Autism, Autistic Disorder, PDD, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, acetaminophen, vaccines, immunizations, aluminum, methylation, sulfation

Autistic Disorders: A Prevention Strategy

Autistic Disorders: A Prevention Strategy

In last month’s issue I introduced a group of conditions that are known collectively as Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD).  (See Autistic Disorders)Those conditions include autism, Asperger’s syndrome, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise classified (PDD-NOS). Some prefer to use the term “autism spectrum disorder” to describe any condition that falls into the PPD category.

I noted that the incidence of autistic disorders has increased twenty fold over the past three decades. I explained why this rise cannot be explained simply by better recognition of the conditions or a change in their diagnostic classification. Increases of this magnitude cannot occur by mere chance. Some thing or things must be responsible.

Last month I discussed the efforts to discredit Dr. Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues for simply reporting in a straightforward manner what they had been told by parents of children brought to them for evaluation of bowel disease and PPD. A high percentage of parents observed that their child’s condition first appeared shortly after the child had received a MMR vaccine. In the brave new world of medical journalism it is not permissible to even raise the possibility that childhood vaccinations may have undesirable consequences!

The possibility that some children are harmed by the injection of heavy metals such as mercury and aluminum into their bodies during early development should be taken seriously. Unfortunately, the Wakefield affair has guaranteed that unbiased studies of childhood vaccine safety will not be conducted in the foreseeable future. At this point in time there is an assumption on the part of those who set public health policy that childhood vaccinations are perfectly safe and do not predispose susceptible children to PDD.

There is another intriguing theory that may partially explain the dramatic rise in PDD since 1980. It was first advanced by a group of investigators led by Dr. S. T. Schulz in 2008. They observed that children who were given acetaminophen (Tylenol) for control of fever or pain following the administration of the MMR vaccine were significantly more likely to develop an autistic disorder than children who did not receive the drug.

Schultz and his team surveyed the parents of 83 children with autism and the parents of 80 children without autism. The parents reported that the children with autism had experienced more adverse reactions to the MMR vaccine and were therefore more likely to have received acetaminophen than the children in the control group. Children with autism were eight times more likely to have gotten sick following their MMR shot and six times more likely to have received acetaminophen. Autistic children were nine times more likely to have had an illness appear coincidental with the MMR vaccination. Children who regressed after receiving the MMR vaccine were seventeen times more likely to have had an illness that occurred in close proximity to the receipt of the vaccine.

The researchers also noted that none of the children had been given baby aspirin for management of fever or pain. There is a specific reason for this. Beginning in the 1950s a condition called Reye’s syndrome appeared in some children following viral illnesses such as influenza or chicken pox. Reye’s syndrome is a potentially fatal condition involving all body organs. Its effects are most damaging in the brain and the liver. In the 1970s some began to suspect that the use of aspirin during the viral illness increased the risk of Reye’s syndrome. By 1975, when the incidence of PDD began to rise, acetaminophen was replacing aspirin as the drug of choice for fever reduction in children. In 1980 the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released studies linking aspirin to Reye’s syndrome. This resulted in a dramatic decrease in sales of children’s aspirin and a corresponding rise in sales of Tylenol.

The incidence of autism spectrum disorders had remained constant until 1975. There was a gradual increase in those illnesses between 1975 and 1980, followed by a dramatic rise from 1980 forward. Interestingly, there was a brief decline in the number of new PDD cases on three occasions. The first was in 1977, when warning labels first appeared on acetaminophen products. The second drop occurred following the 1982 Tylenol scare due to seven deaths in the Chicago area from cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules. (The incident led to the practice of placing safety seals on bottles of medication.) The third dip in PDD incidence followed a second Tylenol scare in 1986 when a New York woman died from cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules.

The close association between increased use of acetaminophen for management of fever in infants and children and the rise in PDD incidence might be considered coincidental were it not for specific drug effects that could logically lead to PDD in susceptible children.

To explain those effects, I must introduce some chemistry terms. I will do my best not to become too technical for understanding. Chemicals called phenolic amines are responsible for transmission of nerve signals within the brain. Seratonin and dopamine are examples. These substances are essential to proper brain activity, but they can also become toxic if they accumulate in the brain. Under normal conditions, phenolic amines are eliminated from the body through the use of another chemical, sulfate. This process, called sulfation, takes place in the liver.

Acetaminophen is also detoxified by the liver through the sulfation process. It is interesting to note that acetaminophen poisoning is treated with N-acetyl-cysteine. (Cysteine is a major source of sulfate.)

It has been observed that the degree of autistic behavior in PDD children is increased by the consumption of wheat, corn, sugar, dairy, apples, bananas, and chocolate. These foods contain phenolic amines that must be bound to sulfate in the liver for excretion. Autistic children have been shown to have low levels of the enzyme that drives this process. It is therefore possible that acetaminophen, by depleting the body of sulfate, causes phenolic amines to rise to toxic levels, leading to PDD.

