By Dan Burns and Dr. William Walsh
Dr. William J. Walsh is an internationally recognized expert in the field of nutritional medicine. He earned a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Iowa State University. He’s authored hundreds of scientific articles and reports, and he directs physician training programs in Europe and Australia. Working at Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, he organized a prison program researching the biochemical causes of violent behavior, and he developed biochemical protocols to treat behavioral disorders, ADHD, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, and autism. I’ve been talking to him about his new book Nutrient Power, where he predicts that nutrient therapies will revolutionize the field of mental health. Our discussion today centers on autism and violence.
DAN: In a recent series of mass murders in Connecticut, Colorado, and Norway, we see young men who either carry or are presumed to carry an autism spectrum diagnosis. Families of ASD children and adults are deeply concerned. Do individuals with autism have a higher risk of psychopathology and violence later in life? Where is the silver lining, if any, around this cloud?
BILL: There are many challenges and concerns regarding
persons in the autism spectrum, but this is not one of them. The school shooter
in Connecticut was incorrectly identified as autistic in early media reporting.
The Colorado movie assailant clearly had experienced a schizophrenia breakdown
prior to his crime. The Norway killer apparently suffers from a delusional
disorder, not autism. Prior to clinical work with 10,000 behavior-disordered
patients, I was a prison volunteer and ran an ex-offender program for hundreds
of parolees released from Stateville Prison. To my knowledge, I’ve never met a
violent criminal with a history of autism. I’ve evaluated 6,500 autism patients
over the years and the most cases involving violent behaviors were adults who
had never received biochemical therapies until adulthood and had developed
mental retardation. I believe ASD persons need antioxidant supplements
throughout life to protect them from neurodegeneration.
DAN: In his book Dyslogic Syndrome, published two years after his death, Bernard Rimland argued that due largely to “brain cripplers,” including pesticides, heavy metals, and over-vaccination of infants, “We’ll soon be faced with a biological epidemic that goes beyond autism to include thousands of young predators who rape, rob, and kill without reason, mercy, or awareness of the consequences of their actions.” Those are Dr. Rimland’s words, not mine. Comment?
BILL: As always, Dr. Rimland was right. He was generally right about everything and he was absolutely right in this area. We know environmental “brain cripplers” are responsible for the increase in autism incidence. However, an important question is: “What happens to brain-damaged persons who escape autism? I’m sure the answer is higher incidence of mental and physical disorders, including higher incidence of violent crime.
DAN: You’ve said that people with anti-social personality disorder (ASPD) have a lot of the same biochemical abnormalities and epigenetic errors that you see in autism.
BILL: I’ve tested more than ten thousand violent children and adults, including hundreds of ASPD persons like Charles Manson and Henry Lee Lucas who are often called sociopaths or psychopaths. Autistic persons and ASPD criminals both exhibit undermethylation, toxic metal overload, OCD tendencies, socialization deficits, and evidence of epigenetic causation. However, the similarity ends there and the two groups exhibit strikingly different characteristics. For example most sociopaths have excellent verbal skills and were never plagued by food sensitivities, immune problems, yeast overgrowth, etc. The greatest difference is in behavior -- more than 75% of sociopaths will have a history of a criminal arrest whereas the autism population has a very low crime rate.
DAN: So what makes the difference between a violent psychopath and someone like my 25-year-old son, Ben?
BILL: There’s all the difference in the world between the two groups. Psychopaths have striking abnormalities in brain chemistry, especially low activity at serotonin, dopamine, and NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptors. In contrast, autism is a developmental disorder that results in structural differences in the brain, and does not appear to be dominated by neurotransmission considerations. However, one question remains: what happens to autism-prone children who escape the environmental insults that trigger autism? It seems likely that many will develop severe behavior or learning disorders as Dr. Rimland predicted.
DAN: What about autistic meltdowns and impulse control. What about those bruises and bite marks on some caregivers’ arms?
BILL: In my experience, more than 90% of ASD persons exhibit very low zinc levels in blood. Zinc deficiency is strongly associated with irritability, anger, and poor impulse control. My colleagues and I have provided zinc therapy to many thousands of children and adults on the spectrum. Most families have reported significant improvement in behavior following zinc normalization.
DAN: What about psychotropic drugs? Do they induce violence in ASD kids/adults? Do ASD kids/adults respond atypically to psychotropics? What does your research reveal?
BILL: Psychotropic drugs have helped many persons, but also have harmed others. Studies of 50 prominent cases of school shootings since 1990 reveal that a high percentage of the offenders had ok behavior during formative years. Most developed anxiety or depression during teen years and were treated with SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants. There is solid data showing that an occasional side effect for teenage boys is suicidal ideation and sometimes homicidal ideation. I believe most school shootings were caused by inappropriate use of antidepressants. Not all depressed persons have low serotonin activity – In fact about 20% have elevated serotonin activity and deteriorate if given an SSRI. This is described in my book Nutrient Power.
