My Journey Into Autism-Honoring Autism Awareness Month

This is a really exciting week for me.  Five years ago, this month, I began my integrative medical practice.  Five years have brought over 5000 patients, with amazing stories, hard won successes and sometimes, difficult to accept challenges.  I realized early in my practice that every day brings in new patients, with unique challenges and sometimes complex medical issues.  This was my introduction to Autism.

April is National Autism Awareness Month and I have been forced, by my patients, to learn more about this disease.  I have met hundreds of children at varying points in there journey- some with mild developmental and social delays, others much more severe.  I have had many conversations with the leading researchers in this field,  After all these interactions, it seems to me that autism, at its root, is an inflammatory bowel disorder.

Each child has a unique story and it seems that for every child there is ultimately a “tipping point” or point where something overwhelms the delicate balance of gut microbiology, neurotransmitters and cognitive development.  Medication, vaccines, genetics and older parents have all been implicated in the Autism debate.  Yet patient after patient, child after child, an inflamed bowel and leaky gut play a central role the development and progression of Autism.  Here are the four concepts that all loved ones of autistic patients should know.


Inflammation is quickly becoming a well understood word, thanks to the likes of others before me.  In autism, inflammation is triggered by poor digestive function- or a belly that cannot digest food, has the wrong bacteria or too much yeast in the belly.  Children with autism often have multiple food allergies, including allergies and intolerances to dairy, wheat and corn.  Autistic children and adults may suffer from chronic constipation and diarrhea. This”inflamed belly”in turn creates nutritional deficiencies and alters brain function.  Many patients remove an offending food from their diets and seem to “wake up” according to their  families.  Autism, like many other autoimmune diseases, is caused by inflammation from a wounded belly or “leaky gut.”


Patients with Autism are, unfortunately, more likely to have issues with detoxification.  In our practice, exposure to certain chemicals or heavy metals is the tipping point, throwing the body into an inflammatory mode.  Many patients with autism have genes that do not allow regular detoxification capacity- certain enzymes in the liver don’t work, preventing elimination of toxins and accumulation of heavy metals. In practice, we try to assess detoxification status, by looking at liver and colon function.Some of these patients respond to chelation or removal of toxins from the body.

Methylation/Mitochondrial Defects

Now the words get bigger and more confusing, but methylation and mitochondrial dysfunction are genetically inherited tendencies that can lead to issues with detoxification and inflammation.  With methylation defects, there is a need for more b vitamins, in a specific form, while mitochondrial dysfunction necessitates higher amounts of antioxidants to keep a higher oxygen load in each cell within the body.  Not every patient has these issues, but it is possible today to measure parents for these defects and then predict the pattern in their children.  When these defects are suspected, children need a less aggressive medication and vaccine schedule as their bodies have a tough time breaking them down.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Finally, nutritional deficiencies affect brain function.  Patients with autism have lower levels of healthy fats, especially omega 3 fats, critical for development.  Amino acids, b vitamins and magnesium are additional deficiencies that will frequently surface.

As we all try to bring more attention to autism this month, I am hoping that the importance of understanding body chemistry, its affect on the brain and it s outcome on development is key to helping our patients with autism. Autistic children with rapidly developing brains will continue to need speech and occupational therapy.  They will also need comprehensive workups to assess these four key concepts in autism.

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