• Dr. Amber Brooks

Autism 101: A Must read for EVERY parent

Despite the decades of research done on autism no one knows the exact cause of autism in children. This is in part because there is no one single cause, making it hard to nail down, especially when you try to make it applicable to every child diagnosed. In fact, most of the proposed causes of autism are considered to be controversial in the medical world. Many have presumed that the cause of autism is only genetic, some feel it is triggered by vaccines, or simply a psychological disorder and many see it is an immune dysfunction.

So who is correct? The medical literature is beginning to recognize autism as a multi faceted problem affecting the gut, brain, detoxification and immune systems. Prior to 1980 finding autism was rare at 2-5 per 10,000 people. Now, 1 in every 45 is diagnosed with autism, (CDC, 2015), which is an exponential increase.

The Gut & Brain Connection

In the last 20 years research has brought us a better understanding of the communication that exists between the gut and the brain. Every condition that has an immune component has been correlated to some dysfunction in the gut. We refer to the gut as the “second brain” and home to around 70% of the immune system. This sophisticated system, made up of trillions of bacteria, is collectively called the microbiome. The microbiome also has been shown to be a key player in turning on and off genetic expression.

Now you can see, with its implications in immune health and genetic expression, why the gut is at the center of some autism research.

There have been a multitude of studies comparing the microbiome of children with and without autism. Nutrition Research Reviews published an article in July 2014, which reported the continued connection between autism and nutrition as is relates to the brain and gastrointestinal system. They specifically noted the differences in GI flora between those with autism and controls. They concluded nutrition-related factors play a causal role in autism and its symptoms.

Many parents wonder how the gut creates the “autistic behaviors” they see in their child. The prevailing theory in the medical literature is that an imbalanced microbiome and a weakened gut lining or “leaky gut” can cause an inflammatory immune response against the brain. I often explain this by having parents imagine a traffic-congested highway. That “highway” is the digestive system and it links the gut and brain. When there is traffic (inflammation) on the highway the transmissions between the gut and brain are affected negatively, giving the symptoms we see in children with autism.

Genetics and Autism

When we look at the genetics and their relation to risk factors of autism we focus on the methylation and detoxification aspects specifically. These genetic SNPs have proven a 2.79x higher risk for autism. According to University of California Davis, “nutritional genomics, or nutrigenomics, is the study of how foods affect our genes and how individual genetic differences can affect the way we respond to nutrients (and other naturally occurring compounds) in the foods we eat.” Nutrigenomics has received a lot of attention because of its potential for preventing, mitigating, or aiding chronic disease. Genetics cannot be “fixed” BUT we can support the system when we know where the broken link is and potentially prevent further damage.

There are a plethora of SNPs for methylation and detoxification, the most studied and discussed is MTHFR (Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase) mutation. The MTHFR genetic mutation, or polymorphism was first discovered as a result of the human genome project. The C677T was found in 1995 and A1298C in 2001, it is reported that close to 40% of the population has MTHFR. People who have this mutation have an interruption in the “Methylation Pathway” and a reduced ability to process folic acid/folate into something their body can use. In addition, people with MTHFR have a reduced ability to eliminate toxins and heavy metals.

It is important to remember just because a child has a positive SNP for MTHFR does not mean they will inevitably be diagnosed with autism. Just like any gene mutation they have to be turned on and irritated to express. Hence, early intervention, healthy eating and living can prevent a diagnosis. Unfortunately, parents are misinformed and being treated by doctors that are not properly testing, educating or catching these delays before they snowball into an official diagnosis. It is methylation gene changes like these that can be triggered by the epigenetic factors of the gut brain connection that I mentioned before.

What can I do now?

1.  Diagnostic testing

Comprehensive diagnostic testing will give insight into the individual case. Some of the labs that I run on patients around the world are:

  • Comprehensive Gut & Parasitology: a careful look at the microbiome and gut health. I recommend a two-day collection for the most accurate results. This test also reports the damage of the gut

  • Organic Acid Test (OAT): This is a comprehensive urine test which reports vitamin deficiencies, amino acid health, inflammatory markers, detoxification, digestion difficulties, neurotransmitter metabolites and mitochondrial profile.

  • Blood Test: to examine a baseline of values focusing on the immune system, thyroid, heavy metals, liver, kidney, minerals and vitamins.

  • DNA Methylation Pathway Profile: This test looks at around 30 pages of methylation & detoxification SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms).

By looking for DNA mutations that govern methylation, it gives us a personalized guide to what your unique genetic weaknesses and imbalances are so that they can be addressed. Please work with an experienced and trained clinician when addressing the methylation issues.

2.  Healing the Gut

This is the most important step; this cannot be skipped if long-term wellness is the goal. Many patients see a significant improvement in their child’s “autistic symptoms” when the gut is addressed properly.

3.  Diet Changes

About 70% of patients report a noticeable change in their child with a diet change. The changes reported include improvements in behavior, sleep, appetite and bowel movements. These changes also help to calm the inflammation and keep that highway clear of traffic so the brain can be calm. My go to starting diet is a gluten and casein free diet; it is also imperative to do testing for food sensitivities and food allergies to achieve better results.

4.  Immune Boosting

We know autism is in part an immune issue, so this system must be boosted and supported for optimal results. Natural supplements like Pedi Protect by Healthy Kids Nutrients help to support the immune system and prevent illness. 

5.  Consider Integrative Care

There are many different pieces to the autism puzzle; these are some, not all, of those pieces. After dedicating my career to children with special needs I know without a doubt each child wit