Immunology, Gastroenterology and Autism
The Salisbury Autism Support group's conference, held in October, was, as usual, fascinating. Nutritionist, Beryl Paton, reports on it for us.
Anne Cunningham lectures students at Sunderland University about the human immune system, whose main task is to recognise danger - and destroy it. There are many different ways that this can be achieved - and many ‘fail safe' mechanisms.
Dr Cunningham told us about the huge concentrations of immune cells in the gut and the lungs, two of the areas of the body (along with the skin) where we are most likely to be exposed to danger. These cells mount an inflammatory response as a first line of defence.
She also described the antibodies circulating in the blood plasma, which retain a memory of specific disease organisms so that the appropriate defence cells can be mobilised rapidly once the invader is recognised. Vaccines are given to help create these antibodies to specific diseases.
Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride talked about the syndrome that she has christened GAPS - Gut And Psychology Syndrome.
In her clinic she sees children with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, learning difficulties, behavioural and social problems or a mixture of all of these. She feels that they are vulnerable, if untreated, to psychoses as adults and may develop substance abuse, depression,obsessive/compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder disease or schizophrenia. She maintains that there is a bio-chemical background to every illness. (Remember - schizophrenia used to be associated with coeliac disease.) The patients that she sees are physically unhealthy:
• They have digestive problems.
The gut/brain connection
A typical scenario in her clinic involves a mother who has gut dysbiosis herself (probably encouraged by oral contraceptives) so her baby does not develop normal gut flora (especially if not breast-fed).
The baby may then become immune compromised and get ear infections for which it is given antibiotics which further damage the gut flora. Vaccinations and poor weaning diet may add to the problems and the result is gut dysbiosis in the child. The gut then produces toxicity instead of nourishment which reaches the brain via the bloodstream.
Dr Steve Hinder is a consultant psychiatrist specialising in learning disabilities and autism.
He is quite certain that diet modification and nutritional supplements can be extremely helpful - despite his medical colleagues’ reluctance to accept this.
He noted biological markers in autism, such as increased platelet serotonin (giving low levels of serotonin in the brain) and decreased levels of sulphate which is vital for detoxification.
The detoxification of paracetamol (the painkiller used in Calpol) uses up a lot of sulphate and Steve recommends using Nurofen instead. It may also be helpful to cut out high phenol foods (citrus, vinegar, tomatoes and apples) as phenols use a lot of sulphate in their detoxification.
Opiate excess theory
Gluten and casein in the diet convert to opiates in the gut where they are normally broken down. If the gut is leaky (lack of sulphate attached to the lining of the gut may contribute to this) the opiates may ‘leak’ into the bloodstream and thence into the brain. The theory would seem to be supported by the fact that Naltrexone, used medically to counteract opiate overdose, can modify severe self-injurious behaviour in people with autism.
A gluten-free/casein-free diet will help about 40% of children; another 30% may not respond obviously but will react to reintroduction. Total elimination is needed for most children. Steven recommends starting with casein then moving on to gluten. Both usually need to be eliminated.
Essential fatty acids can be extremely helpful, especially the Omega 3s with extra EPA. Zinc is needed for the body to be able to utilise them properly. Cod liver oil may also be useful for its vitamin A content.
Other useful supplements include high-dose B6 and magnesium, TMG, digestive enzymes, multivitamins, minerals and glutamine which helps to heal the gut.
The elimination of all food additives including MSG and aspartame is advisable.
It should also be remembered that many treatments work synergistically so it is worth continuing to experiment with such interventions both with children and with adults.
Epilepsy & Vaccination
Dr Campbell McBride felt there should be some prevaccination testing to identify vulnerable children, and that children from atopic or immune compromised families, or with siblings with ASD, should not be vaccinated until they were much older.
Both Dr Hinder and Paul Shattock (who chaired the conference) warned that anti-convulsant drugs should not be discontinued without advice from the child's neurologist as recurrence of epilepsy had been seen when a patient had been accidentally exposed to previously excluded foods. Paul Shattock felt it might be a good idea for a small maintenance dose of anti-convulsant drugs to be continued indefinitely to guard against this.
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First Published in 2005