By Dr. Mercola
Three decades ago, when I was still in medical school, autism affected one in 10,000 children.1, 2 Today, autism is estimated to afflict as many as one in 50 children.3
Mounting research indicates that brain disorders are the result of excessive exposure to toxins from multiple sources—including the mother, while in utero.
Another critical factor appears to be related to gut bacteria, which are of course also adversely affected by toxic exposures of all kinds, from food, environment, and medicine.
The more we learn about the functions of the human microbiome, the more we come to realize that bacteria may in fact be responsible for a vast majority of human health conditions. As noted in a previous article by Experience L!fe:4
"The idea that we have so many more microbial cells than human cells runs counter to the long-held belief that our health is mostly orchestrated by instructions embedded in our DNA.
Scientists worked hard to crack the human genome, but, ultimately, just knowing our genetic codes proved insufficient to actually cure disease. Researchers eventually realized they had to factor in and analyze the human microbiome to get a clearer picture of how health and well-being are maintained."
Researchers Reaffirm Link Between Gut Dysfunction and Autism
Researchers are now starting to understand how a child's microbiome can play a role, either by exacerbating or even causing autistic symptoms. As noted by Scientific American:5
"Autism is primarily a disorder of the brain, but research suggests that as many as nine out of 10 individuals with the condition also suffer from gastrointestinal problems such as inflammatory bowel disease and 'leaky gut'...
Scientists have long wondered whether the composition of bacteria in the intestines, known as the gut microbiome, might be abnormal in people with autism and drive some of these symptoms.
Now a spate of new studies supports this notion and suggests that restoring proper microbial balance could alleviate some of the disorder's behavioral symptoms."
Indeed, this is precisely what Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride surmised when she created the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Nutritional Program, which is designed to restore the integrity of your gut lining.
According to Dr. Campbell-McBride, most problems in the brain are usually connected to what's going on in your digestive system. She may also have been among the first to discover that there's a very important connection between damaged gut flora in pregnant women and developmental problems in their children, especially autism.
I believe the GAPS Nutritional program is vitally important for most, as the majority of people have such poor gut health due to poor diet and toxic exposures, but it's particularly crucial for pregnant women and young children.
According to Dr. Campbell-McBride, in children with GAPS the toxicity flowing from their gut throughout their bodies and into their brains continually challenges their nervous system, preventing it from performing its normal functions and process sensory information.
GAPS may manifest in a wide range of symptoms, fitting the diagnosis of either autism, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention deficit disorder (ADD) without hyperactivity, dyslexia, dyspraxia, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, just to name a few possibilities.
Autistic Children Have Fewer Healthy Bacteria, and Higher Levels of Toxins
In one recent experiment conducted by researchers at Arizona State University, feces from autistic and healthy children were compared to assess the composition of their microflora. Not surprisingly, the levels of bacterial colonies differed significantly between the two groups.
Another study, published last year in the journal PLOS One,6 also found that autistic children have distinctly different microbiome compared to healthy children. Notably, they had fewer healthy bacteria, such as Bifidobacterium. Autistic children also had markedly higher levels of toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
The authors suggest that implementing a regimen of pre- and probiotics could be a useful treatment tool to restore microbial balance. They also noted that certain microbial indices may be signatures for autism.
"One open question is whether these microbial differences drive the development of the condition or are instead a consequence of it. A study published in December 2013 in Cell7 supports the former idea," Scientific American8 goes on to report.
When researchers at the California Institute of Technology incited autismlike symptoms in mice using an established paradigm that involved infecting their mothers with a viruslike molecule during pregnancy, they found that after birth, the mice had altered gut bacteria compared with healthy mice.
By treating the sick rodents with a health-promoting bacterium called Bacteroides fragilis, the researchers were able to attenuate some, but not all, of their behavioral symptoms. The treated mice had less anxious and stereotyped behaviors and became more vocally communicative."
The Rise of Nutritional Psychiatry
The Caltech study9 published in Cell is said to be the first to demonstrate that alterations in gut bacteria can directly influence autism-like behaviors in mice. Previous research has shown that probiotics can serve as an alternative treatment to antidepressant drugs in those with depression and anxiety.
In fact, we're now seeing the rise of "nutritional psychiatry," which I believe is a huge leap in the right direction. In a paper published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology10 earlier this year, the authors discuss the importance of fermented foods for mental health.
Fermentation, they note, produces varieties of phytochemicals and flavonoids that are otherwise rare in the human diet, which can readily alter the microbial profile in your intestines for the better. They write:
"[T]he consumption of fermented foods may be particularly relevant to the emerging research linking traditional dietary practices and positive mental health. The extent to which traditional dietary items may mitigate inflammation and oxidative stress may be controlled, at least to some degree, by microbiota.
