Consider these scenarios:
1- The teen is taking a Chemistry test, smiling and talking to himself. He repeats the teacher’s directions over and over out loud. He has an autism diagnosis.
2- The parents have been in the ER for 8 hours trying to get help for their teen son. He is biting himself, raging, spitting and is restrained. He is non-verbal. He has an autism diagnosis.
3- The girl keeps running back and forth, touching all of the pillows in a certain order. She has no speech. She has an autism diagnosis.
4- The toddler has rashes, ear infections, constipation or diarrhea and has temper tantrums daily. He has not used any new words in months. He has an autism diagnosis.
5- The young man is fascinated with trains, repeating all facts, schedules, and histories of the enormous collection he owns. If one is out of place or missing, he will scream and rage. He has an autism diagnosis.
All of these children show signs of “autism” based on behaviors that define it. Can one really “have” autism or can one be “autistic” based on these defined behaviors?
I have been writing about my experiences with Megan, my daughter, who was diagnosed in 1995 with autism. That diagnosis was based solely on behaviors. Since then, Megan has developed seizures and an autoimmune diagnosis. She, like thousands of others, really has what is known as “regressive autism.” They were developing normally and then after vaccination or illness, they became either acutely dysfunctional, or a gradual and insidious loss of language, connection to the world around them, and an increasing demand for obsessions and compulsions. Megan’s regression was subtle after each vaccination then, accelerated after her MMR vaccine. She developed a full body rash, fever and stopped talking. Vomiting, diarrhea, and reflux then began. Her life has never been the same. She was then to be diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder.
"Different” Autism - Different Microbial Populations and Locations?
Regressive autism was described well here, and it’s my springboard into the background of Meg’s autism diagnosis – her regression:
“Some cases of late-onset (regressive) autism may involve abnormal flora….Fecal flora of children with regressive autism was compared with that of control children, and clostridial counts were higher. The number of clostridial species found in the stools of children with autism was greater than in the stools of control children. Children with autism had 9 species of Clostridium not found in controls, whereas controls yielded only 3 species not found in children with autism. In all, there were 25 different clostridial species found….different types of autism and/or different degrees of severity of the process may be different in terms of whether there is an abnormal flora either in the colon (reflected in the feces) or in the small bowel, and perhaps these factors may even be associated with different specific flora and/or sites or degrees of abnormal colonization.”
Autism, the “brain” disorder, has a multitude of research showing exactly this – abnormal gut pathogens. The degree of severity of the behaviors in autism may be compared to what and where it is, in the GI and thus how it affects the brain:
Gut Reaction: Environmental Effects on the Human Microbiota
“Living with each of us—on our skin, in our mucosa, and in our gastrointestinal (GI) tract—are microorganisms whose numbers dwarf the number of our own cells and genes. Although some of these microbes are pathogens, most are harmless or even beneficial. The body’s assortment of microorganisms, collectively called the microbiota, is similar to an organ in that it performs functions essential for our survival. Some microbes produce vitamins and other essential nutrients. Many metabolize food that we can’t digest on our own. They also break down drugs and toxins, and regulate many aspects of innate and acquired immunity, protecting the host from infections and chronic inflammation, as well as possibly many immune-based disorders. And just as with the heart or the lungs, when an environmental agent alters the function of the microbiota, the result can be disease…..
Some research suggests the microbiota may also be implicated in neurologic conditions. There are multiple interfaces where the microbiota could impact our nervous system…The microbiota also produces metabolites that are absorbed into the bloodstream, and some of these metabolites can cross the blood–brain barrier…..research has suggested that ASDs may be related to an altered microbiota”
Autism and PANS
A good description of what seems to be happening in those who have an autism diagnosis and infections related to brain behaviors. Here is more:
Impact of innate immunity in a subset of children with autism spectrum disorders: a case control study
“Among patients with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) evaluated in our clinic, there appears to be a subset that can be clinically distinguished from other ASD children because of frequent infections (usually viral) accompanied by worsening behavioural symptoms and/or loss/decrease in acquired skills…In addition to behavioral symptoms, co-morbid clinical conditions such as gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms are frequently noted in ASD children…Specifically, our results revealed increased tumour necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) production against cow's milk protein…. Apart from FA [Food Allergies], we have also encountered a number of ASD children who suffer from recurrent infection (typically viral syndromes) accompanied by exacerbations of behavioral symptoms (hyperactivity, temper tantrums, irritability and self-stimulatory behaviors)… Such behavioral changes were pointed out by teachers/therapists/care takers independent of parents. Immune insult via microbial infection caused by various pathogens appears to counter-act beneficial effects of behavioral, dietary, and other intervention measures in these ASD children…..Thus our findings indicate that children in the ASD test group may be less capable of controlling microbial infection in the initial stages, leading to ineffective signalling to the brain..”
So we can see how the pathogens in these children affect the brain. This may also be what is now being calling PANS - Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome,
a disorder also affecting children who may not have an autism diagnosis, but the increasing similarity of a dysfunctional immune system.
Treating the Gut - Treating the Autism
So what can be done to help these very sick kids attached to these very dysfunctional immune systems? One important treatment and one which can be done very simply is to add daily probiotics. Doing some research into how that could help yielded some pertinent information:
“..treating disease with probiotics or prebiotics is one of the most promising frontiers in microbiota research, says Mélanie Gareau, a postdoctoral fellow training at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Her work, published in the November 2007 issue of Gut, has shown that treating stress-induced gut abnormalities with Lactobacilli probiotics not only reestablished normal gut function and bacterial behavior but also reduced stress hormone levels.”
