I Thought I Knew It All (well, most of it)

I’ve learned about most biomedical interventions for autism and really thought I was just going to “refresh and recharge” my batteries that fueled the science geek in me.  Where did I go, you ask?  The 2010 Autism Research Institute’s (ARI) Conference held in Long Beach, CA on October 8-10. That’s where doctors, research scientists and parents discuss the exploration and evaluation of scientifically documented biomedical interventions for individuals within the autism spectrum.

Well, of course no one person can possible know about every aspect of this medical research, but as a parent whose life has been engulfed by it, I thought I knew most of it.  Well, I don’t, and I find that exciting. We are still learning about autism and the sensitive biochemistry of our children that are triggered by various environmental assaults. Unfortunately, more research still needs to be done, more children will be hit by the “autism bus” and more parents will demand answers on why this is a growing epidemic.

I have said before on my blog that I believe autism is not solely a disorder of the brain, but one that affects the brain, the immune system, and the gut. Well, one of the leading autism research scientists is Dr. Jill James, PhD from Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute, and she spoke at the conference on her research done on oxidative stress in autism.

Oxidative stress is a condition which occurs when the production of free radicals in the human body exceeds the body’s ability to neutralize and eliminate them. Oxidative stress can result from a lack of antioxidants (like vitamins A, E and C) or from an over abundance of free radicals. Free radicals can react with key components of cells including DNA, lipids, and protein, resulting in cellular damage.

Dr. James discussed  “The Autism Triad: Brain-Gut-Immune Axis” which are inter-dependent and their individual balance requires each other. All three systems are highly sensitive to oxidative stress, especially during critical developmental windows. A healthy brain needs to develop in a healthy immune system and gut. All three systems are immature at birth. Gene and environmental interactions affect the intracellular GSH/GSSG (ratio of reduced glutathione to oxidized glutathione) and the maturation of all three systems.  GSH/GSSG is the measure of cellular toxicity. Glutathione is our body’s primary antioxidant that protects red blood cells from damage and destruction by mopping up toxic free radicals. (side note: Did you know it is also needed for the action of insulin?)

A toxic inflammatory insult in one of these (brain, immune system, gut) can indirectly affect the development and function of the others. Wow! That says it all for me. In other words, if your infant or young child has inflammation in their immune system from a virus (acquired/immunization), the development of their brain and gut will be affected. Or perhaps your child had numerous ear infections and prescribed antibiotics. Their gut was affected by the reduction of good bacteria (wiped out by the antibiotics) vs. the bad bacteria that took over. This is an example of an inflammatory insult to the gut, which indirectly affects the development of the brain and immune system.

Oxidative stress may be a final common pathway for many structurally diverse environmental exposures such as heavy metals (lead, aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, mercury), solvents (alcohol, chlorine, benzene), and industrial chemicals (PCBs, pesticides, herbicides). All of these induce oxidative stress and deplete our body’s store of glutathione. Dr. James noted that a combined sub-toxic dose of these can reach a toxic threshold. Which means that our children can be exposed to these individual toxins at levels that are not considered toxic by our FDA/EPA, but the combined doses reach the toxic threshold.

This is exactly the point I continually try to make.  That our environment has a combination of toxic exposures that is affecting our current and future generation of children. It’s also affecting us as adults. It may not present itself as autism for us “grown ups”, but as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, etc.

Research in this area needs to continue and I am grateful for ARI, the doctors, scientists and parents that contribute their documented studies on biomedical interventions for autism.  Thanks to them, children are recovering and parents have hope. Perhaps our FDA and EPA could learn something from this community if they would just pay attention. I do know one thing. These agencies that are assigned to protect us certainly don’t (or choose not to) know it all.  And neither do I.

What Autism Means To Me

April is autism awareness month. I think it’s wonderful that we have the ability to create more awareness since early diagnosis is important for the child and family. But the simple fact that we have a dedicated month of awareness means that it’s reached a level that demands attention, and it certainly has caught mine.

Today, it is estimated that one in every 110 children is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined.  This statistic keeps increasing.  When my son was diagnosed (in 2007), it was 1 in every 150 children. Before 1980, it was 1 in every 10,000. The Autism Society has statistics that break this down even further:

  • Autism has a 10 – 17% annual growth
  • $60 billion annual cost
  • In ten years, the cost will be $200 – $400 billion

What causes autism?

That’s the $64,000 question.  No known cause has been scientifically proven. Heredity points to it, but no “autism gene” has been found. Many children with autism or those who are at risk of developing autism have a metabolic impairment that reduces their ability to rid their bodies of heavy metals and other toxins. Build-up of these toxins in the body can lead to brain and nervous system damage and developmental delays. That pretty much sums it up for my viewpoint. Yes, I also believe there are true, Kanner autism cases. Genetic. And yes, I believe this metabolic impairment can also be genetic. Which leads me to my point. If I, my husband, or parents have this metabolic impairment, but don’t have autism, then why did this generation of children get it, and not us? Well, there’s a popular saying in the autism community that “genetics loads the gun, and environment pulls the trigger.”

I believe it’s the increase of toxins in our environment such as pesticides, PCB’s, mercury, lead, aluminum, arsenic, and antimony. Just to name a few. Our oceans are polluted which makes the fish our children eat polluted. Farming in 2010 is not the farming of 1980. We have genetically modified organisms (GMO) in our food supply, pesticide laden soil, antibiotics and hormones in our beef and dairy, and a strong prevalence of corn and wheat in the American diet.  The processed food industry has provided America with an unhealthy dose of harmful artificial ingredients (colors, flavors, preservatives and MSG). Profits are huge, but at what cost?