It is our contention that properly controlled fermentation may often amplify the specific nutrient and phytochemical content of foods, the ultimate value of which may associated with mental health; furthermore, we also argue that the microbes (for example, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species) associated with fermented foods may also influence brain health via direct and indirect pathways."
Iron Deficiency Also Raises Autism Risk
In related news, another recent study11, 12 suggests that women over the age of 35 who are deficient in iron during pregnancy, concurrent with a metabolic condition, have a five-fold greater risk of having an autistic child. According to The Scotsman:13
"Low iron intake was associated with the higher risk if the mother was 35 or older at the time of the child's birth or if she suffered from metabolic conditions such as obesity hypertension or diabetes."
Three years ago, Assistant Professor Rebecca Schmidt at the University of California reported an association between folic acid supplementation and a reduced risk for autism. In her latest study, maternal iron intake during pregnancy was also found to play a role. According to Professor Schmidt:
"Iron deficiency, and its resultant anemia, is the most common nutrient deficiency, especially during pregnancy, affecting 40 to 50 percent of women and their infants. Iron is crucial to early brain development, contributing to neurotransmitter production, myelination and immune function. All three of these pathways have been associated with autism."
Autism and Cancer May Be Related to Human Fetal DNA in Vaccines
So far, evidence has pin-pointed environmental toxicity, gut dysfunction, and certain nutritional deficiencies as contributors to autism. There's also the issue of vaccine-induced damage. A study published in the September 2014 issue of the Journal of Public Health and Epidemiology14 reveals a significant correlation between autism and three specific vaccines:
- MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella)
- Varicella (chickenpox)
- Hepatitis-A vaccines
As reported by Global Research:15
"Using statistical analysis and data from the US Government, UK, Denmark and Western Australia, scientists at Sound Choice Pharmaceutical Institute (SCPI) found that increases in autistic disorder correspond with the introduction of vaccines using human fetal cell lines and retroviral contaminants. Even more alarming, Dr Theresa Deisher, lead scientist and SCPI founder noted that, 'Not only are the human fetal contaminated vaccines associated with autistic disorder throughout the world, but also with epidemic childhood leukemia and lymphomas.'"
Autism Rates Jump Each Time Vaccine Made from Human Fetal Cell Lines Is Released
The main clincher was the introduction of vaccines manufactured with human fetal cell lines containing fetal and retroviral contaminants. The cell line in question is known as WI-38. According to the authors, autism rates rose sharply each time another one of these vaccines were released. In the US, autism rates jumped in 1980-1981 following the approval of MeruvaxII and MMRII, both of which are made with the human fetal cell line WI-38. Another jump in autism prevalence occurred in 1988, corresponding to three factors:
- The addition of a second dose of MMRII
- A highly successful measles vaccination campaign that raised compliance from 50 to 82 percent between the years 1987-1989
- The introduction of Poliovax in 1987
In 1995, autism rates jumped again in response to the introduction of the Varicella vaccine Varivax. In conclusion, the authors note that "rising autistic disorder prevalence is directly related to vaccines manufactured utilizing human fetal cells." The timing of this damning study is uncanny. In late August, Dr. William Thompson, a research scientist at the CDC's National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases (NCIR), claimed that the CDC covered up a vaccine-autism connection in relation to the MMR vaccine.16 It now appears the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also knew there were safety concerns relating to the use of human fetal cell lines. As noted by Global Research:
"Instead of conducting safety studies [the FDA] regulated the amount of human DNA that could be present in a vaccine to no greater than 10ng.17 Unfortunately, Dr. Deisher's team discovered that the fetal DNA levels ranged anywhere from 142ng – 2000ng per dose, way beyond the so-called 'safe' level.
'There are a large number of publications about the presence of HERV (human endogenous retrovirus – the only re-activatable endogenous retrovirus) and its association with childhood lymphoma,' noted Dr Deisher. 'The MMR II and chickenpox vaccines and indeed all vaccines that were propagated or manufactured using the fetal cell line WI-38 are contaminated with this retrovirus. And both parents and physicians have a right to know this!'"
