By: Dr. Mercola
Many scientists have believed that genetics accounted for 90 percent of a child’s risk for autism. A new study, however, suggests that environmental factors could play a much larger role.
The research looked at nearly 200 pairs of twins, and found, to the researchers’ surprise, that a greater number of fraternal twins shared autism than identical twins. Fraternal twins share only half their genes with each other.
According to NPR:
“Scientists have long suspected that there’s been an environmental contribution to autism … and previous studies have shown that it may occur in the early stages of pregnancy.”
For a truly eye-opening look at the causes of autism, watch this interview with Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride — a physician who cured her own son of the disorder.
Dr. Mercola’s Comments:
Autism was a very uncommon condition when I was in medical school; it impacted maybe one in 10,000 children. Now we are seeing an explosion of cases numbering somewhere between 1 in 50 and 1 in 110 children, depending on what source of statistics you use.
Clearly something is going on, but it is most likely not a problem with genetics in the majority of cases, as conventional medicine has often suggested. Research is now clearly showing that environmental factors play an equal, if not more important, role in the epidemic of autism spectrum diseases.
Environmental Factors Play a Major Role in Autism
The latest research from Stanford University School of Medicine used identical twins to help unravel a part of the puzzle. Since identical twins share nearly the same DNA, if there were an important genetic component to autism, then if one identical twin has autism, so should their identical sibling in the vast majority of cases.
However, when researchers completed diagnostic assessments on 192 twin pairs, they found fraternal twins were more likely to share an autism diagnosis than identical twins. Fraternal twins share only 50 percent of their DNA, which means something else is probably responsible for the double diagnosis — and researchers suspect environmental factors are likely to blame. They note:
“Susceptibility to ASD [autism spectrum disorder] has moderate genetic heritability and a substantial shared twin environmental component.”
This is not an entirely surprising finding, as even though researchers did find a genetic mutation linked to autism in a study conducted in 2008, the mutations are present in only 1 percent of all kids with autism. Furthermore, no one has been able to identify one single “autism gene.” And there is no such thing as a genetic epidemic — so no way to explain today’s autism explosion as a function of genetics. The majority of autism cases appear to result from the activation, or “expression,” of a number of different genes and multiple epigenetic and environmental factors that interact to express autism traits.
Is Your Gut Flora the Most Important Common Thread?
When looking into the possible environmental factors for autism, they are incredibly diverse. For instance, a recent review by Helen Ratajczak in the Journal of Immunotoxicology found autism may be the result of inflammation of the brain due to:
|Encephalitis following vaccination||Defective placenta||Immature blood-brain barrier|
|Immune response of the mother to infection while pregnant||Premature birth||Encephalitis in the child after birth|
Russian neurologist Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride recently shared a common thread that may be linking these and other environmental factors together – brain toxicity that stems from gut toxicity, otherwise known as Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS).
What is Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS)?
Total Video Length: 1:13:21
Download Interview Transcript
For a truly eye-opening look at the potential causes of autism, watch the interview above with Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride — she is a Russian neurologist who now specializes in treating autistic children in the U.K. She cured her own son of the disorder using an all-natural treatment involving dietary changes and detoxification.
Dr. Campbell is convinced that autistic children are in fact born with perfectly normal brains and perfectly normal sensory organs, but abnormal gut flora, passed on from their mother and father, leads to devastating toxicity.
“What happens in these children [is that] they do not develop normal gut flora from birth … Gut flora is a hugely important part of our human physiology. Recently research in Scandinavia has demonstrated that 90 percent of all cells and all genetic material in a human body is our own gut flora. We are just a shell… a habitat for this mass of microbes inside us. We ignore them at our own peril.
…As a result, their digestive system—instead of being a source of nourishment for these children—becomes a major source of toxicity.
These pathogenic microbes inside their digestive tract damage the integrity of the gut wall. So all sort of toxins and microbes flood into the bloodstream of the child, and get into the brain of the child.
That usually happens in the second year of life in children who were breast fed because breastfeeding provides a protection against this abnormal gut flora. In children who were not breastfed, I see the symptoms of autism developing in the first year of life. So breastfeeding is crucial to protect these children.”
In children with Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS), toxicity flowing from their gut throughout their bodies and into their brains, clogs the brain with toxicity, preventing it from performing its normal function and processing sensory information.
