By Teresa Conrick
Last April, I ran across this interesting article and then the study that is its foundation:
Scientists have found antibiotic resistance genes in the bacterial flora of a South American tribe who have never been exposed to antibiotic drugs.
The findings suggest that bacteria in the human body have had the ability to resist antibiotics since long before such drugs were ever used to treat disease.
The research stems from the 2009 discovery of a tribe of Yanomami Amerindians in a remote mountainous area in southern Venezuela. Largely because the tribe had been isolated from other societies for more than 11,000 years, its members were found to have among the most diverse collections of bacteria recorded in humans.
Those two issues -" antibiotic resistance genes" and "the most diverse collections of bacteria recorded in humans", got my interest as these people also have none of the diseases that our society has and that may include Autism. I call Autism a disease as that is what most of the research reports. Also, ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE translates to microbial infections that are hard to kill thus chronic, debilitating and can lead to death. Since they had not ever had contact with antibiotics, I was curious how they could have genes resistant to them.
How is Autism a Disease?
I know some people may be alarmed and others offended but the research is showing this to be true. It's important to keep up with this investigation as we seek prevention of Regressive Autism, GI Disease and Autoimmune issues. Treatments for many ill children and young adults are imperative. My daughter, Megan, who has been diagnosed not only with AUTISM but also AUTOIMMUNITY, is one of them. She began regression in skills and health after a Thimerosal-containing vaccine and the MMR vaccine. Here are some specific examples of research indicating that AUTISM is a DISEASE:
- ...we focus on how early-life changes in the microbiota can alter susceptibility to neurological disease, specifically autism-spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is a collection of neurodevelopmental changes in children where they exhibit complex behavioral changes in their abilities in social interaction and communication, as well as presence of behaviors similar to obsessive–compulsive disorder, including repetitive and narrow interests.......
- 1st International Symposium on the Microbiome in Health and Disease with a Special Focus on Autism
- There are mounting reports in animal models and human epidemiologic studies linking disruptive alterations in the gut microbiota or dysbiosis and ASD symptomology. In this review, we will explore the current evidence that gut dysbiosis in animal models and ASD patients correlates with disease risk and severity...
- The microbiome of the gut has been linked to several important diseases (NEJM JW Gen Med Dec 31 2013), including autism. A new study adds provocative evidence in favor of this hypothesis.
- Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are considered a heterogenous set of neurobehavioral diseases, with the rates of diagnosis dramatically increasing in the past few decades. As genetics alone does not explain the underlying cause in many cases, attention has turned to environmental factors as potential etiological agents. Gastrointestinal disorders are a common comorbidity in ASD patients. It was thus hypothesized that a gut-brain link may account for some autistic cases.
There is so much research on an altered microbiome in Autism that the study on the Yanomami seemed important. I remembered studying about the Yanomami in my Anthropology class back in college but since that was years ago, I decided to do a little background reading.
Who Are the Yanomami?
You can read articles like this- "The Yanomami: An isolated yet imperiled Amazon tribe," from the Washington Post with mention of “mercury from gold mining” and “influenza, measles and malaria” and resulting in “thousands of deaths” but, there may be a different account of this history. Here is an excerpt from a historical witness, Patrick Tierney:
Monday, October 2, 2000
NEW YORK —
Prominent U.S. scientists possibly contributed to a deadly measles epidemic among the Amazon's Yanomami Indians and destabilized the isolated group with their research methods, The New Yorker magazine reported Sunday.
The charges by Patrick Tierney, a visiting anthropology scholar at Pittsburgh University and human rights activist for Amazon tribes, have already caused a storm in the world of anthropology, sparking a heated debate on the Internet.
The New Yorker article is based on Tierney's book, Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon , to be published Nov. 16 by W.W. Norton.
The article said for more than 30 years, anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon studied the Yanomami Indians of Venezuela and Brazil, portraying them as violent and competitive. Chagnon, who retired this year as a professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara, made films, wrote two books and more than 30 articles on his research from the mid-1960s.
But Tierney wrote in The New Yorker that during his own 10-year study of the Yanomami from 1989, "What I found was sharply at odds with what Chagnon described." He added that Chagnon's account of Yanomami warfare in his famous book Yanomamo: The Fierce People , seemed "greatly exaggerated."
Tierney also describes Chagnon's collaboration with a mentor, James Neel, a prominent geneticist at the University of Michigan, on a 1968 expedition which included a measles vaccination effort that coincided with an outbreak of measles among the Yanomami.....Neel and his researchers administered the vaccine known as Edmonston B to the Yanomami despite warnings that it was a dangerous strain for immune-depressed people, Tierney reported. The vaccine, standard treatment in 1968, is now off the market.
He added that measles vaccines were known to produce severe symptoms in people suffering from anaemia, dysentery or chronic exposure to malaria, and the Yanomami suffered from all three.
Dr. Andrew Wakefield, no stranger to measles research and also issues of the gut, wrote about the Yanomami :
HORIZONTAL TRANSMISSION: EVIDENCE FROM THE FIELD
Patrick Tierney's compelling account of the violation of the indigenous peoples of Venezuala in "Darkness in El Dorado" raised the question of whether measles vaccine has become transmissible among so-called virgin-soil populations. Vaccination experiments were conducted by the geneticist James Neel among the Yanomami Indians in 1968. Despite an apparent prohibition by the Venezuelan government, Neel employed the most reactive of the early measles vaccines, the Edmonston B, on the Yanomami. The results were unexpected. He recorded the highest temperatures for any measles vaccine among any population. Then a measles epidemic, of unknown origin, spread in Neel's words "as a wave away from the original point" ---the point from which, in fact, the vaccinations had started. And within two months of the first case, measles had spread to fifteen villages.
