Recovery From Autism – A Success Story: Using Detoxification and NutritionDr. John Gannage, MD May 18, 2023
As a conventional family doctor, I had many times felt helpless when attempting to assist patients with chronic illness. To see the continued suffering of patients and not have enough tools to make a significant difference, despite years of medical training, was frustrating and in need of correction.
Nowhere was this felt as intensely as in management of autism and related conditions. Thankfully, after more years of continuing education and application of principles not taught in medical school, I now gain immense satisfaction in offering services to autistic children and their families, given that I have determined, as have other CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) doctors, that a difference can and has been made.
No doubt autism is a complex interplay between genetics and environment, with not all children on the spectrum requiring the same level of support. As a spectrum condition, there is wide variability in symptom severity and management needs. For cases presenting to me, I came to conceptualize autism as a disease template from which to explain many of our modern illnesses, and applied to it the methods I was using to address other chronic conditions with a toxic-immune component. Over time, I was exposed to research about glutathione, glutamate levels, and gluten metabolites; about autism case management, casein partial digestion, and cerebral folate.
Key to assisting ASD patients is recognizing the variations in important biochemical pathways that can be supported with targeted nutrient therapy, such as with the proper forms of both B12 and folate. For me, the diagnostic category is important, but so is understanding the underpinnings of any condition. With autism and related disorders, the emphasis on mitochondrial function, immune dysregulation (including mast cell activation), the gut-microbiome-brain axis, oxidative stress, and environmental toxicants is where I place my focus in clinical practice. These in turn affect the brain, with neuroinflammation at the core.
Ultimately, I came to bear witness to the fact that the ability to dramatically improve the life (and remove the label) of an autistic child in need of more intensive support has a profound impact on not only the patient, but also the patient’s family and community.
Applying principles of integrative medicine, including nutrition-based therapies, in fact extends the positive impact to all levels of society, given that improvements in the condition can relieve many burdens. The approach is integrative, comprehensive, and can be complicated – any management scheme should never be more burdensome to patient and/or family than the condition itself – but I’ve seen firsthand that parents can apply these therapies with favourable outcomes. The following case illustrates that point:
I first met T. when he was three years, two months old. A diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) had been made eight months prior. His parents – attentive, knowledgeable, supportive, and cooperative – provided a clear history of regression in speech development at age 18 months. The boy had gone from speaking an 8 to 10 single word vocabulary – to not speaking at all. Further observations:
- He had self-stimulatory behaviour, was striking his father repeatedly, showed hyperactivity, and used grunting for language at the time of his visit.
- He was born by C-section, and had a twin sister with normal development. He had many ear infections, and had received four courses of antibiotics. Vaccines had been administered as per the standard immunization schedule. He had multiple bouts of bronchitis, and cradle cap (scalp fungal infection). He experienced loose stools on a regular basis.
T.’s parents requested an unconventional medicine approach to their son’s illness, and consented to the use of complementary therapies administered through my office.
Nutritional Medicine and Detoxification Therapy
His informed parents had already started the child on probiotics, essential fatty acids, B vitamins, and other supplements prior to his visit with me. At the first meeting, we interactively outlined a plan for management, with a focus on biological, nutrition-based medicine. The first phase was to assess (by history, exam, a urine organic acid profile, and blood analysis) and correct yeast-related abnormalities. A gluten-free, casein-free, sugar-free diet was prescribed.
With bowel function improved, we moved to phase two: pro-oxidant (including metal burden) assessment and treatment. Simultaneously, a 2 week prescription of the anti-fungal preparation Fluconazole was recommended, followed by botanicals including grapefruit seed extract, garlic, and the homeopathic Fungisode from Genestra. Immune function was also regulated, using Imunovir.
After 3 months, T.’s parents consented to the non-standard provocative urine toxic elements test, which showed very elevated mercury excretion. The parents requested regular visits for metal depuration, and nutrients for glutathione support (the organic acid test indicated low levels) were issued. (Glutathione is a naturally produced antioxidant that assists in the removal of mercury, pesticides, PCBs, PBBs, and other chemicals. It also protects mitochondrial function.)
After 5 months of treatment, language development was progressing, with less prompting and more spontaneity. Also toilet training was better, with much improved stool consistency. The parents reported “dramatic changes,” including increased play interaction.
After 6 months, his IBI (Intensive Behavioural Intervention) therapists “could not believe the improvement” in speech and general development. Transdermal glutathione and carnosine (a nutrient with reported benefits for speech development in ASD) were suggested, and checks on fungal activity continued, with intervention as required.
After 9 months, the parents noted major improvements in language acquisition, and a repeat urine toxic metals test showed almost normal levels. He was switched to a solely oral metal excretion program, which included a combination of DMSA with lipoic acid from a compounding pharmacy, used on a 3 day on / 11 days off rotation with close monitoring of lab parameters and mineral status.