“If the child’s brain is clogged with toxicity, the child misses that window of opportunity of learning and starts developing autism depending on the mixture of toxins, depending on how severe the whole condition is, depending how severely abnormal the gut flora is in the child.
The child may manifest this condition as a number of symptoms which would fit into a diagnostic box of autism or as another bunch of symptoms which would fit into a box of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or attention deficit disorder (ADD) without hyperactivity or dyslexia or dyspraxia or obsessive-compulsive disorder or something else.”
What Leads to Abnormal Gut Flora that Can Trigger Autism?
Dr. Campbell discovered that a large percentage of mothers of autistic children were bottle-fed. Then, as they received many courses of antibiotics throughout their childhood, they developed increasingly worse abnormalities in their gut flora.
” … [many] mothers of autistic children were born at the time when … formulas just came in, a large percent of them were not breastfed. So these women acquire slightly abnormal gut flora from their moms at birth, then they were not breastfed so the abnormalities in their gut flora deepened. Then throughout their childhood they received many courses of antibiotics.
Ever since antibiotics were prescribed particularly from the 50s and 60s, they were prescribed a suite for every cough and sneeze. They really over prescribed antibiotics.And with every course of antibiotics, the abnormalities in the gut flora would get deeper and deeper in these girls.
And then at the age of 15, 16 these ladies were put on a contraceptive pill. Contraceptive pills have a devastating effect on the gut flora. Nowadays ladies are taking it for quite a few years before they’re ready to start their family.
To that you can add the junk food, all the processed carbohydrates that people are consuming nowadays. These sorts of foods are almost exclusively feed pathogens in the digestive system allowing them to proliferate. Many of these modern factors created a whole plethora of young ladies in our modern world who have got quite deeply abnormal gut flora by the time they are ready to have their first child.”
So, to recap, bottle-feeding along with over-use of antibiotics and use of the contraceptive pill set the stage for increasingly abnormal gut flora with each passing generation. Then, add to that a diet of processed junk food and excessive consumption of high fructose corn syrup and you have a prescription for disaster in terms of intestinal health. And this disastrous intestinal microflora is subsequently passed on to your children.
Do Vaccines Play a Role?
Vaccines represent one of the most controversial pieces of the autism puzzle, but there is reason to believe they may play a role in certain cases. Studies confirm, for instance, that babies do not respond to vaccines in the same way as adults, even by one year of age.
In your child’s developing brain, immune over-activation has been shown to be particularly damaging to the amygdala and other limbic structures. In essence, what is lost is that which makes us social human beings, able to function in a complex world of ideas and interactions—and this is what is lost with autism. What we see is a vicious cycle of immune activation, excitotoxin and cytokine excretion, and free radical production. The latter starts the cycle all over again.
Russell Blaylock, M.D., a board-certified neurosurgeon, discusses this at length in his article about the dangers of excessive vaccination during brain development.
As Dr. Campbell also explains, babies are born not only with a sterile gut, but also with immature immune systems. And establishment of normal gut flora in the first 20 days or so of life plays a crucial role in appropriate maturation of your baby’s immune system. Hence, babies who develop abnormal gut flora are left with compromised immune systems, putting them at risk from vaccination.
“Vaccinations have been developed, originally, for children with perfectly healthy immune systems,” she says. “GAPS children are NOT fit to be vaccinated with the standard vaccination protocol.”
Her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome contains an entire chapter outlining what health care professionals need to do to improve the vaccination strategy, because the standard vaccination protocol is bound to damage GAPS babies.
“It’s a matter of the last straw breaking the camel’s back. So if the child is damaged enough, the vaccine can provide that last straw. But if it doesn’t provide that last straw in a particular child, then it will get the child closer to the breaking point.”
An Elegantly Simple Solution to Prevent Autism
It is possible to identify GAPS within the first weeks of your baby’s life, which can help you make better-informed decisions about vaccinations, and about how to proceed to set your child on the path to a healthy life.
Dr. Campbell describes the entire process for identifying children who would be at risk for developing autism from a vaccine in her book, but to sum it up, in her practice she starts out by collecting a complete health history of the parents, and their gut health is assessed. Then, within the first few days of life, the stool of the child can be analyzed to determine the state of her gut flora, followed by a urine test to check for metabolites, which can give you a picture of the state of your child’s immune system.
