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Renee Dufault

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Renee Dufault
Alma materA.T. Still University, D.H.Ed.

University of Maryland M.A.

University of California Davis B.S.
OccupationPublic Health Service Officer
Employer(s)FDA, EPA, NIH
Known forWhistleblower Macroepigenetics

Renee Dufault is an American research scientist and credited with the development of the first nutritional epigenetics model for autism and ADHD. A former Food and Drug Administration researcher and whistleblower, who brought media attention to three separate studies that discovered mercury contained within high fructose corn syrup. After several years, Dufault and her independent research team asserted a direct connection between inorganic mercury and glucose levels in the blood that showed dietary inorganic mercury exposure may be a risk factor in the development of diabetes.[1]


Dufault earned her Doctorate of Health Education (D.H.Ed.) degree from A.T. Still University in Missouri, and a B.S. in the Environmental Sciences from the University of California Davis (UCD).[citation needed]


In the 1970s, Dufault enlisted in the U.S. Army as a medical laboratory technician. She then served in the Navy as an Industrial Hygiene Officer before transferring to the United States Public Health Service. While in the Public Health Service, she taught a training course at United Tribes Technical College[2] as part of the Indian Country Environmental Hazard Assessment Project.[3] She also developed a healthy diet tutorial for the Fort Peck Tribal Community College.[4] The tutorial was used as an intervention tool for improving dietary behavior in tribal college students. It helped the students to reduce their intake of highly processed foods and increase their intake of whole foods while reducing their blood glucose and inorganic mercury levels.[1][Smithsonian]. Dufault has remained connected to various tribes throughout her career.

During her federal career, Dufault worked for the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, Shoshone-Paiute Tribes and the Food and Drug Administration. She now works as an independent researcher and writer.

In 2004, Dufault began researching the mercury cycle on behalf of the FDA, which involved, among other things, analyzing a number of food products listing HFCS as either the first or second ingredient on the label. An EPA colleague inspired Dufault to follow up on this science because the caustic soda (lye) produced by the mercury cell chlorine industry likely contained mercury as a residue. During the course of her investigation, she found out that the biggest user of mercury cell chlorine products was the corn refining industry. In a confidential interview with a corn refiner, Dufault learned mercury cell caustic soda was used primarily by the corn refiners in their manufacturing process to lengthen the shelf life of corn syrups. Dufault enlisted the help of several colleagues inside and outside government to test whether high fructose corn syrup or products containing high fructose corn syrup contained trace amounts of mercury.[5]

While her research team initially tested only 20 samples, 45% of the samples contained trace amounts of mercury. Dufault then sent additional virgin samples of HFCS to two different laboratories, in order to independently confirm her results. Acting as third parties, the federal and academic laboratories tested and independently verified the presence of low levels of mercury in the HFCS samples and foods containing HFCS.[5][6]

In October 2005, Dufault, and her extramural academic colleagues presented their preliminary findings to the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN). At that time, Dufault was asked to halt the investigation. In 2006, Dufault attempted to publish the findings of her research on mercury levels contained within HFCS, but was denied the usage of the federal extramural data.

She quit her position in 2008, citing her intention to make her research public, and a belief that the FDA no longer supported her work.[6][7]


Dufault also developed and published a scientific model to explain the side effects of HFCS consumption called “macroepigenetics”. This model describes the dietary factors that impact gene behavior in the human body to bring about conditions of autism or ADHD. This model can be used by researchers and physicians who want to guard against these chronic developmental disorders and improve health outcomes.[6]

The model established a possible link between autism and certain environmental and dietary factors, including HFCS consumption, which has been shown to cause losses in zinc and calcium, Such losses can impair a child's ability to flush toxic metals (such as Mercury) from his or her system, and impact the developing brain.[8][9] Since the theory of "macroepigenetics" was originally introduced by Dufault, other researchers have found additional evidence to support the model.[10] The model was most recently updated by Dufault and her collaborators in 2023 and is recognized as a working nutritional epigenetics model that explains the increasing rates of autism and  ADHD in American children.[11][12][13]

Inception of Nutritional Epigenetics Model for Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)[edit]

Dufault developed and published the first nutritional epigenetics model for autism in 2009 which shows the impact of dietary mercury (Hg) exposure on the metallothionein (MT) gene when the child is zinc (Zn) deficient.[14]In 2009, the term “nutritional epigenetics” had not yet been coined and Dufault named her model the “Mercury Toxicity Model.” At the time, the model was created, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimated the average American was consuming 30.4 pounds of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) each year.[15]Dufault linked the consumption of HFCS to zinc losses and the subsequent impairment of the MT gene which results in oxidative stress and symptoms of autism. The results of a recent clinical trial conducted on human subjects and published in 2020 further strengthen Dufault’s model as the study verified the consumption of HFCS does in fact lead to significant zinc losses in Americans.[16]

Mercury Toxicity Model

The term “nutritional epigenetics” was coined one year after publication of  Dufault’s “Mercury Toxicity Model.” Farhud et al. described mechanisms of “nutritional epigenetics” in a paper published in 2010.[17]Featured below is Dufault’s updated nutritional epigenetics model for autism and ADHD which includes the constructs of previously published models that shows the role dietary lead (Pb) and Hg exposures play in PON1 gene inhibition that occurs in both autism and ADHD.[18]The model was recently used to test a successful intervention in a clinical trial with results published in 2024.[18] Parents of children with autism and ADHD who took part in the intervention improved their diets by significantly reducing their intake of ultra-processed foods and changed their attitude about the role of diet in controlling their child’s behaviors.[18]

Nutritional Epigenetics Model for Autism and ADHD

Private sector[edit]

