What Can Autism Teach Us?
Having just attended my 4th Mindd Foundation Forum – an event that brings together the brightest minds in holistic health from around the world, I felt compelled to write this article about the key drivers behind Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) as well as numerous metabolic, immunologic and mental health conditions that most people experience today.
What common themes are at play? What can we do to address the health crises?
This is important information for everyone, not just parents of ASD kids, because there are significant impacts on our health that are taking place and mainstream medicine as well as policy makers are not acknowledging. The ASD kids are some of the worst affected, but we are all affected to some degree.
The changes in our microbiome, the rise of all body and brain inflammation, the rise of infections that our immune systems are unable to deal with, the overwhelming pollution and ‘toxification’ of our environment affects us all and will continue to do so if we don’t stop and pay attention to our ‘canaries in the goldmine’- the kids who are most sensitive.
In my clinic, I see small children with Autism.
They all present with different symptoms, their health histories are different, their abilities are different, they are completely unique, just like any other child. However, there are several key areas they all have in common- and here is the key: many of my neuro-typical child clients and adult clients have issues in ALL the same areas. It’s just that the ASD kids are more affected because their particular set of ‘issues’ tipped them over into full neurological ‘perfect storm’.
What are the areas that underlie ALL our modern health conditions?
- Acute inflammation is when the body throws its defences against an invader and is usually obvious to us: pain, swelling, heat, redness are all signs of inflammation.
- What happens these days however is chronic inflammation, the kind we can’t really see but is below the radar and which results in harmful effects to us. This chronic inflammation tips our immune system into ‘overdrive’ and we lose tolerance to ‘self’.
- Autoimmune disease develops. The inflammation doesn’t go away but continues year after year as the body tries to get rid of an infection or a food (like gluten or dairy) but it just can’t. It keeps attacking it’s own tissue: in coeliac disease this is the intestine, in MS it is the myelin tissue in the brain and spine, in Autism it is the brain cells.
- It has been a very recent discovery that the brain has an immune system (Louveau, Nature, 2015)*. This makes sense of course, because the brain is not separate from the body and if the whole body has an immune system, the brain must too, however this WAS a major discovery with major implications. A brain can be inflamed, and that is exactly what happens in ASD, depression, anxiety and arguably many other neurological disorders.
Gut Imbalance (Dysbiosis)
- We all have an imbalanced gut microbiota, as simple as that. Unless you have been living on an organic farm, never had a single course of antibiotics, eat off the land and deal with animals every day, never been exposed to polluted air or water- then chances are you have dysbiosis.
- The Human Gut Project has demonstrated that traditional people (the Hadza in Africa in this case) have a diversity of microbiota unmatched in the Western world. How do they do this? They eat a lot of fibre and live off the land, inhaling microbes and touching microbes all day long.
- This is a far cry from Westernised city living where we are clean and sanitised every day and many kids never play outside. The generation of parents today was raised on anti-bacterial toothpaste and spray cleaners that kill 99.9% of germs, with numerous C section births, little breastfeeding and multiple courses of antibiotics for childhood ear infections and tonsilitis. It is no surprise that our kids have compromised immune systems.
- A gut environment dominated by pathogenic species of bacteria (as I routinely see on most stool analysis tests) predisposes us to weight gain, inflammation and poor immune function. Most children with ASD as well as eczema, asthma, sensory processing issues, fussy eating, etc all have dysregulated gut flora. It is a critical component of health that every person needs to address.
- Every child alive in the Western world today has a burden of toxicity never previously seen in human history**. BPA, other plastics and PCBs as well as toxic metals (and many chemicals we’ve never even heard of) are being found in babies’ cord blood.
- I order a hair mineral analysis test for every child and adult I see and often the levels of heavy metals are so shocking that I gasp every time I open the latest reports. Toxicity is a major issue for our children who do not have the detoxification capacity in the liver and kidneys to deal with the inappropriate amounts of pollutants they inherit from their parents in utero and absorb from the environment. ASD kids are usually more affected because their genetics are against them in regards to liver detox genes and genes that make glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant.
- Heavy metals have a strong effect on the immune system and can lead to on-going chronic inflammation. Mercury in particular feeds the yeast overgrowth many people have in their gut creating a vicious cycle of inflammation.
