Autism: It’s Not Just in the Head

Saturday, March 24th, 2007

Autism: It’s Not Just in the Head notes that “the devastating derangements of autism also show up in the gut and in the immune system” — and that may point to new treatment options:

“I no longer see autism as a disorder of the brain but as a disorder that affects the brain,” Herbert says. “It also affects the immune system and the gut. One very striking piece of evidence many of us have noticed is that when autistic children go in for certain diagnostic tests and are told not to eat or drink anything ahead of time, parents often report their child’s symptoms improve — until they start eating again after the procedure. If symptoms can improve in such a short time frame simply by avoiding exposure to foods, then we’re looking at some kind of chemically driven ‘software’ — perhaps immune system signals — that can change fast. This means that at least some of autism probably comes from a kind of metabolic encephalopathy — a systemwide process that affects the brain, just like cirrhosis of the liver affects the brain.”
“What I believe is happening is that genes and environment interact, either in a fetus or young child, changing cellular function all over the body, which then affects tissue and metabolism in many vulnerable organs. And it’s the interaction of this collection of troubles that leads to altered sensory processing and impaired coordination in the brain. A brain with these kinds of problems produces the abnormal behaviors that we call autism.”

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