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Reversing Autism With Nutrition

(reposted from www.bodybio.com)

 

Understanding the biochemistry of autism opens a unique treatment window for targeted nutrient therapy which can lead the child back into a normal life.

Is there an alternative to treating autism with high-powered conventional drugs or so-called behavior management therapies? Precise nutritional prescribing is an intervention provided that is individually tailored. The initial causes of the autism are not necessarily the same, but there is usually a strong nutritional factor involved. More precisely, there is often an insult to the brain and immune system that will respond to specific nutrients if given according to the child's altered biochemistry. This is why it is not possible to create a rote nutritional formula for treating children with autism; such an approach may not produce the otherwise beneficial effects.

The path to autism is different for each child. Some are prone to seizures, some are not; some behave aggressively, while others are overly passive. However, of the 2000+ children with autism that I have worked with, all share several factors. There is a deep disturbance in their fatty acid metabolism, electrolyte balance, production of red and white cells, and their trace mineral balance is sharply altered.

By looking at the blood chemistry of a child with autism, you gain a picture of that child's uniqueness, from which you can accurately determine nutritional factors that have contributed to the appearance of autism, and thereby need correcting.

You do not often hear physicians speak of children "recovering" from autism. Conventional doctors usually consider it a hopeless condition, an abyss from which the child will never emerge. In the 1960's, autism was labeled a psychological disorder, which was believed result from the mother not loving her child. The fact is, children with autism have severe neurological impairment from a biochemical, not emotional, origin. It is an outrage to say that autism originates from an emotional problem. Although this view has since been rejected in scientific circles, parents continue to suffer from this stigma that lingers in the health profession. The following detailed case illustrates the psychological basis of autism and the complex nutritional and metabolic factors involved. It also clearly demonstrates the possibility of its reversal.

The cloud of autism appears
The first year of Alex's life in 1993 was fairly ordinary. He smiled, sat up, crawled, and spoke his first words-all on schedule. Granted, he had a few food allergies (peanuts & eggs), and was subject to recurrent ear infections. Otherwise, he was perfectly fine; there were no signs of any problems in his development. When Alex was one year old, he was vaccinated with the standard childhood shots, a combination of measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR). However, his reaction to the MMR shot was going into an anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening allergic reaction that involves circulation and breathing stress. Hypersensitive to the egg derivatives that are used in the rubella shot, he almost stopped breathing from the inflammation and swelling. Luckily, he survived-except he wasn't the same afterwards.

Before, he was a happy, laughing baby. After the MMR vaccination, Alex began to slip away into a world of his own. He began to avoid eye contact with his parents and they couldn't engage him in play. They began to feel as though there was a glass wall separating them from Alex, as he slipped further and further away.

Over the following months, he developed pneumonia, repeated viral episodes, and gastrointestinal distress. His physical movements became uncoordinated. His doctor attributed his diminishing alertness to his poor health. Alex also began to show limited food preferences, only wanting milk and wheat products. He also had an unquenchable thirst. (This indicates a serious imbalance in his fatty acid metabolism.) Every system of his body-immune, endocrine, gastrointestinal, liver, kidney, and central nervous-seemed to be compromised. One month past his second birthday, in June of 1995, Alex was diagnosed autistic. His parents were devastated.

What His Body Chemistry Revealed
Children with autism often either starve themselves or eat oddly, including inedible objects. In Alex's case, his diet was quite limited and not nutrient-dense, and his eating habits became quirky and strange. He was still on a milk-based baby formula and preferred wheat-based foods. A picky eater, Alex avoided most protein foods, and predominately ate french fries, cookies, crackers, pasta, apple slices, ice cream, and other "empty" carbohydrate foods. My first course of action was to run a comprehensive blood chemistry and complete blood count with a biomedical interpretation on Alex, to see the unique patterns of biochemical disturbance within his system. Armed with this information, the clinician is able to produce a better prognosis for those who were once imprisoned in an unyielding haze of degenerative conditions. Correctly interpreted blood chemistry clarifies otherwise hazy or seemingly hopeless conditions and charts the way out of them.

Quite possibly, the reason many conventional doctors do not reach for nutrients as part of their prescription is that they do not understand their significance as nutrition is poorly covered in medical school. Most doctors try to understand the problem as a disease, whereas in this approach- metabolic pharmacology-on the basis of countless blood chemistries, we can now define disease or disorder according to changes in the blood composition. I relied on an inexpensive blood test interpretation called BodyBio Blood Biopsy Analysis, to provide information on 44 different biochemical levels in Alex's blood. The BioBio medical data management transforms lab data, such as blood chemistry and red-cell membrane fatty acids, into a clear concise format that takes the individual test results and matches the disturbances in a person's metabolism to appropriate nutritional intervention, as supported by medical literature.

Alex's blood chemistry clearly pinpointed the nutritional reasons for his condition, and thereby provided the basis for a precise nutritional prescription. Alex's system was unbalanced on many biochemical levels, and within three major categories. First, he had a serious disturbance in his electrolyte status. Specifically, Alex was deficient in sodium (too low) and bicarbonate (carbon dioxide: too low). Levels of other electrolytes were too high, such as calcium and phosphorus.

