New Insight Into the Cause and Treatment of Autism

By: Debby Hoffer

In his new book, “Changing the Course of Autism”, Dr. Bryan Jepson, shares new insight about autism spectrum disorder which has stumped doctors and researchers for decades. In his book, Dr. Jepson explores three questions in regard to autism “What is the cause?, What are safe and effective autism treatments?, and Can the many therapies that are in use be narrowed and individualized to particular children?” He goes on to define autism as a “metabolic disease affecting multiple organ systems.” Dr. Jepson answers questions and explores child autism with fresh new insight that can help parents of autistic children everywhere.

Not Just a Brain Condition

In the early years, autism was widely perceived to be a psychological disorder mainly located somewhere in the brain and in the emotional make-up of the child. Dr. Jepson blows this theory out of the water with clear cut science designed to help parents and doctors better understand the autistic condition. Both psychological and medical case studies have been conducted to try and pinpoint the cause of this disease. In his book, Dr. Jepson explores the scientific theories regarding the many different factors that play a part in autism. He lists medical case studies and outcomes that have been explored since 1938. Dr. Jepson gives hopeful medical insight into this mysterious condition pointing out how the brain, the immune system, the “gut” or gastrointestinal system and our environmental pollutions play key roles in the disease of autism.

Autism: A Domino Effect

Dr. Jepson suggests a possible connection between the immune system, the brain and the gastrointestinal tract creating a domino effect and causing the condition of autism. When a virus invades the body, it is the immune system’s job to determine which part of the body is self and which is the invading virus. Studies have shown that autistic children have immune dysregulation problems, meaning that natural killer cells of the immune system are abnormal or seriously reduced. This makes it more difficult for autistic children to fight off infections and promotes the autistic condition through inflammation in the brain and gastrointestinal tract. A 2005 study out of John Hopkins by Vargas et. al. determined that this immune problem in autistic children is a “disease of ongoing, postnatal inflammation.” They hypothesized that it could be part of a child’s genetics or related to environmental factors either absorbed in the womb or sometime after birth. Dr. Jepson uses case studies to speculate that a mother having an “abnormal prenatal immune response” could cause immune problems in the baby leading to an autistic condition later in the child. Autistic children are highly prone to infections requiring antibiotics. Prolonged use of antibiotics can hurt the mucosal lining of the gastrointestinal tract which in turn can cause more infectious conditions.

Food is also involved in autistic immune problems. If a child has a food allergy, it is the immune system’s job to respond and fight off the allergic reaction. Case studies have shown a noticeable improvement in autistic behavior after removing gluten and casein from a child’s diet. Gluten is a protein found in many common grains such as wheat, barley, rye, oats, and spelt. Casein is a protein found in cow’s milk. Case studies have shown that by removing these dietary items, inflammation in the brain and gastrointestinal tract is greatly reduced.

Inflammation in the brain of autistic children is thought to cause brain abnormalities affecting the way the brain sends signals to the body through neurotransmitters which are the chemical messengers of the brain. These brain abnormalities are thought to be the cause of lost motor and verbal skills so prevalent in the autistic condition. Neurotransmitters also affect sleep patterns which seems to explain why so many autistic children have abnormal sleep cycles.

Mutated Gene Raises Risk of Developing Autism

On October 16, 2006, Dr. Pat Levitt, Director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, with his associates concluded a genetic study which identified a single mutation in a gene called MET. This particular gene is involved in the development of the brain, normal function of the immune system, and gastrointestinal repair. The study, published in the proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, indicates that this gene does not cause autism, but instead raises the risk of developing autism. Case studies of people with autism demonstrated that those with two copies of the mutated gene are at a greater risk than those with one copy. This particular gene regulates MET protein. The mutation affects how actively the gene is involved in normal development. Dr. Levitt and his associates pointed out that while this is a common mutation among 47% of the human population, this mutation coupled with environmental factors could help pinpoint the cause of autism. First author on the Vanderbilt paper was Dr. Daniel Campbell, researcher, and Doctors James Sutcliff and Phillip Ebert. This study has opened many research possibilities and supports Dr. Jepson’s theory that the autistic spectrum disorder is a condition brought on by the dysfunction of various systems within the body.