I don’t know if my son was born with a metabolic impairment or if the toxins triggered it. Thimerosal which is 49.9% ethyl mercury, is the preservative in the vaccines and Rhogam shots me and my son received. Add to that, I had over eight dental amalgams (50% mercury) and had one removed (unsafely) when he was 2 months old and still breastfeeding. Rhogam shots with thimerosal were given to me while pregnant and right after birth. Mercury is passed through breast milk, and neurotoxic to the fetus and newborn.

Studies have shown that ethyl mercury from thimerosal have important effects on metabolic pathways. Laboratory tests confirmed my son’s methylation pathway is impaired. This pathway is involved in the body’s ability to excrete toxins. His lab tests also indicated increased levels of mercury, lead, arsenic, antimony and PCBs. His body was not excreting heavy metals.  He was a typically developing infant and toddler. But by age three or four, he was diagnosed with autism.

How we treated our son’s autism:

For the past two and a half years, we have treated my son’s autism with behavioral therapy and biomedical treatments. He has had chelation therapy to remove the heavy metals, B12 shots and numerous supplements to boost his methylation. We’ve healed his damaged gut with probiotics, zinc and  herbal antimicrobial supplements.

His progress has been incredible. He no longer has meltdowns, tantrums, obsessions, diarrhea, sound sensitivity to everything, night waking, anxiety of new things or change, and doesn’t “stim” anymore. His eye contact has improved significantly, he has a lot of friends including a very best friend at school. In preschool he needed an aide in class. He has been in a mainstream classroom without an aide for the past two years; and is such an intelligent little boy. His expressive and receptive speech deficits are almost gone and his cognition has soared. I credit his recovery to working with a DAN! doctor on biomedical treatments and his behavioral therapy.

What does autism mean to me? That it is treatable. Our children need our help to heal and awareness is the first step. Research, read, educate yourself on how to help your child. Don’t wait for our government or others to do this for you. Take action. Now!

Everyday Autism Miracles Biomed Mom Question Feb. 12

Shannon Penrod, host of Everyday Autism Miracles on the internet has asked me, as her “biomed mom” her biomed question on today’s show. Unfortunately, she ran short on time, but I am answering the question here.

Shannon:  A caller that was just starting biomedical intervention has their first DAN! doctor appointment scheduled within a month.  She wanted to know what can she do for her child in the meantime before the appointment?

Joanne:  The first thing I’d do is “clean up my child’s diet”.  What that means is remove all artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, MSG, and  nitrates.  I’d also make sure all my fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy were organic. Next, I’d put my child on the gf/cf diet (gluten free/casein free).  Most DAN! doctors want you to do these dietary changes before your first appointment.  And if you’ve done both of these already, great!  Then I’d start my child on a children’s multi-vitamin that is formulated for kids on the spectrum.  There are several good brands available like Brainchild Nutritionals, Kirkman Labs, Klaire Labs., Lee Silsby to name a few. If your child doesn’t swallow capsules, there are liquid and powder formulations available.

Biomedical interventions 101

By Joanne Allor

I am not a professor, nor an educator. I am a mother of a child with autism, self-educated in the field of biomedical treatments for children with autism and ADHD.  You may find yourself, like I did,  in one of three autism camps out there. One, you just figured out or received your child’s autism diagnosis and don’t know where to begin or what to do to help him/her. Two, you’ve been dealing with autism for a while now and are certain there is something more you can do in addition to behavior intervention. Or three, you’ve heard of the biomedical treatment of autism and don’t get it. What is it?

Biomedical interventions for autism and ADHD heal the body, which in turn, heals the mind.  By addressing underlying health problems, you will see an improvement in your child’s behaviors and the behavioral therapies (like ABA) will take hold. Developmental growth will follow.

Most autistic behaviors are symptoms of the body’s distress, such as pain, frustration, fear and a biochemical disruption.  While treating symptoms can ease distress, we still need to get to the core issues causing it. For example, your child might be experiencing gut pain with bloating, diarrhea or constipation every time he eats wheat or dairy. This may cause aggression, disturbed sleep, repetitive behaviors, etc. Removing these possible allergens and following a gf/cf diet, may ease the distress and bloating, correct bowel function, and eliminate some of the behaviors.  But the core issue still needs to be addressed in order to completely heal the gut and eliminate all the behaviors associated with its dysfunction.  Is there an in-balance of the gut flora due to yeast or bacteria? Are there viruses or heavy metals disturbing the gut? Is it a leaky gut that doesn’t allow for proper absorption of nutrients?

Once I started down the path of “what can I do to help my child” outside of pharmaceuticals, I learned of the Feingold and gf/cf diets.  Then my research led me to The Autism Research Institute (www.autism.com) and their DAN! project. DAN! stands for Defeat Autism Now!  The ARI trains physicians with research they have gathered on the biomedical treatment of autism. Their guiding principle is simply stated: “remove what is causing harm, and add what is missing.”

So I began with cleaning up my sons’ diet by removing all artificial ingredients (including sweeteners), colors, flavors and preservatives, MSG, high fructose corn syrup/corn syrup, and nitrites/nitrates.  Suddenly, both my children became calmer, quieter and less impulsive.  Then I added in a children’s multi-vitamin with high doses of B6 and magnesium called Super Nu Thera, by Kirkman Labs.  My son with autism was 4 years old and still wasn’t potty trained. One week on Super Nu Thera, and he developed “the pee pee dance”.  He was potty trained within a few months with behavior therapy. This was unattainable until then. Believe me, I tried EVERYTHING to potty train him. I was onto something! I found a DAN! doctor on the ARI website and our son’s biomedical journey began.

To help you with your child’s biomedical journey out of autism, see the links below:

http://www.autism.com/treatable/index.htm

http://www.autism-society.org/site/DocServer/Pages_47-50EH.pdf?docID=10452

http://www.tacanow.org/medical/parents-role.htm

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