I recently posted the top
headlines in natural, holistic, and integrative health, wellness, and
medication updates for the month of April.
Below is a separate and
highlighted compilation for the top headlines in the latest news on autism.
As a functional medicine
practitioner and naturopathic doctor, I view autism as a multifactorial condition.
An individual will develop autism based on genetic predispositions or
sensitivities, environmental exposures, nutritional status, and immune
imbalances, among others.
This means that many factors
are at play and all should be considered. When considering a comprehensive approach to
support young children with a diagnosis of autism, I find the following areas need to be assessed:
- Diseases and dysfunctions of the mitochondria.
- Mom’s prenatal health, prenatal
development, and history of prenatal environmental exposures. Childhood is
a time of increased susceptibility to neural imbalances, due to an
underdeveloped blood-brain barrier.
- Medication history of the mom, as some
drugs can alter brain development including misoprostol, valproic acid,
acetaminophen, and thalidomide.
- Evaluating for imbalances in brain
neurotransmitters, hormonal levels, and nervous system response and finding
the causes of these imbalances.
- Present exposures to environmental
toxins including xenobiotics, phthalates, PCBs, organophosphate
pesticides, herbicides, perchlorates, trihalomethanes, aluminum and
mercury, which can continue to alter brain and hormonal development.
and viral infections present, such as measles, herpes simplex virus,
varicella, cytomegalovirus, and other stealth infections which modulate
immune response and neural inflammation.
- Compromised digestive function and
intestinal permeability. For
example, in those with gluten and dairy sensitivity, undigested proteins
from gluten and dairy can cross react with brain proteins, causing nervous
and immune symptoms.
- Genetic variants in enzymes, including
MTHFR (methylenetetrahydroflate reductase) and various detoxification
- Nutritional status.
- Stress resiliency and emotional
With all these factors to
consider, it should come as no surprise that I don’t have a “one-size fits all
approach to autism.”
Below are more recent
headlines on autism. These include an article linking dad’s weight to autism,
brain pattern studies that provide beneficial evidence for early intervention,
and more on the link of pesticides to autism risk.
Dad’s Weight and Risk of Autism
Recently, a new study reported
on 93,000 Norwegian children found those who were born to obese fathers had
double the risk of having autism. This study, published in Pediatrics, suggested that obesity may affect autism risk due to
its negative effect on sperm quality or due to the inflammatory environmental
toxins stored in adipose tissue.
Norton, A. Could Dads’
Obesity Raise Autism Risk for Kids? Health Day. April 7, 2014.
The Brain Patterns of Autism
A recent study analyzed
gene expression in postmortem brain tissue of autistic children between 2-15
years of age. The study demonstrated differences in neuron organization in the frontal
cortex of brains of autistic children verses non-autistic children. The areas
affected were linked to emotional and social function. The changes could be traced
The faulty cell laying of neurons
in the cortex was found to be partial, with some regions unaffected. This could
provide support for early intervention with autism. This is because when the
child is young, the brain has more plasticity and it can more easily be trained
to recruit neighboring brain regions which can modulate social and emotional
Chiodo, K. Disorganized
cortical patches suggest prenatal origin of autism: NIH-funded study shows
disrupted cell layering process in the developing brain. Integrative
Practicioner.com. March 26, 2014.
Stoner R, Chow ML, Boyle
MP, Sunkin SM, Mouton PR, Roy S, Wynshaw-Boris A, Colamarino SA, Lein ES,
Courchesne E. Patches of disorganization in the neocortex of children with
autism (abstract). NEJM (podcast), March 27, 2014.
Another Link to Autism and Chemicals
A recent study found that
for every one percent increase in genital malformations in newborn males, there
was an associated 283 percent increase in autism. According to Dr. Mercola, “The correlation between genital
malformation and autism offer strong support for the notion that autism is the
result of parental overexposure to environmental toxins.”
Mercola, J. Environmental
Toxins Linked to Rise in Autism. Mercola.com. April 2, 2014.
A, Bagley, S, Wang, K, et al. Environmental and State-Level Regulatory Factors
Affect the Incidence of Autism and Intellectual Disability. PLOS Computational
Biology. March 13, 2014.DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003518