Now there may be more cutting edge treatments out there but probiotics are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased OTC. Here’s how they can help in autism ie. gut issues and the immune system:
The Potential Role of Probiotics in the Management of Childhood Autism Spectrum Disorders
“Probiotics can influence microbiota composition and intestinal barrier function and alter mucosal immune responses. The administration of probiotic bacteria to address changes in the microbiota might, therefore, be a useful novel therapeutic tool with which to restore normal gut microbiota, reduce inflammation, restore epithelial barrier function, and potentially ameliorate behavioural symptoms associated with some children with ASD…Probiotics are living nonpathogenic microorganisms, which beneficially affect the host's health, when administered in adequate amounts as food ingredient or supplement.. Probiotics have been used safely in the fermentations of food products for decades.. . Gastrointestinal difficulties such as antibiotic-associated and acute infectious diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have been shown to be responsive to probiotics… In addition, probiotics have also shown activity in influencing the host's immune system [11, 12]. With the growing research on probiotics and the integral part they play in the health of not just the GI tract but the body as a whole, their inclusion as an integrative treatment may be of use for children with ASD.”
How Mercury Matters In Autism and the Microbiota
Interesting and now consider this:
Gastrointestinal Microflora Studies in Late-Onset Autism
“There has been much speculation about the role of mercury in autism, particularly in relation to the use of mercury-containing compounds in vaccines administered to children. In vitro studies have shown that the bowel microflora can transform mercury, sometimes to more toxic compounds such as methylmercury (by methylation of mercuric salts), and, in other cases, to less toxic compounds (by demethylation of methylmercury), but such metabolism seems to be of significance to the host only in the case of demethylation. Elimination of the bowel flora by antimicrobial administration in the rat leads to increased mercury content in tissues and a greater proportion of the total mercury as methylmercury . Thus, an intact bowel flora is protective.”
So it’s very possible that mercury, found in vaccines and in our air and food, is the immune insult that robs these children of a normal flora and prevents the body in fighting live viruses, pathogenic bacteria, parasites and infection correctly.
Lactobacillus and Mercury
Bioremediation and Tolerance of Humans to Heavy Metals through Microbial Processes: a Potential Role for Probiotics?
“Although heavy-metal exposure and contamination are not a recent phenomenon, the concentration of metals and the exposure to populations remain major issues despite efforts at remediation. The ability to prevent and manage this problem is still a subject of much debate, with many technologies ineffective and others too expensive for practical large-scale use, especially for developing nations where major pollution occurs. This has led researchers to seek alternative solutions for decontaminating environmental sites and humans themselves. A number of environmental microorganisms have long been known for their ability to bind metals, but less well appreciated are human gastrointestinal bacteria. Species such as Lactobacillus, present in the human mouth, gut, and vagina and in fermented foods, have the ability to bind and detoxify some of these substances. This review examines the current understanding of detoxication mechanisms of lactobacilli and how, in the future, humans and animals might benefit from these organisms in remediating environmental contamination of food.”
Lactobacillus then, appears to be able to “detoxify heavy metals”
“Certain members of the gut microbiota, such as lactobacilli used in food applications, may potentially be an adjunct for reducing metal toxicity in humans. This is because they have resistance mechanisms which are effective in preventing damage to their cells (98) and they can bind and sequester heavy metals to their cell surfaces, thus removing them through subsequent defecation (81). Heavy-metal and antibiotic resistance genes are often encoded together on the same plasmid, so a selective pressure exists to keep the plasmid in the intestinal tract (22).
Lactobacilli have a long history of safe use in food (43) and, more recently, as probiotics (27). Of importance is the ability of lactobacilli to reduce oxidative stresses caused by metal toxicity in vitro (12, 51) and detoxification abilities against other dietary toxins (104). The ability of lactobacilli to bind and sequester metals depends on the strain's resistance mechanisms. In coping with arsenic and mercury, the main method of resistance is through active expulsion of toxic metals from the cytosol….Unfortunately, no published scientific data on the ability of lactobacilli or gut bacteria to bind and absorb mercury exist. Preliminary studies in our laboratory have shown that certain strains of lactobacilli appear to sequester mercury and may also have mechanisms for its degradation.”
Probiotics, especially the Lactobacillus strains, including fermented foods, demonstrate a true and meaningful treatment for autism and immune dysfunction. Not surprising to see that this important bacteria is often missing naturally in those with an autism diagnosis, thus they have less ability to detoxify:
Intestinal microflora of autistic children
“Autistic behavior is often accompanied by numerous disturbing symptoms on the part of gastrointestinal system, such as abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhea. These problems are often connected with deregulation of physiological microflora in intestine. The aim of this study was to determine differences in intestinal microflora of autistic and healthy children. Strains of Clostridium spp. and enterococci were isolated more frequently from stool samples of autistic children and rarely lactobacilli.”
Many who have a diagnosis of autism have numerous and painful symptoms that correlate to the dysfunction of their immune system. Environmental causes, like mercury in the environment and mercury in vaccines, play a large role in that as vaccination and infections then cause regression. More research into immune treatments and autism are imperative.
Teresa Conrick is Contributing Editor to Age of Autism.