As we discussed last week, the prevalence of autism has increased greatly. This week we will look to the why so hopefully we can prevent these numbers from increasing even more in the future. Autism is a condition that encompasses the nervous system, the digestive system, the immune system, and the body's ability to excrete, so it is very complex issue.
Nature vs. Nurture
One to two generations ago, in the 1970's, the genetic material of humans was clearly very similar to how it is today. Yet autism occurred in only 1/10,000 people. For that reason, it’s not surprising that studies show that only about 3% of autism is due to pure genetic reasons. We see often times a preference for auditory processing, with gifts in music, mathematics, and memorization in these cases.
Where the genes interact with the environment is where autism is being studied. Our increasingly toxic world is filled with more and more for our bodies to adapt to, including artificial colors and flavors, medications, fillings in our teeth, polluted air and water, and even the bath and body products we use. MTHFR is a genetic condition that decreases the body's ability to detox. It may be present in up to 50% of children, and may be a major contributor to why certain children are more prone to autism because their bodies have trouble getting rid of heavy metals, plastic compounds, etc.
Leaky Gut Syndrome
The gut-brain connection is being increasingly known as either an indicator of good or poor health in many areas - behavior and mood, autoimmune disorders, and also autism. Present in our guts should be healthy bacteria symbiotically in balance with certain types of fungi and yeast, known as a microbiome. An unhealthy microbiome can stem from a C-section delivery (where baby didn't pick up mom's microbiome), an inability to breastfeed (again, where baby can receive mom's microbiome through her skin), use of acetaminophen or Tylenol, antibiotic use, or a prolonged Sympathetic Response (too much time in fight or flight). Complicating these underlying factors, children with autism often times prefer simple carbs and refuse to eat fruits and vegetables and fermented foods that contribute to a healthy microbiome. So when a child with leaky gut eats a potentially toxic food, containing artificial colors, or MSG, these substances can get through the gut and out into the body, creating more inflammation and potential for other auto-immune diseases. When substances that have leaked out through the gut reach the brain, inflammation occurs there and can look like tics, explosive behavior, or even sensory processing disorders.
We have never checked a child with autism who did not have a major misalignment, or subluxation, in his or her upper neck. How does this happen in a young child? The birth process, in utero misalignment (twins, a breech or posterior position), a fall or injury, hitting his or her head, etc. can all cause a subluxation.
Research has shown that a subluxation can affect the brain negatively in ways that can contribute to autism. A misalignment can decrease blood flow and flow of cerebral spinal fluid to the brain. A misalignment can also send faulty sensory information to the brain, which can cause a lack of body coordination and the brain not understanding where the body is in space. The upper neck area, when out of balance, also contributes to a sympathetic, or fight or flight response. For many children, this takes a lot of energy and can leave them tired but wired. Insomnia, perceived threats in a safe environment, and trouble with concentrating are all signs of being stuck in fight or flight.
As we mentioned, this is a very complex issue and our goal is to empower parents to make great choices about the health care of their children. If you would like to read some of these studies or want more information, please reach out! Next week, we will share more about the village that we have to try to make improvements for kids with neurodevelopmental disorders and their families.