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Swedish researchers explore Somali-autism link

The Local/pvs · 28 Mar 2011, 16:20

Published: 28 Mar 2011 14:15 GMT+02:00
Updated: 28 Mar 2011 16:20 GMT+02:00

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The researchers at the Autism centre for small children in Stockholm want to see if the samples contained in the so-called PKU register, which is used on newborns to detect a slew of illnesses, can explain the differences in levels of autism between children of Somali and children of Swedish origin.

"We want to look at the vitamin D levels at a very early stage in children who are later diagnosed with autism," Elisabeth Fernell at the Autism centre for small children told the Dagens Nyheter (DN) daily.

If access to the database is approved, the tests will be conducted during the spring and include all of the autistic Somali children currently living in Stockholm, the newspaper reported.

The database is protected by law and access can only be granted on approval by an ethical council and then with the permission of each and every one of those to be tested, or if under the age of consent, their legal guardian.

Elisabeth Fernell argued that the study is unique and that results will first become known in the autumn when the samples have returned from the laboratory in Australia where they will be sent for tests.

The lack of sunlight in Sweden, combined with the use of sun protection creams and general precautions taken to avoid direct sun exposure is known to cause vitamin D deficiencies. Vitamin D deficiencies could be a contributing factor to the incidence of depression and some experts believe, autism.

Somalis living in Sweden have dubbed autism, "The Swedish disease," as it has become an increasingly common occurrence among Somali children that have moved to Sweden.

The incidence is far higher than for Somali children resident in Somalia, something which researchers theorize may be related to differences in the amount of sunlight between Sweden and the east African country.

The western world has seen a dramatic increase in autism in recent years and Sweden has followed this trend. Around 1 percent of the Swedish population suffers from this neurological condition. In the US, the diagnosis of autism is increasing at a rate of 10-17 percent per year.

Researchers have long struggled to explain the dramatic increase.

Some have focused on the incidence of mercury in vaccines, others have focused on the triple MMR vaccine, although the current scientific consensus has found no evidence to support either of these theories. Others have meanwhile blamed the sedentary habits of western children and modern food habits.

Story continues below…

Another explanation may be that changes to how the condition is diagnosed lie behind the dramatic increase. Regardless, a more complex picture of the combination of genetic, environmental and social factors behind the condition is starting to emerge.

Elisabeth Fernell hopes that the results of their study will help to shed light on the situation and enable doctors working in maternity wards to act fast.

"We hope that the results get to the physicians and that the health authorities check vitamin D levels for those with dark skins as Sweden is a country with very little sun," Fernell said to DN.

The Local/pvs (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

15:55 March 28, 2011 by William Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha
Autism is more common in Somali children living in Sweden than those living in Somalia. Righty oh. That makes sense, what with Somalia being a bastion of good practise in autism diagnosis.
19:18 March 28, 2011 by Luke R D
I think you'll find Autism can be defined, in this instance, as: we want to own every DNA strand we can of these people so we can store them all in a big database and keep the biggest eye possible on them.

Note: Autism can be freely interchanged with a whole host of other conditions' names depending upon ethnicity for future usage.
19:29 March 28, 2011 by William Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha
The ignorance in this article is astounding.

Some researchers are focusing on mercury in vaccines? No they're not. They did, and it was found to be complete and utter rubbish and those responsible have since been struck off and the articles withdrawn.

Other researchers are focusing on a sedentary life style and diet? Where did that come from? Off the back of a cereal packet? I find that implication offensive. Autism is something I was born with, not something I brought on myself.
19:48 March 28, 2011 by Luke R D
@William Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha

Don't take it personally, man. This has nothing to do with Autism at all and everything to do with peoples' ignorances of such conditions. They're hoping that we believe this utter BS so they can continue to "document" each and every human being.
20:20 March 28, 2011 by mikewhite
Yes, the entire "mercury" paragraph is pure shoddy journalism.
23:50 March 28, 2011 by wenddiver
By all means, lets figure out what is the matter with Africa and the Middle -East before they kill each other off.
00:05 March 29, 2011 by Uncle
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
03:10 March 29, 2011 by Da Goat
another waste of money research thing

everyone knows low Vitamin D and mercury is not a good thing

vitamin D and sulfate is used to remove mercury, therefore if you live in Sweden and eat the fish and have dark skin your odds are not so good !
08:59 March 29, 2011 by karex
I don't see what all the fuss is about. Doctors routinely need tests to be able to support diagnosis. No one said anything about DNA, only testing blood for levels of Vitamin D. This sector of the population has been complaining about the extremely high levels of autism in their population here in Sweden. The authorities want to try to find the cause of the problem. Then everyone complains. If they ignored the problem and did nothing, people would still complain. This "big brother" thing is turning into mass paranoia. What's next, demanding an equivalent of the medical "search warrant" signed by a judge every time you go to the Dr. and he/she asks you for a blood, or urine sample? Honestly.
11:05 March 29, 2011 by mikewhite
It is now established that there is a genetic component to autistic spectrum disorders (ASD), perhaps the researchers should also check whether this alleged increase could be due to a common genetic background.
11:44 March 29, 2011 by cornpone
Inbreeding could also be a factor.

This just goes to show that Africans are not evovled to live in the Norh. When we talk of keeping invasive species out of natural environments we should also include people. It is bad for both the immigrant and the native to live outside of their evolved biopshere. There are many other diseases that strike Africans because they are not living in their natural habitat in the North such as scurvy and rickets.

If someone proposed moving polar bears to the tropics they would be accused of animal cruelty, yet we can be cruel to man and wrap it in humanistic fantasy.
14:44 March 29, 2011 by hassan2
I am really annoyed when people say that somali doctors cant diagnose autism. how many of you know your 5th cousin. I can tell you I know. If there are such a high cases of autism in Somalia I would know. What i mean by this is that somali people are tribal and use clans and sub-clans.

So please don't try be little other doctors.

As someone whose doctor has this disease i will be grateful for any research the government may do.
15:10 March 29, 2011 by mikewhite
@cornpone: I believe the genetic diversity in Africa is on the whole greater than that of Europeans so I hardly think that is likely. I was wondering whether the emigrants had mainly come from one area or group.
17:05 March 29, 2011 by cornpone

Most Mulims practice widespread consanguanious marrige (cousin marriage) and this has been going on for thousands of years (before Muhammed). Genetic diversity in Africa may be great but that's a big continent and we aren't talking about Bantus breeding with Bushmen but about Somalians. Nevertheless, I wouldn't doubt if it wasn't becuase of the vitamen D and the fact that Africans are not evolved for life in the North. If there was ever a famine and malnutrition here they'd be the first to die. After them the Arabs.
16:58 March 30, 2011 by technoviking
This is why I get the hell out of here in the winter... Ain't good for you.
08:27 March 31, 2011 by Marc the Texan
I would think most autistic children don't last long in Somalia.
19:54 April 3, 2011 by D. ane
The connection of vit D may be plausible but another area to look at is microwaves affecting brain waves since autism is a behavioral disease.

Some doctors believe that the increase in autism is somewhat following the increase in use of microwave technologies. The Somaly connection may be due to people become more sensitive to microwaves when there is calcium deficiency, and Somalies will be much more likely to be deficient in calcium.

Perhaps researchers can investigate this area, (if the mobile phone companies will let them!. And if they do the results will never be published, so you wouldn't know anyway!)
14:59 January 3, 2012 by janeway
I wonder why Somalis are the only group affected by autism in such a high level? We have large groups of people originating from countries like Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana, Liberia, Sudan, etc. How come none of these groups have a higher incindence of autism? Is it because of other reasons, than locality? Could part of the reason be that Somalis have more knowledge about how to get supported by the Government? Does any of you remember the epidemy of apathic refugee children some years back? An epidemy that for some reason disappeared when the families where granted residency and could get all their benefits. I see no articles on the front page of every newspapers these days about apathy diagnosis being on the rise among refugees. How come? Have they found other, more profitable health challenges?
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