Every parent wants their child to be born healthy, no matter what it takes.
But some of the most common disorders aren’t always easy to spot at birth, and others develop as your child ages.
In the case of autism spectrum disorder, children aren’t typically diagnosed until the age of 2-4 years old, meaning that it can be quite a shock for their parents to adjust to this change in behavior.
Long considered a developmental disability, autism is finally being investigated under a different microscope to see if there might be a way to reverse it.
The Case of Jackson
In the early stages of his life, Jackson was just like any other child: curious, high energy, and social. But as he grew, he also began to withdrawal from himself, regressing in his development, refusing to speak, and engaging in repetitive behaviors characteristic of autism disorder; All this at only 22 months old (1).
His parents took him to visit Dr. Mark Hyman, a functional medicine specialist who treated their son with an unconventional approach called reverse autism.
Instead of the therapies and drug typically tailored to autistic children, Dr. Hyman examined that overall health of the child to if there was a hidden connection between his behavior and his state of health.
Sure enough, Jackson was suffering from mitochondrial dysfunction, meaning that his cells were struggling to produce and maintain energy. He also suffered from gut inflammation, allergies, heavy metal toxicity, and nutritional imbalances.
Now 6 years old, Jackson is a calm, high-functioning child. You’d never guess he was once diagnosed with autism.
Jackson isn’t Dr. Hyman’s only success story.
Among many other successfully treated patients is Sam, a 2½-year-old boy diagnosed with autism at 22 months. According to his parents, Sam’s behavior shifted shortly after being vaccinated (2).
It was “like watching someone on a psychedelic drug trip,” said the doctor on their first meeting.
A quick look at his medical history revealed that Sam was allergic to 28 foods, including gluten, soy, and dairy.
He also had an inflamed and leaky gut and multiple nutritional deficiencies. Like Jackson, his mitochondria weren’t capable or producing energy anymore.
Sam also suffered from heavy metal toxicity from exposure to aluminum, lead, antimony, and arsenic- but that’s not all.
Sam’s body also had low levels of sulfur and glutathione -which are necessary for detoxification- and depleted stores of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain function.
The nutrients his body did absorb weren’t being properly metabolized, resulting in low levels of homocysteine and high levels of methylmalonic acid. To cap it all off, Sam’s brain was severely inflamed and affected by oxidative stress.
Like Jackson, Sam made a full recovery.
How Dr. Hyman Did it
To understand Dr. Hyman’s method of reverse autism, you have to first understand his reasoning. Your brain and your gut are so interconnected that it’s often referred to as the “second brain”.
Your gut forms 70% of your immune system and contains more neurons than your spinal cord.
The gut can even act independent from your brain and it has the ability to release hormones and neuroactive compounds into the bloodstream.
The first step towards reverse autism has to do with fixing the most urgent irritants that are affecting your gut, like allergens, fungi, and yeast. Natural antibiotics, antifungals as well as probiotics and enzymes can be beneficial.
Dr. Hyman gradually changes the diet of his patients over the course of several weeks as to not shock the system too much. Once most of the inflammation has subsisted, the patient is given nutritious whole foods to replenish depleted nutrients.
Lastly, the patient is given a regiment of inflammation-fighting and detoxifying foods to clear away any accumulated toxins and to heal stressed-out bodily tissues.
In Sam’s case, just three weeks on a gluten-free diet and gut-specific treatments helped improve his language skills and his connection with reality. 4 months into treatment, he was focused and very verbal. After 10 months, his autism diagnosis was reversed and he reintegrated ‘normal’ classes at school.
More on Mitochondrial Dysfunction
The mitochondrion is the energy center of each of your cells. When these structures in your brain cells aren’t function well or have been damaged, neurons don’t fire, connections aren’t made, and the mind can’t function mentally as well as it should (3).
In children, the condition is typically caused by oxidative stress. Mitochondrial dysfunction is also observed in diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and dementia.
To better understand how this relates to autism, UC Davis examined children 2 to 5 years of age from the Childhood Autism Risk From Genes and Environment (CHARGE) study in California. The study is currently still underway (4).
Instead of finding mitochondrial abnormalities in the neurons, researchers found these abnormalities in the lymphocytes, the white blood cells that serve as your body’s first line of defense against pathogens.
This is proof that autism isn’t a problem of the brain: it’s caused by a series of dysfunctions within the body.
What’s even more interesting is that mitochondrial dysfunction is known to be caused by environmental pollutants, allergens, processed foods, nutrient deficiencies, and poor diet (5,6,7,8).
While these studies are promising, researchers stress that there is much work that remains to be done to be able to integrate Dr. Hyman’s reverse autism method in standardized treatment. For the millions of families affected by autism, there is still hope.