These tests are available in most laboratories around the world and cost a very reasonable amount, about $80-100 per test — peanuts compared to the incredible expense of treating an autistic child once the damage is done.
If you find that your baby has abnormal gut microflora, or your child begins to develop symptoms of autism a year or two later, the GAPS program should be started immediately, as the younger the child is when you start the treatment, the better the results.
Initially, all babies should ideally be breastfed and from there Dr. Campbell’s program involves dietary changes and detoxification including:
|Traditionally fermented foods, including kefir, yogurt and vegetables||Healthy diet including juicing, animal fats, meats, and fresh vegetables||Baths with Epsom salts and sea salt, seaweed powder and cider vinegar, and bicarbonate soda|
|Sunbathing without sunscreen for vitamin D production||Omega-3 fats||Digestive enzymes|
|Avoidance of grains||Avoidance of processed foods and corn syrup||Avoidance of vegetable oils|
Dr. Campbell discusses many additional and priceless details relating to this protocol, so please, set aside some time to listen to the interview in its entirety, or read through the transcript. For more information, if you’re pregnant, planning a pregnancy, or know someone who is, or if you have a child with autism, I can’t recommend Dr. Campbell’s book enough.
Buy it for yourself, or as a gift.
What Else Can You do to Address the Environmental Causes of Autism?
There’s tremendous hope for children who have the constellation of symptoms associated with autism, and we are learning more by the day about how to help these children. I have made it one of my goals to provide parents with a range of cutting-edge information that will help them find solutions to caring for their children safely and effectively.
Based on my own experience and insight from many autism experts, here are my recommendations:
- Eliminate sugar (particularly fructose) and grains from your child’s diet. Sugar is in fact toxic to your body, capable of causing profound harm to your health. This includes ALL forms of sugar, whether it’s regular table sugar or corn-based sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), honey, or agave, and whether it’s found in juice, soda, French fries, or grain products (such as pasta, bagels, cereal, pretzels, etc).
- Avoid pasteurized milk. This is absolutely imperative when you’re treating autism. This includes ALL milk products, including ice cream, yogurt and even whey. Even natural flavorings in food must be avoided unless the processor can guarantee, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that caseinate is not included. Note that fermented raw milk, as discussed by Dr. Campbell, may be beneficial.
- Tailor your child’s diet to whole fresh organic foodsfor optimal health. In my experience, nearly ALL children seem to respond favorably to the dietary changes when properly implemented.
- Optimize vitamin D levels through proper sun exposure.
- Lower microbial burden. Any type of chronic infection, whether caused by Lyme disease or any other microbe, such as mold, can spread through your system and make you chronically ill. One of the major problems is that the biotoxins produced by the infection compete for the same detoxification pathways as do other toxins, like mercury and pesticides, and so on.
Make your child’s body less of an optimal habitat for microbial overgrowth through dietary changes (less starch and sugar at minimum) and lowering overall stress. Also, consider testing for mold (in your home) and Lyme (in their body) but only after “provocation treatment.”
- Lower toxic burdens: Avoid exposure to as many environmental toxins as you can, such as pesticides, herbicides, and sources of mercury, aluminum and fluoride. Also do whatever you can to establish a mold, dust, and smell-free environment for your whole family, followed by a comprehensive detoxification program. Please remember hidden toxins like fluoride and look carefully evaluate all cleaning products in your home.
- Reduce EMF exposure: Exposure to electromagnetic fields from cell phones, electrical wiring and Wi-Fi may significantly add to the problem because when toxic microbes in your body are exposed to electromagnetic fields, they respond as if they’re being attacked, and start producing even more biotoxins in an attempt to prolong their survival.
- Use an effective intervention to address any emotional stresses as soon as possible – avoid having destructive thoughts and letting emotions fester. Potent tools such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) are excellent for this purpose.
- Carefully review the vaccination issue, including the conventional vaccination schedule. Know that in most U.S. states you have the right to opt out of vaccines and, if you choose to vaccinate, consider having your child tested for GAPS beforehand.
- Homeopathy may also help ameliorate some symptoms of brain- and immune system dysfunction suffered by children labeled as “autistic.”
Category: Sensory Integration Disorder