By Anne Dachel
WTSP-TV in St. Petersburg, FL posted some amazing news coverage on May 2. 2012.
It was on children and autism and ways to lower the risk of families having future children with neurodevelopmental and chronic health issues. There’s a Tampa Bay doctor, David Berger, MD, who seems to be doing just that.
I’m certainly not used to hearing about anyone in the medical community who has developed preventive strategies to try and minimize the incidence of ASD. Doctors rarely tell us anything helpful about autism. They usually say that there is no known cause or cure. Parents generally get a diagnosis and are told there’s little that can be done to help their children except possibly behavioral and other educational therapies.
After viewing the news video and reading the story, I got in touch Dr. Berger and found out about what he is doing to help children with developmental issues
There are really two things to understand about Dr. Berger’s practice. First, he is out to prevent autism from developing in babies born to the families he treats and he’s been successful at doing that. Second, he treats children who come to him with autism and he’s able to offer parents the chance of real improvement of their symptoms and even recovery.
MINIMIZING THIE INCIDENCE OF AUTISM
This is a whole new idea in medicine and Dr. Berger’s proactive methods offer great hope, especially to families who already have a child with autism. Dr. Berger, who’s a holistic pediatrician, believes that environmental exposures can be a trigger for children who are genetically susceptible. His philosophy is simple: find out what nutrients are missing and give them; find what shouldn’t be in the body and take it out; and stop further exposures. This is what he tries to do before mothers in his practice even get pregnant. Healthy mothers are more likely to have healthy babies. And he must be doing something right because of the hundreds and hundreds of children born into his practice, he does not know of any who have gone on to develop autism.
The WTSP report told us about three things that Berger sees as critical in preventing autism:
#1 NUTRITIONAL DEFICIENCIES: Including Iron, B-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D.
Dr. Berger says low levels of vitamin D in the mother have been linked to delayed language development and weaker immune systems.
#2 THYROID HEALTH: Untreated hypothyroidism is a known cause of developmental delays in children.
#3 TOXINS: Including pesticides, BPA, lead, and mercury, which have been linked to learning disorders.
Once the child is born, the protocol continues. Berger recommends that mothers exclusively breastfeed for at least six months (and they continue breast feeding for much longer). He advocates the same thing that the American Academy of Pediatrics does, namely that babies should not be exposed to foods until the are six months old, and then only one new food at a time. This strategy can both reduce the incidence of future immune issues as well making it easier to identify what caused a negative reaction. (This is hard to reconcile this with the AAP’s support of the CDC’s standard vaccination schedule; exposing a young infant’s immune system to multiple vaccines at once.) Dr. Berger promotes an organic diet for his patients and recommends that gluten not be introduced until a child is a year old. Parents should minimize chemicals in the home, especially in their cleaning, cleansing and pesticide products. He recommends filtering all water that enters the house. In essence, Dr. Berger promotes the health of every member of the families in his practice.
Dr. Berger described the children in his practice as “thriving.” He said he sees the majority of his primary care patients only at check-ups because they rarely get sick, and when they do, they’re generally not sick enough to have to come in. Kids who do get sick, tend to recover quicker than kids normally do (he lists his holistic immune supporting protocols on the Medical Topics section of his webpage, which he has made available for the general public). He told me, “I must have the most boring primary care practice… and I love it that way!”
It was impressive to listen to Dr. Berger and hear what can be done to lower the chances of having a child who goes on to develop autism. While there is growing belief in mainstream medicine that both genetics and environment contribute to a child developing autism, few are suggesting to us what things to look out for or avoid. Endless studies are talked about, but nothing is ever conclusive. We’ve heard about lots of things: older dads, older moms, having siblings too close together, living too close to a freeway, and moms taking antidepressants or smoking while pregnant. A billion dollars has gone into research, most of it in genetics, and still doctors have few answers.
Many parents are of course interested in Dr. Berger’s stand on vaccines. On his website, he states,
“At Wholistic Pediatrics, we believe that families who have educated themselves on the topic have a right to choose how and when they wish to vaccinate their children. We are able to follow the guidelines set forward by the AAP, but if informed parents choose to follow an alternatives schedule or to not give certain vaccines, that is their right and we will respect that right.”
It’s very simple for Dr. Berger, as he told me, “I may be the expert in medicine, but parents are the experts in their child. Their instincts are best.” Dr Berger acknowledges that some children may be of particular risk of developing vaccine preventable diseases, such as whooping cough for babies in daycare, and recommends that families weigh both the potential benefits and risks of vaccines when making their decision. His attitude is similar to Dr. Robert Sears who also doesn’t blindly accept that a “one size fits all” vaccine schedule is safe for all children. He works with each family individually to come up with a vaccine plan that the family is comfortable with.
Half of Dr. Berger’s practice is children with autism whose parents have come to him because of his remarkable success treating these kids. He told me that he’s treated around 2,000 children with ASD and that the overwhelming majority of these patients have regressive autism. Dr. Berger treats the whole child and all their symptoms. He uses biomedical therapies and diet. He gets rid of toxins and infections in the child. He does chelation and hyperbarics. He first tries to focus on issues that disrupt the family, such as poor sleep, intestinal and immune issues, and irritability/hyperactivity. He connects parents with resources in the community. He’s interested in how the child is doing in school and what their IEP is like.
Dr. Berger can attest to the fact that there’s been amazing improvement in many of his autistic patients. While he wouldn’t use the word “cured,” there are definitely children who are indistinguishable from their peers. He has treated kids with severe autism whose symptoms have been so reduced or eliminated that they’re now mainstreamed and no longer have an autism diagnosis.
(You can read about what families in his practice have to say about his work, see testimonials: )
Regarding vaccines, Dr. Berger told me that research is still woefully lacking. The combination of genetics and exposures has to be behind what appears to be an epidemic. He would like to see a comparison of fully vaccinated and never vaccinated children in terms of their eventual health outcomes. He’d further like to see a comparison of subgroups of children, those with a strong family or personal history of allergic and autoimmune problems and those without.
Dr. Berger is obviously doing something right—probably lots of things. This story was aired on a major Florida TV station. It should have a lot of experts curious, especially health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and people like Dr. Thomas Insel, head of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee created by Congress to deal with the autism epidemic. The head of the CDC, Dr. Thomas Frieden, just give us the updated autism rate of one in every 88 children/one in every 54 boys. However he can’t tell if the new numbers are really any increase. He said, "Doctors are getting better at diagnosing autism.” US News reported, “[The CDC] attributes the increase to better diagnostic tools and awareness of the disorders.”
So when are the experts who can only give us statistics without explanation going to talk to Dr. Berger? Why wouldn’t the work of a doctor who’s not seeing autism develop in his practice and is recovering kids be a top priority at the agency that’s charged with the health of our children?
We need more doctors like David Berger. Let’s hope his work gets the attention it deserves.
*SPECIAL NOTE: Dr. David Berger will be speaking at Autism One in Chicago.
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism. You can subscribe to her site at AnneDachel.com