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Autism Explosion: The Role of Toxins in Brain Function

Autism rates in the U.S. have skyrocketed in the last few decades. In 2000, about one in 150 children were diagnosed with autism. Today, it’s one in 88.

As a Utah resident, our own Dr. Rodier lives in the state with the highest rate of autism in the U.S. (one in 57 boys). And he doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that Utah is also home to the #6 and #11 most polluted U.S. cities in terms of short-term particle pollution.

“Toxicity is the only way to explain this explosion,” Dr. Rodier offered, “the genes have not changed – pollution has gotten worse.”

Research note: Women who live close to freeways have a higher than average number of children born with autism.

Genes Influence Ability to Detoxify & Vulnerability to Autism

The debate over the cause (or causes) of autism continues amongst medical professionals and researchers. While some people suspect immunizations, the CDC has consistently refuted the link between autism and vaccinations. Some parents disagree, noting that many vaccines contain mercury and aluminum, heavy metals used as preservatives and considered toxic for the brain, especially in children’s maturing brains. There’s still plenty of debate over the relationship between vaccines and autism. While Dr. Rodier’s totally against polluting the body with any added toxins, he’s quick to remind us that vaccines are often necessary for keeping other potential health problems at bay.

So, why are some children able to thrive in our modern, more polluted world, while others suffer with autism and compromised neurological function? The short answer? Those with autism can’t detoxify dangerous chemicals as well as those without autism. This “sub-par ability to detoxify” is genetic. Sensitive genes doesn’t mean that all is lost though.

Belly Bacteria Play a MAJOR Role in Detoxification!

And here’s where it gets really interesting. If the gut lacks the right “detox bacteria,” ingested toxins can migrate out of the gut, travel through the bloodstream, and then lodge in the brain. This process (called endotoxemia) causes inflammation in the brain and irritates tissues, making them function less efficiently.

It is generally not known that the gut bacteria has the same capacity to detoxify pollutants as the liver. Consequently, the quality and function of our friendly bacteria greatly influences how our body handles potential neurotoxins. That’s why the food we eat is critical for fueling healthy detoxification and preventing inflammation. This “brain-gut” connection is the subject of intense research at the moment.

“Think of an engine overheating,” Dr. Rodier explained. “How’s it going to run? It’s the same thing with the human body: Inflamed oxidized tissues and cells don’t function optimally.”

A Nutritional Approach for Detoxification

Dr. Rodier recommends several categories of supplements that can help with autism: detoxifiers, fibers, probiotics, and gut health supporters.

First up to bat: a diet rich in plant-based foods, which feed friendly bacteria and fuel the liver’s detoxification pathways.

Second, specific supplements other than probiotics. Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is one of his favorite supplements in general and his first choice for detoxification, as it readily binds with metals and other harmful substances and escorts them out of the body. It’s sort of like having your own personal bodyguard to deal with the bad guys! As a bonus, ALA is a potent antioxidant, addressing free radicals created by toxins in the body.

N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and glutamine are precursors to glutathione, a master antioxidant and powerful liver detoxifier. Dr. Rodier takes ALA and NAC himself, and naturopaths regularly prescribe glutamine to help heal gut tissue (for leaky gut and toxin migration issues).

And don’t forget the fiber. Prebiotics (insoluble fibers high in plant-based foods) feed friendly bacteria, so supplementing with prebiotics is just as important as supplementing with soluble fibers, which bind to toxins for elimination. Once you boost fiber, additional probiotics may be necessary – sometimes in massive amounts, multiple times a day – to reverse a gross imbalance in bad bacteria.

The good news? When the gastrointestinal symptoms that so many autistic children experience are managed – through the use of probiotics and other anti-inflammatory and detoxifying supplements – their behavioral and communicative problems can improve dramatically.

Check out Cindy’s blog, which talks about carnitine deficiency in autistic children and how supplementation led to rapid clinical improvements in speech. Carnitine deficiency, by the way, is correlated with celiac disease, a condition common in autistic children.