Sulfation also plays a key role in determining hormonal balance in the body. There has not only been a rise in the number of children who regress and begin displaying autistic behaviors in the second year of life, but an increase in the number of children born with autism. One of the characteristics of children who are autistic from birth is the presence of what is referred to as an “extreme male brain.” In these children brain structures influenced by estrogen are smaller than usual and features influenced by testosterone are larger.

This phenomenon may be due to the use of acetaminophen by mothers during pregnancy. In fact, mothers of autistic infants are more likely to report having had bacterial or viral infections with fever during pregnancy. Acetaminophen is the most commonly recommended drug for management of fever during pregnancy. When sulfation is impaired, testosterone levels increase and estrogen levels decrease, the exact pattern that would be expected to result in an “extreme male brain.”

Since 1980 acetaminophen has been the most widely prescribed drug for the treatment of fever in infants and children. It is not only given for fever related to viral illnesses, but it is often given along with immunizations to lessen chances of a vaccine associated fever. Repeated administration of acetaminophen can deplete the body’s sulfate stores. This could explain why liver detoxification is impaired in nearly all autistic children.

A second mechanism, called methylation, may also play a role in the development of PDD. Like sulfation, methylation requires sulfate to proceed. Methylation is used to manufacture critical substances in the body, one of which is glutathione, an enzyme that is responsible for removal of heavy metals from the body. Autistic children have been found to have low glutathione levels, indicating that their metylation mechanism is not functioning effectively. They have also been shown to have difficulty excreting metals from the body.

Heavy metals like mercury and lead block the methylation of DNA. DNA methylation is the process that signals the body to produce and grow new brain cells. Loss of the ability to support brain cell growth could explain why children who have been developing normally suddenly regress and lose skills they appeared to have mastered.

It appears that multiple environmental factors that predispose to the development of PDD may be responsible for the dramatic rise in autism spectrum disorders over the past three decades. Use of acetaminophen during pregnancy may be affecting hormonal balance and altering normal brain development. Although mercury has been removed from most childhood immunizations, infants and children are still being exposed to toxic levels of aluminum in vaccines. Acetaminophen is frequently administered along with vaccines, a practice that compromises the child’s ability to detoxify and eliminate the aluminum. The presence of aluminum blocks the methylation process that supports proper brain development. The combination of vaccines loaded with aluminum and acetaminophen may be a devastating combination that triggers PDD in a significant number of children.

The good news is that parents may well have the ability to protect their children from the tragic development of autism spectrum disorders. The following steps should be taken:

Acetaminophen should not be used during pregnancy nor should it be given to infants and children. Fever is a normal body response to infection and one of the most effective tools the body has to fight infections. Fever itself is rarely dangerous and temperatures as high as 104 degrees are well-tolerated. Simple measures can keep the body temperature from exceeding 102 degrees in most cases. Gently rubbing the child’s temples for about fifteen seconds with the eyes open and then with the eyes closed will moderate the degree of fever present. Exposing the child’s skin to the air by limiting clothing to a diaper and light T shirt, or sponging the skin with lukewarm water will lessen the body temperature. Homeopathic fever reducers are also available.

Immunizations should be delayed until after two years of age whenever possible. This should not be difficult if the child is cared for in the home, but it is usually not possible when the child is placed in day care. When immunization is begun, administration of multiple vaccines simultaneously may be recommended to “catch up”. Do not allow this as the total aluminum load may be more than the child can deal with at one time. Do not allow immunizations to be given if the child appears ill in any way.

Supplements that support sulfation and metylation should be started a week before and continued for a week after vaccines are administered. Important nutrients are B6, B12, folic acid, magnesium, zinc, N,N-dimethylgycine, and N-acetyl cysteine. These can be found in a single product, HCY Formula, which I formulated several years ago for support of methylation. I recommend that one capsule be given daily. Capsule contents may be sprinkled into foods or beverages.

The above measures may be helpful in reversing PDD as well, but it is far better to prevent these tragic conditions than to attempt to reverse them once they are present. Some will argue that an association with current immunization practices, the use of acetaminophen, and autism spectrum disorders is unproven. To this I respond, how could a child be harmed in taking the recommended precautions? Expectant mothers can deal with febrile illnesses without using acetaminophen. Fever in infants and children is almost never dangerous and it can easily be managed without acetaminophen. If it is felt unwise to delay immunization one can give infants and children the supports needed to allow their body’s sulfation and methylation mechanisms to operate effectively. There is never a need to administer multiple vaccines simultaneously. I see no down-side to taking reasonable precautions. The potential up-side is a dramatic reversal of the current epidemic of pervasive developmental disorders.

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