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:
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.
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.
I am optimistic that in the future:
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.
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