Autism: Holistic Approaches To Autism Spectrum Disorders
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disorders that range from attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, Asperger's syndrome, hyperlexia, pervasive developmental disorder, and full fledged autism. Classic autism appears at birth, and regressive autism appears between 12 and 24 months of age. The incidence of regressive autism currently affects approximately 1 out of 150 births.
Emerging medical treatments that may be of help are attention, concern, nutritional therapies, body therapies, acupuncture, biofeedback, and behavioral educational therapies.
Nutritional therapies that may be helpful are PH modifications (alkalinizing nutrients found in green vegetables, chlorophyll, and seaweed capsules), gluten free and casein free diets, vitamins including B complex, vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin A, essential fatty acids including fish oil (EPA/DHA), flaxseed oil, and evening primrose oil, all of which have anti-inflammatory properties. [Autism Poster Image Thanks To sunsets_for_you at Flickr.com.]
Physical therapy may be helpful, including craniosacral therapy, which is a form of osteopathic manipulation in which the bones of the skull and spine are adjusted all the way down to the sacrum. Craniosacral therapy is thought to possibly improve the flow of cerebral spinal fluid to the spinal canal. In fact the Upledger Institute, which conducts trainings in craniosacral therapy, did a study of craniosacral therapy used on autistic children, and has reported improved concentration, improved socialization, and less self-stimulation behavior.
Naturalistic behavior therapy may be useful using O. Ivar Lovaa's technique of applied behavioral analysis, which is based on teaching the child skills through interaction in discrete trials in which the child is rewarded for the correct response. An even more effective treatment comes from the Autism Research Center at the School of Education at the University of California at Santa Barbara, which incorporates natural situations in which the child is already interacting with the reward being more opportunities to do more of what the child already enjoys doing. A study which compared the two approaches felt that both caused the children to make appropriate word sounds but only the naturalistic approach led to words being used in conversation. In another study children were taught socially appropriate games resulting in a dramatic increase in social interactions, which continued after the game ended.
U.C. Davis researchers have shown that autistic children have immune system abnormalities, and unusual constellations of protein in their blood. This dysfunctional immune system results in an unusual response to agents and pathogens in the environment. In a recent study of autistic children, blood samples were collected and were studied for their concentrations of immune cells, proteins, and metabolites. The children with autism had 20% more of the white blood cells called B cells, and 40% more natural killer cells. Of 4000 proteins examined in normal and autistic children, 500 occurred at different levels in autistic children, of which 100 may prove in the future to be diagnostic. It is speculated that the immune abnormalities may be a marker of autism that was present at birth, and possibly require an exposure to an environmental trigger, which then caused the development of the disorder. In another study it was shown that white blood cells from autistic children did not respond to environmental triggers or vaccinations in a similar fashion to those of normal children, which is an indication of a dysfunctional immune system.
At the lower end of the autistic spectrum, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder demonstrate an inability to concentrate or complete tasks, hyperactivity, compulsive or impulsive behavior, temper flares, mood swings, short term memory and learning disorders, clumsiness and a distorted perception of time. Ongoing research using MRI imaging revealed abnormalities in both the gray matter and the white matter of the brain, which may result in abnormalities of neurotransmitters including acetylcholine, GABA, serotonin, dopamine, and catecholamines. Some studies have shown that environmental stimulants may act as triggers to aggravate attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) including food additives, food intolerances, sensitivities to molds and fungi, heavy metals, pollutants, and possibly nutritional deficiencies. Dr. Parrisn Kidd, PHD, in a recent review of the scientific literature noted that deficiencies are common in attention deficit hyperactivity, and that supplementation with minerals, B vitamins, Omega 3 essential fatty acids, flavonoids, and the essential phospholipid phosphatidylserine can ameliorate symptoms. A recent article in the annals of neurology concluded that autism was an inflammatory condition of the brain. Omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids may increase inflammation and neuronal dysfunction by generating pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. On the other hand Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oil serve as natural anti-inflammatories. Children with low Omega 3 levels were shown to have more temper tantrums, learning disabilities and sleep disturbances than those with high levels. Like essential fatty acids, phosphatidylserine is important to the neurotransmitter system and fluidity of the brain cell membranes and also helps lower cortisol levels which are increased in conditions of chronic stress.
ADHD, dyslexia, and some behavioral disorders are often referred to as phospholipid disorders. Future research may help substantiate phosphatidylserine's value in their treatment. Studies using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy suggest that choline, creatine, glutamate, and GABA (an inhibitory neurotransmitter), may also play a role. L-carnitine, which helps transport fatty acids into the mitochondria (the organelles which produce ATP, the energy of cells) was shown in a study using rats to reduce impulsive behavior. As noted above, the B-complex vitamins support neurotransmitter synthesis and the health of the myelin sheath of nerve cells. In addition there is some suggestion that melatonin (the hormone released from the pineal gland in the brain, which controls the sleep-wake cycle) may be low in these children, resulting in insomnia often associated with these conditions. Finally 5 hydroxy tryptophan (5HTP), which is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter, may be of value in treating the autistic spectrum. 5HTP may also be obtained through diet, including turkey.
The autistic spectrum has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, and while the cause is still unknown, emerging science is beginning to demonstrate that there are many holistic approaches which may prove to be of great value in the future. We will continue to update this information as new exciting breakthroughs become available.
Best in Health,
David M. Rekar, M.D.
[Autism Poster Image Thanks To sunsets_for_you at Flickr.com.]
Universal City Medical Wellness Group (UCMWG) is a Multidisciplinary and Complementary Alternative Medical Group near Universal Studios, Studio City, Hollywood, North Hollywood, and Burbank, in L.A.
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