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.

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4 Responses

  1. I completely agree with this statement:

    “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.”

    Thanks for sharing everything that you’re learning with us all.

  2. Very interesting, and it really does makes sense and explains alot. It explans why there is not just an epidemic of autism but also why cancer is on the rise. It is a scary thought too, scary because those that have the power to change the toxic environment we live in either do not understand this, or don’t care. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and keeping us informed.

  3. I’ve been recently doing *a lot* of reading about the importance of glutathione, and have started my son a supplement that increases glutathione production in the body (it’s not oral glutathione, which is generally not effective because oral glutathione breaks down during the digestive process), but it’s a supplement that stimulates the production of glutathione. I thought I’d share in case it might be something of interest to you, or your readers.

    I wrote a blog post about it here:
    http://crystalchild.wordpress.com/glutathione/

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