Looking at this new Yanomami tribe and their Microbiome, first discovered in 2009, it is important for both their unique bacteria and viruses, but also the dysfunction of our own. "....the microbiomes of people in industrialized countries are about 40 percent less diverse than what was found in the tribespeople never exposed to antibiotics.
Factors That Can Affect the Microbiome
This is from the senior author, Maria Dominguez-Bello of the Yanomami study:
“Our results bolster a growing body of data suggesting a link between, on one hand, decreased bacterial diversity, industrialized diets, and modern antibiotics, and on the other, immunological and metabolic diseases—such as obesity, asthma, allergies, and diabetes, which have dramatically increased since the 1970s,” says Maria Dominguez-Bello, associate professor of medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center and senior author of the study.
“We believe there is something occurring in the environment during the past 30 years that has been driving these diseases, and we think the microbiome could be involved.”
Autism is not mentioned in that list of diseases but we know it is included, especially due to its dramatic increase and often being seen as the tip of the Microbiome iceberg.
Here's how that could translate from other studies on the Microbiome and autoimmune disease. This on DIABETES:
Our results are consistent with findings from laboratory studies and provide longitudinal human data suggesting that people with high mercury exposure in young adulthood may have elevated risk of diabetes later in life.
This study may illustrate what happens to the Microbiome when mercury exposure occurs. Do specific diseases appear when certain beneficial organisms are lost and/or pathogenic ones gained?:
The investigators observed a 25% drop in the number of distinct species present in the microbiome 1 year before onset in the few infants who developed type 1 diabetes during this time.
The population shift involved a reduction in bacteria known to help regulate health in the gut and a rise in potentially harmful bacteria known to encourage inflammation.
“Current research data suggest that changes in the gut microbiota precede the development of autoimmunity,”
And that, I believe, is THE issue surrounding Autism and so many other diseases of the Microbiome, and then an immune system that does not function correctly. Antibiotics are often discussed as the ONLY issue that can change the Microbiome but it seems to just not be correct.
“Perhaps even minimal exposure to modern practices . . . can result in a drastic loss in bacterial diversity,” said first author Jose Clemente, an associate professor with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai...
…Microbiome scientists have peered into the guts of only a few populations around the world. But when comparing the Yanomami microbiome to those from more developed societies, a story is starting to emerge: “With each step in westernization, we seem to be losing an amount of diversity,” said Jose Clemente, first author on the new study [in the microbes of the Microbiome].
Interestingly, this quote from Steve Silberman http://www.thejc.com/arts/books/148893/altered-attitudes-can-open-worlds regarding his book, 'Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and How to Think Smarter About People Who Think Differently' seems to reflect this idea that the industrialized world has produced Autism:
One of the most promising developments has been the emergence of the concept of neurodiversity: the notion that conditions like autism, dyslexia, and attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) should be regarded as naturally occurring cognitive variations with distinctive strengths that have contributed to the evolution of technology and culture rather than mere check-lists of deficits and dysfunctions. Though the spectrum model of autism and the concept of neurodiversity are widely believed to be products of our postmodern world,....
Is it possible that the spectrum of Autism is actually a measurement of the health of the Microbiome, thus the brain-gut connection? According to much research, the answer is, YES. -- Gut Microbes and the Brain: Paradigm Shift in Neuroscience
What are "Westernization" Exposures That Can Change the Microbiome ?
Yes, antibiotics can affect the Microbiome BUT for many with Autism, PANDAS/PANS, Rheumatoid Arthritis and other autoimmune and immune diseases of the Microbiome, they have given hope as they have altered health and behavior for the positive - An n=1 case report of a child with autism improving on antibiotics and a father's quest to understand what it may mean.
The issue of antibiotics in food is certainly a westernized move, unnecessary in most situations, producing changes to the Microbiome and promoting antibiotic resistance:
A majority of agricultural antimicrobials are used as feed additives for growth promotion in livestock and poultry...growth promoting antimicrobials (GPAs) have had important impacts on selection and dissemination of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) worldwide through the food supply and environmental releases. Moreover, because GPAs are utilized most commonly as mixtures in animal feeds, the gut microbiome of poultry or livestock is exposed to multiple pressures acting on a range of molecular mechanisms associated with resistance development.
Here then are some other "steps to Westernization":
1- Mercury: This would be the Man-made kind. Its contribution to ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE and autoimmunity is vastly un-researched and under-reported. Where is the outcry of its effect on the Microbiome? Thimerosal in vaccines. Amalgam fillings in teeth. Coal-fired power plants. Gold-mining. Polluted fish. - from NIH: "Mercury may reduce the immune response to diseases in exposed populations... Continuing intentional use of mercury and its compounds as medicines... in indoor and outdoor environments favors development of bacterial resistance to multiple antibiotics.
2- Vaccines: There is research showing vaccines can alter the Microbiome. The role of vaccination on the bacteria and viruses of the Microbiome needs to be scrutinized more - ".....new organisms are expected to move into the empty niches created by vaccine elimination of organisms. Thus the structure of the microbiome is altered by vaccines. The unintended consequences of this alteration remain to be seen."
3- Pesticides: Research is on-going regarding the impact of pesticide use on our food supply (non-organic): "the addition of organophosphate pesticides, which can be ingested through our diet, to fecal communities in SHIME increased the abundance of Enterococcus and Bacteroides, while at the same time decreasing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium". Bacteroides species are significant clinical pathogens and are found in most anaerobic infections. Enterococci are part of the normal intestinal flora of humans and animals. They have been long recognized as important human pathogens and are becoming increasingly so.
It seems there are an increase of pathogenic bacteria and a significant decrease of the beneficial bacteria in the Microbiome when pesticides are ingested.
Teresa Conrick is Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.