By 1 year, a psychological assessment was performed by a developmental disabilities specialist, who noted “considerable improvement in his ASD characteristics,” and that, “he is much less likely to display hyperactivity.”
Routine follow-up testing for cell counts, heavy metals, mineral levels, and liver and kidney function occurred from the outset, with continued surveillance through the following year during application of the supplementation program. After 23 months, T. no longer qualified for government funding, since autism was “no longer a diagnosis in writing,” according to his parents. T.’s parents were ecstatic with the overall outcome.
By age six, T. was fully integrated in a regular school and not requiring any extra assistance. He communicated normally and easily, with his humorous, interactive personality in full bloom. There were no longer any signs of autism, cognitively or socially. In fact, the teachers at his new school were not even aware that a diagnosis of autism once applied to him. Medically, the diagnosis has been removed.
Predictions: Future Prevention and Medical Treatment of Autism
I am optimistic that in the future:
- Physicians will manage autism spectrum disorders using nutrition, not psychiatry.
- Management will focus also on environmental contamination and causation.
- Management will be directed toward meeting the brain’s nutrient requirements, from both a treatment and protection perspective.
- Food intolerances, genetically predetermined or not, will be widely recognized as a contributor to dysfunction and will be more routinely tested. Accordingly, an individualized diet will be prescribed, eventually based on genetic testing. The three most common food intolerances to be discussed are wheat (and gluten products), dairy, and soy.
- Doctors will have been trained in medical school about the toxic effects of mercury and other heavy metals.
- Tests will be used to assess toxin levels, and metal mobilization and excretion therapies, will be more widely available in the offices of physicians.
- Nutrients like glutathione will be tested and used as a standard part of treatment. Of utmost importance will be supporting the production of glutathione. This can be achieved with a low carbohydrate diet and a broad spectrum amino acid supplement; the use of NAC, while monitoring for gut dysbiosis; the use of vitamin C, lipoic acid, and selenium as antioxidants; the support of the methylation cycle using methylcobalamin (mB12), methyl folate, and B6; and the general use of omega-3 fatty acids. Oral glutathione in liposomal form can also be used – again watching for yeast overgrowth in the intestine.
- Non-food neurotoxins, such as MSG and aspartame, will be preferentially removed from the child’s diet, along with artificial colours and dyes.
- Mold and fungal activity as an underlying process in chronic illness, including potentially autism, will be recognized, such that patients who inform their physician about the health hazards of increased fungal activity in their tissues will be assisted, rather than dismissed. This will include assessment of both the patient, and the building they reside in.
- The effects of radiation will be better understood and better publicized, so that children and fetuses will not be subjected to their harmful effects.
- Doctors will understand the nuances of generationally accumulated toxicity, as well as the susceptibility of the developing fetus to contaminants transmitted through the placenta.
- Parents will understand the importance of healthy germ cells before conception, and receive help from their doctor on how to detoxify themselves before a sperm fertilizes an egg.
- Essential fatty acids will be routinely supplemented as an aspect of good prenatal care, for the benefit of mother and fetus. Essential fatty acid blood levels will be scheduled prenatally. Omega 3 fish oils are important supplements to consider.
- Dentists will be better informed about how their professional activity impacts directly on the entire organism (and an organism’s offspring). A fetus concentrates mercury up to eight times what the mother does. To be safe, enlist the services of a dentist who practises biological or mercury-free dentistry.
- All practitioners will understand that early diagnosis leads to earlier application of nutrition-based therapies and biological medicine. They will know that the “window of opportunity” for most effective treatment (ages two to five) can’t be allowed to pass.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article includes the opinions of Dr. Gannage and is for educational purposes only. One should always seek personalized advice from a qualified practitioner before making the dietary and behaviour changes listed, as the needs and medical status of individuals are highly variable. Dr. Gannage is not responsible for any adverse events that might occur from application of any of the therapies outlined in this article.
Dr. John Gannage, MD, CCFP, FMAPS, is a licensed physician who practices Functional Medicine and is considered an expert in the field of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). Dr. Gannage has been awarded Fellowship with the Medical Academy of Pediatric Special Needs (MAPS) in recognition of his extensive training and knowledge in the field of developmental disorders including autism. He is also known for his expertise in treating adults with complex, chronic illness; in particular, Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS), mast cell instability in general, and histamine intolerance. In addition to his clinical work, Dr. Gannage has researched, developed, and presented numerous educational programs for both patients and practitioners on important integrative medicine topics, and written several articles for publication. Dr. Gannage is accepting new patients in Markham, Ontario and virtually. Dr. Gannage’s services include IV nutrient infusions, chelation therapy, and Functional Medicine treatment for chronic conditions including IBS, SIBO, autoimmune conditions, fibromyalgia, diabetes, hormonal imbalances, heart disease, and more. Dr. Gannage’s primary website is <a href="https://integrative-medicine.ca/">integrative-medicine.ca/</a>, and his histamine intolerance website can be found here <a href="https://www.histamined.com/">www.histamined.com/</a>.