Dufault founded the Food Ingredient and Health Research Institute, a non-profit that advocates for food ingredient safety, better food and nutrition education and research. Since leaving the FDA, Dufault has identified two separate ways that mercury can enter high fructose corn syrup and products containing high fructose corn syrup. She has also shown a link between mercury and chronic health conditions such as diabetes, autism and ADHD. In 2017, she argued that inorganic mercury may be one reason why autism impacts boys more often than girls.[19] Dufault is currently looking at food labeling requirements in other countries that warn consumers about the food ingredients that contribute to the development of ADHD and autism.[20]

Unsafe at Any Meal[edit]

Unsafe At Any Meal: What the FDA Does Not Want You to Know About the Foods You Eat was published on May 1, 2017, by Square One Publication. The book is based on Dufault's independent research, conducted during her time with the FDA, and includes supporting studies conducted by others. She describes the process whereby various heavy metals, such as mercury and other toxic substances, can be found in trace amounts in many products commonly sold at the supermarket. She also discusses the FDA's refusal to act, provides advice on how to avoid these contaminants, and discusses the effectiveness of regulations designed to protect the public.[21]


  1. ^ a b Tribal EcoAmbassadors. American Indian Higher Education. 2015.
  2. ^ Dufault, Renee (2005). "Indian Country Environment Hazard Assessment Training Project Seeks IH Instructors and Mentors". Synergist.
  3. ^ "Indian Country Environmental Hazard Assessment Program" (PDF). American Indian Higher Education.
  4. ^ "Forging healthy lifestyles" (PDF). Tribal Eco Ambassador. American Indian Higher Education Consortium: 3, 10. 2015.
  5. ^ a b "Corn Syrup's Mercury Surprise". Mother Jones. Retrieved 2017-03-27.
  6. ^ a b c "High Fructose Corn Syrup Meets Mercury". Washington Post.
  7. ^ "Renee Dufault » Food Integrity Campaign". www.foodwhistleblower.org. 9 July 2014. Retrieved 2017-03-27.
  8. ^ "Autism Linked To Industrial Food Or Environment". Medical News Today. Retrieved 2017-03-27.
  9. ^ "Study links autism with industrial food, environment | Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy". Institute for Agriculture Policy. Retrieved 2017-03-27.
  10. ^ Dufault, R.; Lukiw, W. J.; Crider, R.; Schnoll, R.; Wallinga, D.; Deth, R. (2012-04-10). "A macroepigenetic approach to identify factors responsible for the autism epidemic in the United States". Clinical Epigenetics. 4 (1): 6. doi:10.1186/1868-7083-4-6. PMC 3378453. PMID 22490277.
  11. ^ "Alarming increases in the numbers of American children requiring special education services". News-Medical.net. 2023-04-27. Retrieved 2023-07-02.
  12. ^ Dufault, Renee J.; Crider, Raquel A.; Deth, Richard C.; Schnoll, Roseanne; Gilbert, Steven G.; Lukiw, Walter J.; Hitt, Amanda L. (2023-03-09). "Higher rates of autism and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in American children: Are food quality issues impacting epigenetic inheritance?". World Journal of Clinical Pediatrics. 12 (2): 25–37. doi:10.5409/wjcp.v12.i2.25. ISSN 2219-2808. PMC 10075020. PMID 37034430.
  13. ^ "Autism and ADHD Rates Higher in American Children". Mirage News. Retrieved 2023-07-02.
  14. ^ Dufault, Renee; Schnoll, Roseanne; Lukiw, Walter J.; Leblanc, Blaise; Cornett, Charles; Patrick, Lyn; Wallinga, David; Gilbert, Steven G.; Crider, Raquel (2009-10-27). "Mercury exposure, nutritional deficiencies and metabolic disruptions may affect learning in children". Behavioral and Brain Functions: BBF. 5: 44. doi:10.1186/1744-9081-5-44. ISSN 1744-9081. PMC 2773803. PMID 19860886.
  15. ^ "USDA ERS - Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System". www.ers.usda.gov. Retrieved 2024-02-16.
  16. ^ Harder, Nathaniel H. O.; Hieronimus, Bettina; Stanhope, Kimber L.; Shibata, Noreene M.; Lee, Vivien; Nunez, Marinelle V.; Keim, Nancy L.; Bremer, Andrew; Havel, Peter J.; Heffern, Marie C.; Medici, Valentina (September 9, 2020). "Effects of Dietary Glucose and Fructose on Copper, Iron, and Zinc Metabolism Parameters in Humans". Nutrients. 12 (9): 2581. doi:10.3390/nu12092581. PMC 7551875. PMID 32854403.
  17. ^ Farhud, DD; Zarif Yeganeh, M; Zarif Yeganeh, M (2010-12-31). "Nutrigenomics and Nutrigenetics". Iranian Journal of Public Health. 39 (4): 1–14. ISSN 2251-6085. PMC 3481686. PMID 23113033.
  18. ^ a b c Dufault, Renee J.; Adler, Katherine M.; Carpenter, David O.; Gilbert, Steven G.; Crider, Raquel A. (2024-01-19). "Nutritional epigenetics education improves diet and attitude of parents of children with autism or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder". World Journal of Psychiatry. 14 (1): 159–178. doi:10.5498/wjp.v14.i1.159. PMC 10845225. PMID 38327893.
  19. ^ Dufault, Renee (2017-10-23). "Why Does Autism Impact Boys More Often Than Girls?". Scientific America.
  20. ^ "Dufault 2018: Food labeling requirements may explain lower autism and ADHD prevalence in the United Kingdom". Talkingaboutthescience.com. August 24, 2018.
  21. ^ "Unsafe at Any Meal". Publishers Weekly.