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Autism and Nutrition

    The Autism Research Institute sponsors Defeat Autism Now! (DAN!) Conferences. Physicians and researchers who are doing progressive work with nutrition and other alternative modalities, gather at these conferences.The FDA has taken the position that there is no effective treatment for autism. DAN! medical professionals and researchers disagree. One small example is the use of vitamin B6 and magnesium. There are 22 published studies (11 of them were double-blind, placebo-controlled studies) by scientists in 6 countries showing that vitamin B6, used in conjunction with magnesium, is highly beneficial in the treatment of autistic children and adults. 
    Another area that has generated a lot of interest is gluten-free diets. One small study, published in Nutritional Neuroscience (2002;5(4):251-261.) compared 10 autistic children who were placed on a gluten-free, casein-free diet to 10 autistic controls who were not placed on a restrictive diet. The study lasted for one year. Those on the diet experienced a significant reduction in aloofness, anxiety and ritualistic behavior. They also experienced improved learning skills. They developed more empathy and improved relationships with other children. They became more tolerant to physical contact. There were also improvements in nonverbal communication skills, eye contact, and responsiveness to verbal cues. There was an increase in their range of interests, and responsiveness to dangerous situations. There was also a reduction in excessively passive or restless behavior. There was significant improvement in nonverbal cognitive skills.
    The control group did not have these improvements—in fact they became worse over the course of the study. One theory for this result is that gluten and casein do not break down properly. In the autistic children, eating these foods cause a release of opioid-like peptides (peptides are pieces of protein—partially broken down), causing the change in behavior.
Another area of interest is the inflammation of the brain itself. Research appearing in the April, 2002 issue of the journal Molecular Psychiatry (volume 7, number 4, pages 375-382) studied autistic children who had a form of the disease characterized by apparently normal early development followed by regression in the second year of life. Previous studies have found evidence of immune issues in this group of autistic patients. Earlier research has shown that in this group of patients, bowel inflammation is often an issue [The Lancet (1998; 351: 637-641), American Journal of Gastroenterology (2000; 95: 2285-2295)]. In this study, the researchers found changes in the cells in the intestine of the autistic patients that suggest that the immune system is reacting against the intestinal cells. The authors made comparisons to children with mental retardation, cerebral palsy, celiac disease and normal controls, none of whom had these cellular changes.
 Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found that the brains of some people with autism have signs of inflammation. In research published in the November 15, 2004 issue of the journal Annals of Neurology, brain tissue was examined in 11 subjects with autism. The subjects were deceased—killed by accident or injuries (as opposed to some disease process). Tissue was taken from three different areas of the brain. The tissue samples indicated the presence of inflammation.
    The cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord) in six living patients (children between the ages of six and twelve) was tested for cytokines and chemokines. The presence of these two chemicals indicates inflammation. They were elevated in the children with autism.
The findings indicate that the immune system may be involved with autism. Also, the immune response and inflammatory response is local—happening in the brain only. It is not the result of a systemic immune response.
This opens the possibility of using antioxidants and immune support for autistic children. Clearly the FDA is wrong when it says that there is no treatment for autism.