Electrolytes control what is called membrane traffic-which is what goes in and out of the cells. This means that there is no point in providing nutritional supplements unless the electrolyte imbalance is first corrected; otherwise, nothing will get into the cells and toxins cannot be released. The delicate balance of electrolytes also controls the electrical activity within the brain.

For example, for the brain to remove ammonia from its tissues, preventing an otherwise dangerous buildup, the body requires a sufficient level of bicarbonate. Too much ammonia in the blood can be toxic, producing symptoms, such as mental confusion, lethargy, seizures, vomiting, coma. The spacey, dreamy, lack of clarity state observed in most autistic children, is directly linked with a low carbon dioxide levels and disturbed electrolyte status. As bicarbonates were added at an appropriate time Alex was more alert and totally lost the look of confusion.

Alex's second major imbalance had to do with nitrogen. Nitrogen is a key component of amino acids, which combine to form protein. Alex was deficient in three principle nitrogen categories ("markers"). Namely, creatinine, uric acid, and BUN (blood urea nitrogen).

Bear in mind that Alex avoided protein foods, which means that the amount of nitrogen and amino acids in his blood were far below normal, as found by these three nitrogen markers being low in his blood. Nitrogen, derived from protein, is a major building block of the body, assessing nitrogen retention tells you if the person is breaking down or building up cells; that is, how stable nitrogen is in the body. If the individuals body is breaking down substances (catabolism) faster than it is building them (anabolism), the nitrogen content is unstable. If the body is generally in a condition of staying stable than we know that it is appropriately handling nitrogen.

Alex's blood test results clearly showed that his kidneys and liver were not functioning as well as they should. After we stabilized his bicarbonate and electrolyte status, his gastrointestinal function normalized and Alex could handle protein foods. Thus Alex's kidney and liver function normalized as we stabilized his electrolytes.

The third area of Alex's imbalance was indicated by a sharply altered hematology. This means, overall, that the status of Alex's red and white blood cells deviated from the healthy norm (red/white cell levels were too low). If a child has a low red blood cell count, his system may have trouble carrying oxygen to the tissues, including the brain.

Alex's immune system was also not functioning at an optimal level. The activity of one form of white blood cells called lymphocytes was depressed, while the level of monocytes (another immune white cell) was sharply elevated above the norm, indicating a response to chronic infection, GI distress and inflammation.

Finally, Alex had depressed levels of fats in the liquid part of his blood, both cholesterol and triglycerides were quite low. Lipid levels are an important factor in determining health because the endocrine system and its hormones, the brain and its neurotransmitters, and all the immune system components are derived from lipids (fats).

The fact that Alex's lipid levels were distorted highlights another advantage to knowing the precise blood levels of various nutrients. First, several of his metabolic problems were due to fatty acid deficiencies. The body requires specific fatty acids for the smooth running of the gastrointestinal system, the immune system, the formation of cell membranes, nerve sheaths, hormones, and proper functioning of the nervous system.

Many physicians (and patients) are eager to suggest antioxidant supplementation as a general health measure to offset the cellular damage caused by free radicals. However, children with autism have difficulty making the correct lipid components from essential fatty acids and aggressively adding antioxidants worsens their condition. Children with autism require nutrients that stimulate metabolism, rather than suppress it, as antioxidants do; this is why a high dose of Vitamin E (a commonly used antioxidant) often produces negative effects.

Nutrition restores Alex to the world
With this information in hand, my next step was to develop a nutritional program to correct all of Alex's biochemical imbalances and, in doing so, bring him back to the world. I began by slowly introducing changes into Alex's diet. To help Alex digest and absorb his foods better, we started him on plant enzymes that helped him to digest protein, carbohydrate and fats. His parents sprinkled the contents of one enzyme capsule on his food at each meal. As a further digestive aid, we gave him small amounts of magnesium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate powder one hour after each meal. This would help to stabilize his electrolyte and relieve gastrointestinal distress. His parents also mixed the contents of an array of vitamins and minerals into Alex's foods.

We eliminated all wheat, gluten-containing products, and cow's milk (especially the milk protein casein) from Alex's diet, switching him to rice cereal and crackers. These changes would help remove the stress on his immune system and gastrointestinal systems. To increase Alex's protein intake, his parents started feeding him finely minced, organically raised chicken. In adding protein to Alex's diet, we still had to carefully control his nitrogen intake from these foods. If you increase the nitrogen, you also raise the level of ammonia in the blood; in a person with unbalanced central nervous system such as Alex had, too much ammonia could lead to a seizure.

As a general principle, Alex's diet was guided towards pure, nutrient-dense foods, avoiding processed items such as white flour, white sugar, margarine, and hydrogenated (solid) fats because they would interfere with the stability of his blood chemistry. He had to strictly avoid all foods containing Nutrasweet and monosodium glutamate (MSG), as children with developmental problems may have grave difficulties handling these chemicals.

