ASD or autism spectrum disorder is a type of developmental disorder, which affects behavior and communication. Though patients suffering from autism may get diagnosed from the disorder at any age; but, it is considered a developmental disorder as its symptoms appear during the initial two years of a child’s life.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is a guide used in the diagnosis of mental disorders, states that people suffering from ASD have the following:
- Difficulty with interaction and communication with other individuals
- Repetitive behaviors and restricted interests
- Symptoms, which hurt the ability of the person to function optimally at work, school and other walks of life
Causes of ASD
According to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) at least 1 in 70 kids in the USA suffer from ASD (autism spectrum disorder), which is an alarming number.
Though, scientists suggest that aberrations in genes that act together with certain environmental factors as the causative factor of ASD; however, several studies have highlighted that neuroinflammatory processes play a more critical role in the causation of ASD. Over the last decade, intense research has been done to find out how exactly immune dysfunction alters brain function and causes autism.
According to a review published in the journal ‘Current opinion in neurology’, autoantibodies (antibodies that target tissues of your own body) targeting brain proteins have been found in both children suffering from autism and their mothers. The review further states that there is alteration in both humoral and cellular immunity in patients with autism. Moreover, in some patients with autism active inflammation in the central nervous system has been found (>60%).
Another review published in the journal ‘Immunology letters’ suggests that ASD is characterized by immune dysfunction. Symptoms of immune dysfunction present in ASD are neuroinflammation (inflammation in the nervous system), increased responses of T lymphocytes, presence of autoantibodies etc. Research is pointing at a reaction to foods in the child’s diet that may cross react with cerebellar proteins, diminishing brain development and executive function (cerebellum fires to the frontal cortex which is critical to behavioral control, mood and attention so anything generating inflammation in one area may create problems in others). These responses are associated with core symptoms of ASD including repetitive behaviors and impaired communication and poor social interactions. Hence, it can be suggested that the immune dysfunction present in ASD patients affects neurological processes and various aspects of neural development; thereby, resulting in changes in behavior and communication.
Another study published in the ‘journal of neuroinflammation’ found various biochemical compounds related to inflammation in the plasma of patients suffering from autism. These chemicals can change blood flow, impact nutrient utilization and impede “neuroplasticity”, or the process of neurons connecting and creating a healthy neuron-network.
Heavy Metal Exposure Raises the Risk of ASD
It has been found that exposure to heavy metals such as lead, copper, aluminum, cadmium and mercury at various stages of development of the child may raise the risk of ASD. Prenatal exposure to heavy metals can result in defective brain development of the fetus. Consuming fish, using aluminum cooking utensils and living nearby gasoline stations has been found to result in maternal exposure to toxins.
According to a study published in the journal ‘behavioral neurology’, environmental exposure of children to toxic heavy metals during their developmental period plays a vital role in the causation of autism. The exposure to these heavy metals may be prenatal or postnatal. Some of the possible sources of exposure to heavy metals include fertilizers, chemical products, building materials, industrial paints, fish (which has high amounts of mercury), dental fillings containing silver, and preservatives containing mercury (thiomersal) present in vaccines. Lead is present in the dirt found near roads or in paint on old houses. Children who eat paint chips or who have pica (an illness in which the child eat non-nutritious things such as paint or drywall) may get toxic levels of lead in their blood.
Females who have chronic heavy metal exposure and have accumulated high levels of heavy metals such as mercury in their body tissues and blood may pass these metals to their growing fetus or infants through breastfeeding.
Vaccinations as a Potential Source of Heavy Metal Exposure
It has been found that mercury present in the preservatives used in vaccines is also a potential source of heavy metal exposure for children. Moreover, vaccines given for measles, mumps and rubella or MMR that is given during early life is also correlated to the disorder.
The causative factors of autism or ASD remains controversial and elusive, but both environmental and genetic factors have been suggested. However, recent studies suggest that exposure to heavy metals during key phases of development of a child may play a vital role in the causation of ASD. Moreover, autism is a neuroinflammatory condition and not a genetic aberration, which results from immune dysfunction resulting from environmental factors such as heavy metal exposure. This is the most important point as many so called “Autism advocacy groups” would like to normalize the behavior found in kids suffering with autistic spectrum. There is no doubt many children grow into healthy, productive adults even with Autism but for others this condition rules their life and their parents’ lives. Instead of saying we have a new “normal”, functional medicine and functional neurology looks to the reasons why someone developed incorrectly, what inflammatory triggers they have and how we can rehabilitate the brain to improve function and create less dependence on medication.
If you are curious about how we can provide a deeper level of natural support to your child then please join us for our ADD/ADHD & Autistic spectrum lecture at Dr. Autoimmune in North Boulder this Wednesday, August 1 @ 6:00PM. Limited seating available so RSVP is required!
Looking forward to providing you with the info to let your family’s health soar!
Ian Hollaman, DC, MSc, IFMCP
- Farida El Baz Mohamed, Eman Ahmed Zaky, Adel Bassuoni El-Sayed, Reham Mohammed Elhossieny, Sally Soliman Zahra, Waleed Salah Eldin, Walaa Yousef, Youssef, Rania Abdelmgeed Khaled, Azza Mohamed Youssef. Assessment of Hair Aluminum, Lead, and Mercury in a sample of autistic Egyptian Children: Environmental Risk Factors of Heavy Metals in Autism. Behavioral Neurology. October 2015; 2015: 545674.
- Afaf El-Ansary, Laila Al-Ayadhi. Neuroinflammation in autism spectrum disorders. Journal of neuroinflammation. 2012; 9: 265.
- Exposure to heavy metals may increase risk of autism. Medicalnewstoday. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317754.php Accessed July 20th
- Autism Spectrum Disorder. NationalInstituteofMentalHealth. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-asd/index.shtml? Accessed July 20th
- Gamakaranage C. Heavy Metals and Autism. Journal of Heavy Metal Toxicity and Diseases. September 2016; 1:3.
- Charlotte Madore, Quentin Leyrolle, Chloe Lacabanne, Anouk Benmamar-Badel, Corinne Joffre, Agnes Nadjar, Sophie Laye. Neuroinflammation in Autism: Plausible Role of Maternal Inflammation, Dietary Omega 3 and Microbiota. Neural Plasticity. September 2016; 2016.
- Jennifer Mead, Paul Ashwood. Evidence supporting an altered immune response in ASD. Immunology letters. January 2015; 163(1): 49-55.
- Paula Goines, Judy Van de Water. The Immune System’s Role in the Biology of Autism. Current Opinion in Neurology. April 2010; 23(2): 111–117.