Canaries in the coal mine

If you ask Dr. Bryan Jepson he will tell you why he thinks the “new” autism is different from the “old”. As a medical doctor (now a Director of Medical Services) and parent of a young autistic son, Jepson has been doing some research lately and has come up with some (not always so) new ideas. Here are some excerpts from a story in the Deseret News (Utah) about Jepson and his new book Changing the Course of Autism: A Scientific Approach for Parents and Physicians:

Soon he was convinced that autism is a complex metabolic disease that has as much to do with the gut as it does with the brain.

It’s an epidemic, he says, “and there’s no such thing as a genetic epidemic.”

At the same time, the “new autism” is less likely to show up within the first six months or year of a baby’s life, and is much more likely to be “regressive,” showing up at 18 months to 3 years to rob the child of previous skills — sometimes almost overnight, sometimes as a gradual decline.

There’s a genetic susceptibility for autism. But something else has to explain the sudden rise in numbers — and it’s not simply a matter of better diagnosis or a broader definition of what autism means, he says.

The answer appears to have something to do with the increased toxicity of the environment, he says, from food additives to vaccines and antibiotics. Children who are born with a genetic susceptibility for autism have trouble detoxifying, he says.

The increase in other chronic diseases such as asthma is evidence that autistic children may also be proof of what’s to come, he says. “It’s kind of like the canary in the coal mine.” (my emphasis)

I know a lot of parents have turned to diet as a treatment for autism, but I don’t know how many of them take it as far as Jepson does:

Calling autism a behavioral disorder, says Jepson, is like calling a tumor a headache. Instead, he says, autism is just one symptom of a disease process that affects the digestive, immune and neurological systems.

The majority of children with autism have gastrointestinal problems, sometimes causing severe pain. Their tantrums and head banging may be a manifestation of pain they can’t articulate, Jepson says. If the gut disease is treated — with diet, nutritional supplements and medication — that behavior goes away.

The benefits of changing diet and the question of whether stomach issues are a cause of autism or simply a co-morbidity have been discussed ad nauseum over the past several years in the blogosphere, as well as other books addressing. The reviewers on Amazon seem to love it (7 reviewers, average rating of 5 stars), but I wonder if they really found it that good or if it was just something that justified an opinion they already had.

I’d be interested to know (without having to read it, my list is already too long), if this book brings anything truly new to the debate. (Aside, of course, from the obvious belief that autism is a symptom of something else and not a condition of its own.)

0 thoughts on “Canaries in the coal mine

  1. I have not, of course, read the book, but all that you quote sounds more than a little familiar. Writing to you from not so far away—at O’Hare airport in Chicago!

  2. The best explanation of the admittedly noisey data (the definition of “autism” used in doing statistics varies so widely that you can’t expect even good first order epidemiology) is an intestinal bug imported from south Asia with the recent rise of immigration.See http://www.laboratoryofthestates.com/imbamcoa.htmlAnd, to answer your question as to whether this ecological correlation conformed to a prior opinion I held, the answer is “yes”. However, that is the essence of the experimental test: Form an hypothesis and then see if the data conform to that hypothesis as well as or better than it does competing hypotheses.

  3. I have no doubts that the book provides the data to support the hypothesis, as I have no doubts the book itself helps many to prove to themselves that the hypothesis is valid. I was just curious if the readers who praised the book already held that hypothesis/opinion (in which case the strong rating is to be expected) or if the readers came in with no opinion or were converted from another opinion (in which case such a strong rating would suggest it is more than just something for those who already agree to read). (I must admit, I didn’t actually read the reviews, I only looked at the star-ratings.)

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