The specific problem with Nutrasweet is that is contains methanol, which produces formaldehyde and formic acid in the body. These, in turn, have an effect on the myelin sheath (fatty wrapping) surrounding nerve cells and on the mitochondria, the cells' energy producing organelles. Clearly when the nerve impulses are already distorted, you don't want to further stress the nervous system. Alex had other key nutrient deficiencies, such as iron, molybdenum, magnesium, zinc, manganese, chromium and the B Vitamins (especially B12), which we reversed through dietary changes and supplements.

To replenish trace minerals, which are the most difficult nutrients to re-establish, we used E-Lyte Ionic liquid minerals (such as potassium, zinc, magnesium, chromium, molybdenum, selenium and manganese) added to fresh squeezed juice to restore his mineral reserves. E-Lyte electrolyte solution was added to Alex's food like rice pasta, gluten-free pancake and cookie batter, almond milk, soups, gravy, mashed potatoes, etc.

Essential fatty acids were added to Alex's supplemental regime as sunflower oil, primrose oil, wheat germ oil, and butter. Once we had the omega 6 fatty acids stabilized we later added in the omega 3 fatty acids from fish oil. All told, between nutrients introduced through foods and those given as supplements, 25 specific nutrients were given to Alex to correct his biochemistry. Nutrients were added in individually one at a time rather than in multiples as children with autism are acutely sensitive. If each individual nutrient is added in one at a time then the body's response can be clearly noted.

We made nutritional changes over the course of six weeks, and watched for results. Soon his father noted that Alex was more alert, with more eye contact and social interaction, and he began to use words again. He was able to eat more and was willing to have his diet expanded; his general health improved, as did his physical coordination.

One of the unmistakable signs that Alex was improving was his own interest in diversifying his diet. He went from being a picky eater with a poor appetite and strange food behaviors, such as being bothered by food odors, to choosing a healthier range of food. The healthier he became, the more varied his diet expanded. He could now eat meals and other protein foods, that previously were rejected because he could not digest them.

After Alex began the oral electrolyte solution, his improvement began to take off. The solution is added to food thus goes unnoticed, as it just tastes a bit salty. Previously, Alex would tire easily, his gait was stiff, and when he did try to walk, he would give up and be carried by his mother. Soon after starting the oral electrolytes, his mother said he began to run for the first time in his life.

His physical therapist also noted the changes. Alex was receiving regular training in Sensory Integration Therapy, using play-like movements in which the child performs motions such as spinning, rolling, jumping, and swinging. These regulate the muscles and brain, providing the nervous system with sensory experiences. Alex's ability to do the exercises increased, and after about two months on the electrolyte solution, liquid trace minerals, essential fatty acids and nutrient therapy, he lost all of the stiffness in his gait. His movements were well coordinated and fluid.

After a total of three months on the nutritional program, Alex had shifted from a complete absence of speech to being able to say 48 different words. Alex's father called me weekly with updates on his son's progress, almost shouting his excitement about the tremendous gains.

There is one crucial point to make here: the earlier you start working with a child after having received the diagnosis of autism, the better the results. If you let the condition go on, the damage becomes deeper and the imbalance of the nervous system becomes more complicated, making the way back towards normality much more difficult. All of the children with autism I have worked with have made dramatic improvements, 12 having totally been recovered to date, but the older the child, the slower the changes. Adults with autism, however, do surprisingly well with nutritional intervention. Certainly no recoveries but speech, behavior, muscle, digestive and immune function are greatly improved.

Alex continued to soar in his development. His parents, naturally excited by the progress, were overjoyed at getting their son back. In the spring of 1996, eight months after beginning his targeted nutritional regime, it was clear that Alex had responded remarkably well to metabolic intervention. His social interaction, eye contact, imaginative play, and speech all appeared to be well within normal range.

It must be stressed that Alex did not suddenly snap out of autism, but slowly got better over time. When his parents took Alex back to the pediatrician, who had originally diagnosed him as autistic, the doctor was speechless. He said that in his eighteen years of practice, he had never seen a child with autism change so drastically. In June of 1996, Alex was selected by the Children's Miracle Network to appear on television as their "poster boy". In the photo shoot Alex told the photographer, 'I'm Awesome Alex, the Adventurer'.

Today, nearing his eighth birthday Alex, is a delight to his parents, family and friends. He is a little boy lost no longer but instead has spread his wings and developed into a beautiful, highly intelligent, imaginative little boy. When Alex was three I sent him some Star Wars characters for his birthday. His parents must have wondered why I sent the toys that Alex was not quite ready for. My own son at age three loved Star Wars and played endlessly with the characters. I knew that Alex would one day play with those characters just as my son had and it would be the hallmark of his recovery to play imaginatively. I waited patiently to hear Alex's parents tell me that Alex was playing with the toys I had sent. Finally, that event occurred and then they understood clearly why I sent the characters and what it meant. Their little boy was free of autism forever. On Alex's 7th birthday his parents threw a huge Star Wars party for him complete with rice-almond birthday cake and soy ice cream (no junk food or margarine or gluten in the Vaughn household). As you can see Alex (Skywalker) and his girlfriend Princess Leia had a delightful time. Today, Alex attends Montessori school, expertly manipulates the computer, plays soccer, loves to read and best of all loves to imagine himself as - Alex Skywalker, a Jedi Knight.

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