These key factors are behind the health conditions of today. We no longer suffer from infectious diseases, instead we suffer from chronic inflammatory diseases. Our genetic inheritance is at odds with the environmental conditions we have in the Western world today. “Genes hold the gun, the Environment pulls the trigger”. We are playing Russian roulette with our environment and so far it’s not going well. There are no easy solutions, but…..
Here are some key factors to give some serious thought for your own health and that of future generations:
- How? Through diet! Go back to basics. Whole foods, no processed junk, lots of plants, some animals and good old bone broths. You can follow my ‘Food House‘ to guide your family’s nutrition. A diet rich in vegetables and fruit is alkalising- it is very difficult for disease to take hold in an alkaline state. Eat lots of herbs and spices- they are all highly anti-inflammatory. Eat small oily wild fish- omega 3 fats are highly anti-inflammatory. Eat only grass fed meat which contains more omega 3 fats.
- Nothing creates more inflammation in our body than sugar. Overheating and processing as well as adding sugar to supermarket foods creates ‘AGEs’ (Advance glycation end products)***, aka: oxidised gunk. Sugar oxidises fats and makes them rancid in the body. Keeping sugar to extremely low levels is the goal.
- Eliminate or significantly reduce alcohol, cigarettes, drugs- these are all extremely toxic and inflammatory.
Keep your Gut Happy:
- It all starts with the parents: nourish yourself with real food, avoid C-section births, breastfeed the baby. Buy a fluffy pet (shown to improve immune system), let the child play with dirt and save antibiotics for extreme infections. All these strategies will improve the gut microbiome for generations.
- Eliminate gluten from the diet. Dr Alessio Fasano has found a molecule called zonulin**** that opens the tight junctions in our small intestine (the ‘gates’) and allows undigested food proteins into the blood stream, triggering immune response and inflammation. This process occurs in EVERY person. Some people’s immune systems are more reactive, but gluten is best avoided or kept to an absolute minimum. Children with ASD are particularly sensitive to gluten’s toxic effects (read my article on gluteomorpins here).
- Eat fermented foods and take probiotics. The best way to know which ones is to an actual gut analysis for your particular gut- I do these stool tests regularly in clinic. Instead of buying a generic probiotic, this is a much more specific and individualised approach.
- Do not wash your organic fruit and veg- controversial, I know and obviously don’t eat any slugs you may find on your kale, but there is little need to wash away miniscule bits of good bacteria from organic soils. All conventional produce has to be meticulously washed.
- Make bone broths and eat them daily! A great way to nourish your gut cells and restore damaged gut lining
- There’s a lot in our air and water that we can just do nothing about. There are two parts to successful detoxification:
- Reduce your load: cut out large fish that contains mercury, filter your water (I use reverse osmosis), throw out all personal and home products that are not organic. Yes, that includes shampoos, toothpastes, moisturisers, make- up, soap, detergent, the lot. Read more about toxic products here– do not let your family become a human experiment.
- Optimise your body’s detox capacity: your liver and your kidneys do most of the work. Drink plenty of clean water, sweat a lot and exercise daily. Ensure that great detox foods are part of your diet, for example: coriander, turmeric, parsley, spirulina, garlic. There are many more.
- Get tested! I regularly order several tests that look at toxicity and liver function. These can be very beneficial in guiding treatment.
All of these strategies and many more can help us create healthier future generations and stop the cycle of chronic illness.
It’s time for us to collectively ‘wake up’ to this reality and not ignore it with ‘it won’t happen to my family’. It’s time to start looking after our health not just for us but for future generations. Everything we eat, do and think will be passed on epigenetically to our grandchildren, every stress we experience. Think about it.
*Louveau, A et al, “Structural and functional features of central nervous system lymphatic vessels’, Nature, July 2015, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26030524
**www.ewg.org, “Pollution in minority newborns: BPA and other cord blood pollutants”, http://www.ewg.org/research/minority-cord-blood-report/bpa-and-other-cord-blood-pollutants
***Uribarri, J et al, “Advanced Glycation End Products in Foods and a Practical Guide to Their Reduction in the Diet”, J Am Diet Assoc, June 2010, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3704564/
****Fasano, A, “Zonulin and its regulation of intestinal barrier function: the biological door to inflammation, autoimmunity, and cancer”, Physiology Review, Jan 2011