GAPS Protocol May Hold the 'Cure' for Autism
In her research, Dr. Campbell-McBride discovered that nearly all of the mothers of autistic children have abnormal gut flora, which is significant because newborns inherit their gut flora from their mothers at the time of birth. Establishing normal gut flora in the first 20 days or so of life plays a crucial role in the maturation of your baby's immune system. It's important to realize that babies who develop abnormal gut flora have compromised immune systems, which puts them at higher risk for suffering vaccine reactions. If your baby has suboptimal gut flora, vaccines can become the proverbial "last straw" — the trigger that "primes" his/her immune system to develop chronic health problems.
The best way to prevent GAPS is for the mother to avoid all processed foods, sugar, antibiotics (including CAFO meats and antibacterial soaps), and birth control pills prior to conception as these cause yeast and fungi to grow and also cause leaky gut. This can then be followed by breastfeeding and avoiding the use of antibiotics during (intrapartum) and after delivering. It's also a good idea to make sure your baby's microbiome is healthy before getting any vaccinations. Fortunately, it's possible to rather inexpensively 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.
The entire process for identifying children who would be at risk for developing autism from a vaccine is described in her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome, 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 to $100 per test.
In my view, it is absolutely VITAL to perform this analysis BEFORE you consider vaccinating your child. If the test results are normal, the likelihood of autism after vaccines is dramatically reduced. As Dr. Campbell-McBride states, she has yet to find an autistic child with normal bowel flora. If you find that your baby has abnormal gut microflora, or 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.
Your Gut Bacteria are Vulnerable to Your Diet and Lifestyle
Processed, refined foods in general will destroy healthy microflora and feed bad bacteria and yeast, so limiting or eliminating these from your diet should be at the top of your list. Following my recently revised nutrition plan is a simple way to automatically reduce your intake of sugar from all sources. Processed foods wreak havoc on your gut in a number of different ways:
- First, they are typically loaded with sugar, and avoiding sugar (particularly fructose) is in my view, based on the evidence, a critical aspect of preventing and/or treating depression. Not only will sugar compromise your beneficial gut bacteria by providing the preferred fuel for pathogenic bacteria, it also contributes to chronic inflammation throughout your body, including your brain.
- Many contain artificial sweeteners and other synthetic additives that can wreak havoc with brain health. In fact, depression and panic attacks are two of the reported side effects of aspartame. Preliminary findings presented at the 65th annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology also report that drinking sweetened beverages―whether they're sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners—is associated with an increased risk of depression.
- Processed foods are also typically loaded with refined grains, which turn into sugar in your body. Wheat in particular has also been implicated in psychiatric problems, from depression to schizophrenia, due to Wheat Germ Agglutinin (WGA), which has neurotoxic activity.
- The majority of processed foods also contain genetically engineered (GE) ingredients (primarily corn and soy), which have been shown to be particularly detrimental to beneficial bacteria. There are several mechanisms of harm at work here. For example:
- Eating genetically engineered Bt corn may turn your intestinal flora into a sort of "living pesticide factory," essentially manufacturing Bt-toxin from within your digestive system on a continuing basis
- Beneficial gut bacteria are very sensitive to residual glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup). Due to mounting resistance, GE Roundup Ready crops are being drenched with increasing amounts of this toxic herbicide. Studies have already confirmed that glyphosate alters and destroys beneficial gut flora in animals, as evidenced by the increasing instances of lethal botulism in cattle
- Recent research also reveals that your gut bacteria are a key component of glyphosate's mechanism of harm, as your gut microbes have the identical pathway used by glyphosate to kill weeds
Your gut bacteria are also very sensitive to and can be harmed by:
Antibiotics, unless absolutely necessary (and when you do, make sure to reseed your gut with fermented foods and/or a probiotic supplement) Conventionally-raised meats and other animal products, as CAFO animals are routinely fed low-dose antibiotics, plus genetically engineered grains, which have also been implicated in the destruction of gut flora Chlorinated and/or fluoridated water Antibacterial soap
Dr. Campbell-McBride's blog, www.doctor-natasha.com contains articles and videos relating to a wide variety of health problems that can be helped with the GAPS diet. You can also find more information on her web site www.GAPS.me. I highly recommend her DVD, Cooking with GAPS, featuring Caroline Barringer, as it contains step-by-step instructions. Ideally, you'll want to use this DVD in conjunction with the book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome.
Hilary Boynton and Mary Brackett have also written an excellent GAPS cookbook called The Heal Your Gut Cookbook: Nutrient-Dense Recipes for Intestinal Health Using the GAPS Diet. To locate a certified GAPS practitioner, see www.GAPS.me for a listing by country and state. Additionally, Dr. Kaayla Daniel, vice president of the Westin A. Price Foundation, and Sally Fallon Morell have written a new book together, Nourishing Broth, which also provides information on preparing broth.