Professor James Adams is director of Arizona State University’s Autism/Asperger’s Research Program. Based on over 150 published research studies he offers a number of recommendations for parents with autistic children, including improving diets by stressing organic food, and avoiding sugar, “junk food,” fried food, and artificial colors/flavors/preservatives. Stressing a gluten free, casein free diet (and often corn free and soy free), using vitamin/mineral supplements (particularly vitamin B6 and magnesium), and taking probiotics.
Kirk Hamilton interviewed Dr. Adams in 2011.
One of the most striking differences in the medical history of children with autism is that several studies have reported much higher use of oral antibiotics (usually for ear infections) in infancy of children with autism compared to controls – which destroy beneficial gut bacteria.
Children on oral antibiotics lose almost all of their ability to excrete mercury. So they’re very vulnerable to mercury exposure at that time.
A Harvard Medical School study showed that about 70% of the kids with autism who are severe enough to have – have severe enough GI problems to do an endoscopy, 70% of those kids have problems digesting carbohydrates and sugars. Especially milk sugar is the biggest problem for them, so it’s very strong argument why most families should consider a milk-free diet for their child.
According to the FDA, 1 in 6 women in the U.S. has excessive levels of mercury that increase the risk of neurological damage in their child. There have been 40-some studies looking at toxic metal levels in kids with autism. Our group has been involved in a number of those and in most of these studies show that children with autism had increased levels of toxic metals. For example, in a baby teeth study we did, we found that children with autism have twice as much mercury in their baby teeth compared to typical children.
None of these children had any amalgam fillings and we were simply assessing using the teeth, the baby teeth because they form during – in utero and during the first few years of life. They’re basically a measure of the cumulative exposure to toxic metals.
There are three major sources of mercury. One is childhood vaccines. It’s been removed from most but not all of them. For example, it’s still in the flu vaccine given to infants and pregnant mothers which I think is tragic. It’s also present in many so-called silver dental fillings. So-called silver dental fillings are 35% silver, but 50% mercury, so they should be called mercury fillings. And they’re so extremely toxic that the insert from the manufacturer tells the dentist to dispose of the leftover amalgam material in a toxic waste container. In other words, the only legal place you can put an amalgam filling is in a toxic waste container or strangely in someone’s mouth. And that worries me.
And then the third major source is from seafood. Very large fish at the top of the food chain like shark and swordfish have so much mercury in them that the FDA warns pregnant on their website that one serving of shark, one serving of swordfish during their entire pregnancy significantly increases the risk of brain damage to their child.
There have been several published studies including a couple by our group showing kids with autism have less glutathione, and glutathione is the primary defense against toxic metals. And so they have less of it, and what they have tends to be more oxidized or inactive. So I think that’s part of the reason why they’re more vulnerable to toxic exposure and they cannot excrete it very well. And I think oral antibiotics are the other very major part of it. Because your normal gut bacteria tends to demethylate mercury so you excrete it in your stool. Whereas abnormal bacteria like yeast and E. coli will methylate the mercury so you absorb it more readily into your body.
It’s a vicious cycle because mercury then inhibits the production of glutathione and every time any mercury – any glutathione binds to mercury then its excreted in the stool and lost.
A study assessed vitamin and mineral levels in kids with autism. We found that for most vitamins and minerals, there weren’t major differences, but for a few, biotin in particular was lower in children with autism and we found that kids with autism needed much higher amounts of vitamin B12 and folinic acid. In terms of minerals, we found that they were extremely low in sulfate and there are several other studies that show that, too. And also low in lithium.
We published a previous study that showed that children with autism and their mothers were low in lithium, and low lithium is associated with a wide range of psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and aggressive crime like murder. We also looked at levels of amino acids and found that several of those were lower in children with autism, primarily tryptophan which is needed to be converted to serotonin, an important neurotransmitter, and we also found kids with autism had very high oxidative stress, could be due to toxic metals, could be due to toxins from gut bacteria. We don’t know the source, but we know that that was a big problem. And we found that they had low levels of ATP, which is a major fuel for the body and the brain. We have a new study coming out that shows that treating with a basic vitamin/mineral supplement resolves almost all of – it greatly improves or normalizes almost all of those abnormalities that we found. So basically, the bottom line for parents is that taking a good vitamin/mineral supplement is very important for children with autism.
There are several risk factors that we’re now learning about. One of the most important ones is that during a mother’s annual physical, it’s very common to measure their level of homocysteine. Moms of kids with autism tend to have abnormally high levels. And that’s a clue if they have that problem they probably also have a problem with methylation and with glutathione. And if they have both of those problem, a very powerful study by Jill James, showed then it’s about 45 times more likely that they will be a mother of a child with autism. The treatment for it is very simple. Just giving a folinic acid and vitamin B12 normalizes homocysteine, which also is a risk factor for heart disease.