Autism is one disease where there is a very high ‘inherited’ component. In studies with genetically identical twins, if one twin has it, the odds of another having a diagnosis is about 60%. But not all this is ‘in the genes’ since we share the same ‘environment’ as our siblings.
Perhaps the more interesting question is why the number of children diagnosed with Attention-deficit /hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders classifying them as ‘neurodivergent’, has rocketed in both the UK and US. One in six children is ‘neurodivergent’ as autism numbers quadruple. The graph below shows US figures. These parallel UK figures (see here) which show that just under 1.5 million pupils in England have special educational needs which is one in six children. Autism is the biggest part of this, has been steadily rising in both the Uk and US.
“Now, one in six children in the US are classified as neurodivergent and one in 36 as autistic – a fourfold increase in 20 years.” says pediatric Professor Alessio Fasano from Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, Harvard Medical School.
According to Dr Rona Tutt OBE, past president of the UK’s National Association of Head teachers “There has been a dramatic increase in the number of people being diagnosed with ASD. Although some of this is due to a broader definition of autism as well as better diagnosis, it raises the question of whether it may also be the result of environmental changes, which have also been dramatic.”
Some UK schools are reporting as many as one in four children having problems.
Since the genes cannot have changed this rapidly, the increase points to the influence of environmental factors of which there are many candidates. The main suspects are:
- Gut problems
- Wheat, milk and sugar
- Environmental anti-nutrients and toxins
- Social media overuse and social issues
- Maternal nutrition and brain formation essential fats
World-renowned pediatric gastroenterologist, and research scientist Professor Alessio Fasano, MD, directs the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General for Children thinks something is going wrong in the gut, with many ASD children reporting gut problems including diarrhoea, constipation, belching and excessive flatulence and ‘dysbiosis’ – abnormal patterns of gut bacteria. In some children, wheat and milk may contribute to these symptoms. His research finds that neurodivergent children show high levels of ‘zonulin’, a family of proteins that regulate the barrier between intestinal cells in the digestive tract that can lead to “leaky gut.” ASD children are often found to have opioid-like wheat and milk proteins in their urine, making these foods especially ‘addictive’.
Professor Michael Crawford, who heads the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital says “We can predict which babies are going to have developmental problems from the fats in the mother’s blood. When omega-3 levels are low, the mother produces a non-functional ‘brain fat substitute’ to build their baby’s brain during pregnancy, high levels of which predict problems. The brain is 50% fat, and omega-3 DHA should make up most of the structural fat in brain cells.” Less than 5 per cent of children in the UK achieve the basic dietary recommendations for omega-3 and fish.
Vitamins may help. ‘A high level of homocysteine, a marker for B vitamin deficiency, predicts ASD and studies have shown that giving homocysteine-lowering vitamin B6, B12 and folate help reduce symptoms.” says Patrick Holford from the Food for the Brain Foundation, which is hosting the masterclass. “Vitamin A improves eye coordination and vision, helping those with autism who don’t look you in the eye and have visual problems.”
A 12-month randomised controlled trial giving omega-3, vitamins, digestive enzymes and a healthy gluten-free, casein-free diet showed major improvement in both autistic symptoms and raising IQ.
Nutrition and functional medicine therapist Anne Pemberton, who specialises in helping those with ASD, is also speaking at the conference, reports considerable success, not just by improving nutrition but by addressing the psychological and social circumstances of neurodivergent children. “It is critical to work with both mother and child, and not only address critical nutritional issues, stress triggers including early life traumas, and suppressed emotions as a result of their condition and conditioning, and to help them develop a sense of self and mindset. I have seen hundreds of children and adults who usually have major improvements. Peter, age 8, is a case in point. He was diagnosed with ASD and classified as needing special education. 15 months later he’s no longer even classified as ASD.”
So, as you can see, there are many layers to Autism and Neurodivergence. This is why we are running an in-depth Masterclass with some of the aforementioned experts so that you can learn how to support your own brain or those around you who experience this.
This masterclass is perfect for practitioner, parent, caregivers or anyone who wants to understand more about this area.