Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders (Asperger’s, Sensory Integration Disorders, ADHD, ODD, OCD, Anxiety) These are a big part of a spectrum of burgeoning new childhood / adolescent epidemics.
Is it Really on the Rise?
It is amazing that some still are asking if these are really increasing or were they just underreported in the past. There is much literature to prove that the epidemics are real. If you are skeptical about this, let me give you some more “anecdotal” type evidence, which I believe is important:
When I was in High School, here in Kenai, in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, there were only seven or eight “special needs” children in the school (with an enrollment at that time of ____). None of them needed shadows. I had not even heard of autism until late in my training in residency in 1991. I had one child with Asperger’s in my practice between 1991 and 2001. I now have 20- 30 patients with autism or Asperger’s. There are countless more patients with the other diseases, which I group in the same spectrum (Sensory Integration disorder, ADHD, ADD, ODD, OCD, Anxiety).
Autism has been doubling in incidence every three years. 25 years ago the incidence of autism was one in 25,000. Today it is one in 87-95. If it continues to increase, in 15 years, one in every three children born in America will have autism.
Asperger’s and all the other diseases in the spectrum are also increasing in frequency. Of interest, asthma, heart disease, diabetes, and most other chronic diseases are all on the increase.
Is There a Correlation? Are There Preventable Causes?
Most clinics and providers who specialize in Autism and Asperger’s also treat ADHD, and many also treat OCD and anxiety. All of the above share a common symptom: Anxiety. Most also have some social challenges, and many have some repetitive behavior or recurrent obsessive thoughts.
Could there be a common thread in all of these diseases? Or is it all too complex for anyone to figure out? Is there some one thing or several things that you and I can do to help the current people afflicted with these diseases? Is medication the answer? Are there lifestyle choices that make a difference? Where should we be spending our efforts?
All diseases are either caused by the environment, or by genetic factors or a combination of the two. We need to recognize that these diseases are happening in epidemic proportions…..but that there is no such thing as a genetic epidemic. Therefore, we must assume that the environment is the major cause of these diseases.
We might step back and think: “What has happened in the last 25 years in our environment, which could have increased the frequency of these diseases?”
A possible short list follows:
1. Increased use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides
2. A food supply grown in depleted soils
3. Genetically modified foods (particularly, corn, wheat, and soy products)
4. 1000’s of new chemicals, soaps, artificial sweeteners, plastics, new food products, antibiotics, medicines that our ancestors were not exposed to.
5. Because of the deficiency of nutrients in our food supply, we have a decreased ability to detoxify (our liver and the phase one—P450 enzyme system, and phase two conjugation and methylation system for instance require several vitamins that are deficient in our diet).
6. Because of the increased intake of refined carbs (rice, noodles, bread, potatoes, sugar, honey, fruit juice, soda, pastries) our gastrointestinal tracts are harboring a new set of microbes which are not able to participate in immune regulation the way our grandparent’s gut bacteria did—leaving our immune system ready to “attack” when it shouldn’t, or unable to “attack” when it should.
7. Dramatic increase in the use of methods to clean our environment, including soaps, antibiotics, etc.
8. Exposure to heavy metals from several sources, which some people may tolerate more than others, because of genetics (be sure and look at various case histories listed below, concerning heavy metals).
9. Exposure to electronics and radio waves in an unprecedented manner.
10. A gradual change in our genetics is our body’s attempt to accommodate the new environment, which leaves us even more susceptible to damage (a field of research called epigenetics).
Many of the modifications in lifestyle /environment help all people in the spectrum. All of them do better off of refined carbs (starches and sweets).
Seeing the Big Picture
There is a saying (which came from Dr. Sidney Baker, M.D.) which goes like this: “If you are standing on a tack, it takes a whole lot of aspirin to feel any better” (In other words, we should look for and treat the cause of the disease instead of look for a pill for a quick fix of the symptoms). Further, he says: “ If you are standing on two tacks, it does not feel 50% better to pull one tack out of your foot.” (In other words, a disease may have multiple causes, and we should be ready to look for and treat all the causes of the disease that we can, to adequately treat the disease).
What we should do when a child is screaming or stacking or throwing things or insisting on only certain foods, or totally intolerant of certain textiles, or not able to focus, or not able to stop bullying or not able to stop worrying / obsessing about things is not: “What pill can I give him to stop the current behavior right now.” (This is the quick fix that we would all like to find for our problems.) We should be asking: “What is the tack or tacks that need to be pulled out of his foot to change his/her behavior.”
What Works? What Doesn’t?
I have seen families and couples struggling with autistic and Asperger’s children, and my heart goes out to them. But, true to form, those who have had to struggle the most are the most motivated to look for solutions. I think that we will do well to look at the sickest population, the autistic people, whose parents have been keeping track of what works and what doesn’t.
What I have found is that, often, as described below, in different case histories, the same lifestyle adjustments help people in all groups.
In the Autism Research Group, 27,000 parents recorded which treatment modalities or lifestyle modifications worked and what didn’t, so that a benefit to risk ratio was recorded for all treatment modalities. The page below is the summary of this research.
You will notice that the top half of the page is a list of medicines. Look under the column with the heading: “better/worse”. You will notice that most of the medicines “better/worse” or benefit to risk ratio hovers around 1:1. In other words, about as many get better as those who get worse.
In the left-most column are two medications: Diflucan and Nystatin. These are antifungals, and the “better/worse” ratio is 13:1 and ____ which is the best response to any prescribed medicine. About three years ago I was amongst the ranks of doctors who thought that a “yeast overload” was unlikely. My patient’s response to antifungals and this research is convincing me that there is an overload of yeast in much of our population (generally, the yeast is harbored in our colon and sometimes our small intestine), probably because of all the starches and sweets we are eating which is feeding “the enemy within.”
In the bottom half of the page is a list of vitamins, diets, integrative or functional medicine treatments. In the right most column are various diets, all of which have one thing in common, that of stopping refined carbs (starches and sweets). The response rate is ___:1, _____, ____. Below these diets are singular modifications in the diet, such as stopping gluten (____:1 benefit to risk), stopping milk (_____:1 benefit to risk), _______.
In my mind, this is an amazing response. If I had only read about this in a few books, that would be one thing, but I have seen the response in my own patient’s lives.
Why Isn’t Our Food Industry Changing? Why Don’t We Have Large Studies to Prove the Benefits?
It has become obvious to me why there are not huge 10,000 patient, double blind, placebo-controlled studies available to prove the benefit of stopping starches, sweets, milk and gluten. For one thing, only a few people are able or willing to make the change off of gluten or milk or starches or sweets. It takes a lot of effort. The government also highly subsidizes our grains, which increases the promotion of them. And the food industry has many people trapped into their addicting foods the make us wanting more. The food industry is flooded with politics and big businesses all in it for the money.
What is exciting, however, is that there is hope for the hopeless, and freedom from those who have been so long in bonds to a disease, if they keep “swinging the bat, until they hit the ball.” Here are several testimonials to show you the hope that can be found by treating the body as a whole by changing our environment.
Stories and Testimonials
Some of the following true stories may shed more light on these diseases. Although they are all anecdotal, I believe that, collectively they point to environmental changes, which we can and should try to make to be able to fall back to what our ancestors life was like, and what they ate, and what they were, or, more importantly, were not exposed to.
If you are interested in learning more or a love one has autism and you are seeking treatment, you are not alone.
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