant out of every 68 children born in 2002 were found to have autism. [aplus.com/a/scientist-claims-half-of-children-will-have-autism-by-2025]
There may not be a ‘cure’ for autism but there are nutritional strategies that help manage some of the more common metabolic differences if parents and health professionals are allowed to acknowledge the existence of the differences.
/Disclosure: I am not recommending coffee for children or infants. This information is provided for educational purposes and is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./
Research in the field of epigenetics by a team led by Dr. Randy Jirtle, an oncologist at Duke University, found physical changes in the experimental groups to be preventable if the experimental BPA diet was also supplemented with the B vitamins, folic acid and B12.
Mice who were fed BPA prenatally had significantly more babies develop a characteristic hair color and they were at increased risk for gaining excess weight compared to the control group of prenatal mice that did not receive any BPA. However when the mice were fed a diet with extra B vitamins prenatally along with the BPA there were fewer babies with the change in hair color and associated health risks. The addition of the soy bean phytochemical, genistein, also helped reduce the number of baby mice who developed the change in hair color pigmentation. [1,2
Bisphenyl A acts similarly to the hormone estrogen. Genistein is a phytoestrogen that may help block harmful effects of estrogen mimetics. The B vitamins used in the study were chosen because they can donate a methyl group which is necessary for allowing genes to remain unactivated, to stay in an off position. A gene that has few methyl groups may be more easily activated than normally.
Two other methyl donors, choline and betaine, were used in addition to the folic acid and vitamin B12. Choline is also a water soluble essential nutrient that is frequently grouped with the rest of the B vitamins. Choline is found throughout the body but is particularly important within the brain. Betaine is a metabolite of choline. Spinach and beets are rich in betaine. Good sources of choline include egg yolks, soy beans, beef, poultry, seafood, green leafy vegetables and cauliflower. 
Betaine is also being marketed as a medication for helping to reduce blood levels of homocysteine in the inherited condition, homocystinuria. (Reducing elevated levels of homocysteine may also reduce the risk of developing heart disease.) 
A prenatal diet providing a low intake of the methyl donors folate and B12 has been associated with cardiomyopathy in the infants.  Infants born to mothers with a low intake of the methyl donors folate, B12 and choline were also more at risk for cardiomyopathy later in life.  Not taking prenatal vitamins during the three months prior to conceiving or during the first month of pregnancy has been associated with an increased risk for autism in the infants especially for women who have a genetic variation in their methylation metabolism, (MTHFR 677 TT, CBSrs234715 GT + TT).  People with problems in the methylation pathways may need to take a methylated form of B12 and folate rather than the more commonly available form of folic acid. 
A link between BPA intake and an increased risk for heart disease has been discovered.  The physiologic reason is not known. Tips from the article for people hoping to reduce exposure to BPA include:
- avoid use of foods and beverages from cans,
- avoid re-using plastic bottles for beverages,
- limit handling of store receipts or placing them in store bags with unwrapped foods. Some register receipts have a BPA coating
- and wash your hands after handling register receipts. 
Adequate B vitamin intake is essential for reducing elevated levels of homocysteine. An increased blood level of homocysteine has been associated with increased heart disease risk. The amount of calcification within coronary arteries has also been shown to be predictive of heart disease risk. 
It has not been conclusively proven that a diet with adequate supplies of methyl donors protects DNA from changes that may be caused by BPA but a diet providing plenty of B vitamins is also unlikely to cause harm. B vitamins are water soluble and quite safe except in such large doses that would be difficult to obtain from food sources alone. The B vitamins work together in metabolic pathways that are essential for burning and using energy sources. The B vitamins might be described as being similar to matchsticks for accessing the stored energy and so they are important for daily energy levels and for a good mood.
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- Synopsis of the BPA prenatal mouse study, by Pete Myers, PhD, “Bisphenol A alters epigenetic programming in fetal mice, and the effect can be reversed by genistein“, (about the BPA mouse study) (July 30, 2007): [environmentalhealthnews.org/] *link i no longer working. Excerpt: “The new findings focus on BPA’s ability to remove ‘protective molecules’ that normally prevent genes from being turned on at the wrong time or in the wrong tissue.”
- The full research article: by Dana C Dolinoy, Dale Huang, Randy L. Jirtle, Maternal nutrient supplementation counteracts bisphenol A-induced DNA hypomethylation in early development, PNAS, August 7, 2007, vol 104, No. 32, 13056-13061 [pnas.org] *The mice in the experimental groups were being fed a diet including 50 mg BPA/kg which was considered to be less than the known toxic dose for mice but it represents a greater amount than is assumed to be found in the average human’s daily diet.
- “Choline” on whfoods.com: [whfoods.com]
- “Betaine,” (Feb. 11, 2012) PubMed Health: [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/] *link not working, part of the information is available here: [med.nyu.edu]
- Garcia MM et al, “Methyl donor deficiency induces cardiomyopathy through altered methylation/acetylation of PGC-1α by PRMT1 and SIRT1.” J Pathol. 2011 Nov;225(3):324-35. doi: 10.1002/path.2881. Epub 2011 Jun 1. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
- Joseph J, “Fattening by deprivation: methyl balance and perinatal cardiomyopathy.” J Pathol. 2011 Nov;225(3):315-7. doi: 10.1002/path.2942. Epub 2011 Jul 7. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
- Kathleen Doheny, “Higher BPA Levels, More Heart Disease? Researchers Find Higher BPA Levels Linked With Narrower Arteries; Industry Says Study Proves Nothing” (Aug. 15, 2012) WebMD: [webmd.com]
- Michael O’Riordan, “Coronary artery calcium bests other risk markers for CVD risk assessment” (Aug. 22, 2012) theheart.org: [theheart.org/article] *subscription service
- Rebecca J. Schmidt, et. al. , “Prenatal vitamins, one-carbon metabolism gene variants, and risk for autism,” Epidemiology. 2011 Jul; 22(4): 476–485. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
- “Folate is essential and Folic Acid is commonly available,” Aug. 21, 2013 [transcendingsquare.com]
- “MTHFR C677T Mutation: Basic Protocol,” on February 24, 2012
Other references regarding B vitamins:
- Article by Kate Geagan, MS, RD, End Your Energy Crisis With B12, (Jan. 10, 2012), The Doctor Oz Show website: [doctoroz.com/]
- Mood Disorders – Depression, The Vitamin Update website: [vitamin-update.com] Includes information about mental health symptoms and functions of several B vitamins and a few trace minerals.
- Author: Vladimir Hegyi, Dermatologic Manifestations of Pellegra, (May 15, 2012) emedicine.Medscape: [emedicine.medscape.com] (deficiency of Niacin or B3)
- Author: Dieu-Thu Nguyen-Khoa, BeriBeri (Thiamin Deficiency), (Dec. 13, 2011) emedicine Medscape: [emedicine.medscape.com] (B1)
- Author: Richard E. Frye, Pyridoxine Deficiency, (May 26, 2010) emedicine Medscape: [emedicine.medscape.com] (B6)
- Author: Angela Gentili, Folic Acid Deficiency, (Dec 1, 2011) emedicine Medscape: [emedicine.medscape.com]
/Disclosure: This information is provided for educational purposes and is not intended to provide individual health care. Please see a health professional for individualized health care./