BILL (continuing): Recent studies at the University of Iowa Medical School and elsewhere have shown that atypical anti-psychotic medications like Risperdal and Abilify reduce brain cortex volumes. In other words they slowly and gradually shrink the brain. Mainstream doctors routinely prescribe these medications for autistic children as young as age two. Although these drugs may improve behaviors, I find it impossible to justify the use of these drugs, especially for young children still undergoing brain development.
DAN: The title of your book is Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain. Can the brains of adult schizophrenics, psychopaths, ADHD, Alzheimer’s and autism be healed? If so, how?
BILL: For most of these conditions, age is a critical factor. I’ve worked with 3,600 schizophrenic adults and my outcome studies indicate significant treatment effectiveness until age 50, but nearly zero success after age 60. Our outcome studies indicated great improvement in ASPD or sociopathic children until age 13 with sharply declining efficacy thereafter. We believe drug and alcohol abuse is the primary reason for the decline. ADHD appears to be treatable at any age, but children respond more quickly than adults. Brain cells destroyed during early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease cannot be fixed, but several experimental therapies offer the hope of brain stabilization after treatment has begun. With respect to autism, early intervention is essential. I’ve witnessed hundreds of autism recoveries, but most involved intensive biochemical treatments prior to age four. Autism can be successfully treated at any age, but the degree of recovery (with presently available therapies) declines with age.
DAN: Is there anything on the horizon that would offer hope for actual recovery of ASD adults, like my son Ben?
BILL: Actually, there is. There’s a report that came out just two or three days ago, a new study led by University of Washington researchers and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry. They’ve identified a brain chemical needed for the development of synapses that is very low in autism. It’s abnormally low from the beginning until about age 8 or 10. And then it normalizes. That implies that the ability to develop new synapses seems to be no longer hindered after age 8 or 10. I think that’s really promising for older autistics.
Dan E. Burns, Ph.D., is the father of a 25-year-old son on the autism spectrum and the author of Saving Ben: A Father’s Story of Autism. Through his new dba, Appleseed Ventures, Dan empowers parents to organize communities where their adult ASD children and friends can live, work, play, and heal.
William J. Walsh Ph.D., is an internationally recognized expert in the field of nutritional medicine. He is president of the non-profit Walsh Research Institute in Illinois and conducts physician training programs in advanced biochemical/nutrient therapies in Australia, Norway and other countries. His book, Nutrient Power (Skyhorse Publishing), which describes an evidence-based nutrient therapy system, was recently published. He has authored numerous peer-reviewed journal articles and scientific reports, as well as been granted five patents. He has presented his experimental research at the American Psychiatric Association, the U.S. Senate, and the National Institutes of Mental Health. After earning degrees from Notre Dame and the University of Michigan, Dr. Walsh received a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Iowa State University. While working at Argonne National Laboratory in the 1970s, Dr. Walsh organized a prison volunteer program that led to studies of prisoners and ex-offenders researching the causes of their violent behavior. A collaboration with Carl C. Pfeiffer, M.D., Ph.D., a pioneer in the field of nutritional research therapy, led Dr. Walsh to the development of individualized nutrient protocols to normalize body chemistry and brain chemistry. Over the next 30 years, Dr. Walsh developed biochemical treatments for patients with behavioral disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease that are used by doctors throughout the world. Dr. Walsh has studied more than 25,000 patients with mental disorders. His accomplishments include (a) groundbreaking studies reporting reduced violent behavior following nutrient therapy, (b) the 1999 discovery of undermethylation and copper/zinc imbalances in autism, (c) the 2000 finding of metallothionein protein depletion in autism, (d) the 2007 published study linking copper overload and post-partum depression, (e) the identification of five biochemical subtypes of clinical depression, (f) the 2011 development of the Walsh Theory of Schizophrenia, and (g) the direction of the Beethoven Research Project that revealed that the composer suffered from severe lead poisoning. Dr. Walsh has conducted chemical analysis of more than 25 serial killers and mass murderers, including Charles Manson, Richard Speck, James Oliver Huberty, Patrick Sherrill and Arthur Shawcross. He has assisted medical examiners, coroners, Scotland Yard, and the FBI in these forensics studies. He has designed nutritional programs for Olympic athletes, NBA players, major league baseball players, a heavyweight boxing champion, PGA and LPGA golfers, and others. Walsh Research Institute's current research includes studies of autism brain tissues, the role of epigenetics in mental health, oxidative stress in disease conditions, and underlying causes of bipolar disorder.