The Gut: Is it related?

A big question in the medical community is the role of the gut in the autistic condition. Dr. Jepson’s book points out case studies and theories that point to the possibility of a “leaky gut” theory. Decreased levels of sulfate or inadequate calcium in the blood affect the gates of the gut located between the absorptive cells which make up the lining of the GI tract. These gates of the gut or GI tract are referred to as “tight junctions.” When they malfunction, damaging toxins enter the bloodstream causing immune problems and damage to the brain. Casein and gluten are thought to be two of the molecules passing through the “leaky gut” causing the immune reactions leading to digestive problems and damage to the brain. Dr. Jepson’s book points to various studies which support the theory of the gut being involved in the autistic condition and even speculates that autism is in fact a “gut disease.”

Environmental Toxins, Mercury and the MMR Controversy

In his book, Dr. Jepson explores the possibility of environmental toxins both inside and outside the body as possible links or causes to the autistic condition. He goes on to say that “I believe that autism comes about in children who are born with a genetically vulnerable immune system that sustains damage from multiple environmental exposures reacting cumulatively and synergistically. The environmental exposures are likely to be different in different children which could explain the range of symptoms and the differing ages of onset.”

In our world today there are many environmental toxins, one of which is mercury. Mercury was part of a preservative called thimerosal commonly used in childhood vaccines. Due to a possible link between autism and mercury, manufacturers have removed thimerosal from almost all childhood vaccines. Mercury is still found in dental amalgams and in trace amounts in soil, water, seafood, and contaminated air. It has also been used in medical products other than thimerosal. Theory and study behind the possible mercury/autism link points to a genetic susceptibility in some children to retain mercury buildup within their developing systems. Although mercury has been
found to cause damage to developing brains, the mercury/ autism link is still highly controversial.

The MMR vaccine is a combination of three live viruses given to a child in a single vaccination. Many studies have been conducted to determine if the MMR is the cause of a problem in the gut or brain which could lead to the autistic condition. The overall conclusion of these studies is that there is no proven link between the MMR and autism. Dr. Jepson points out that more research in this area is clearly needed “as some published studies have confirmed the presence of vaccine-strain measles virus in the bowel tissues, the blood, and the CSF of children with autism and gastrointestinal disorders.”

Treating the Systems Affecting Autism

Based on various case studies, Dr. Jepson points out how four main systems of the body are impaired and connected in the realm of autism. They include the neurological system, the gastrointestinal system, the immune system and the toxicological system. Recommended treatment includes dietary changes, vitamin regimens, and anti-inflammatory medications to help treat and regulate each individual system. Dr. Jepson strongly recommends that parents “find a good doctor who specializes in treating the medical needs of autistic children.” He also points out that it may take several years to treat and help regulate each individual system. Treatment recommendations include supplementing the diet with vitamins and nutrients, treating the gut, supporting the detoxification process, calming and regulating the immune system while reducing the inflammation in the brain. For specific treatment options, pick up a copy of Dr. Jepson’s book and be sure to consult an autism specialist.

Dr. Jepson’s Book a Step in the Right Direction

Although the medical community is still far from finding a complete cure for autism, Dr. Jepson’s book “Changing the Course of Autism” is a step in the right direction. He outlines scientific and medical studies to help both parents and doctors better understand this mysterious disease. With over half a million American children affected by autism, parents and doctors can move forward with hope that autism can be treated and one day cured.

Reference:

Changing The Course of Autism: A Scientific Approach For Parents and Physicians, By: Bryan Jepson, M.D., 2007. First Sentient Publications, Boulder, Colorado, USA

Helpful Autism Links

Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Learn the milestones your child should be reaching and act early if anything seems amiss.

Questions and Answers on Autism from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

News Release of Dr. Levitt’s Study , MSNBC

Anatomy and description of the leaky gut syndrome .