If you have seen one child with autism, you have seen one child with autism. This statement rises from the reality that we are still struggling to wrap our heads around the multiple causes of autism. This disease affecting now millions of children appears to vary not only in severity but in what appears to trigger it in the first place. Many correlations have been found between anything from genes, to infections, to toxins, and to inflammation but a comprehensive understanding is lacking. In this focus article, authors gathered data from other studies linking autism occurrence with inflammation and with a variety of triggers. This was helpful in understanding some potential mechanisms, but they went a step further and noted a number of studies looking at the benefits of natural anti-inflammatory supplements in the management of this condition.
Pharmaceuticals have little to offer parents of autistic patients. Some of the behavioral systems can be alleviated somewhat but the underlying mechanisms remain intact. Anti-psychotics calm some disruptive behavior. Anti-depressants can calm some moods ups and downs. Ultimately the disease marches on as these medications take the edge off and manage the behaviors flowing out of it.
Without diving into the details of a 17 page article, there are a number of high points helpful to recognize as we wade through caring for children with autism who have turned from the conventional world to look to functional medicine
Several pathways have been identified through observational studies, as well as studies on mice. Several cytokines and their pathways have been implicated in the development of autism. These includes tumor necrosis factor alpha, interleukin 6, monocyte chemotactic proteins 1, nuclear factor kappa B, interferon gamma, MAPK, and a few others. Knowledge of these pathways and their downstream effects have been studied in other conditions. Many direct and indirect connections between these cytokines and brain function and development are recognized.
Several triggers for inflammation in general or these pathways specifically have been identified. Mercury has been connected with the pathophysiology of autism through several potential mechanisms. Lead has been connected with other neurologic impairments that could contribute to autism. Organochlorine pesticides have been found to be elevated in a study of rural women with autistic children. A few viral infections including rubella and cytomegalovirus have been associated with higher rates of autism. Valproic acid exposure in utero is also associated with higher autism rates. (studies listed in the focus article).
With these inflammatory cytokines and these potential initiating triggers in mind, several herbs and nutrients have been evaluated for benefits with autism. Several were found to lower some of the same cytokines that were associated with higher autism risks. Resveratrol in one study lowering IL-1B and TNF-alpha leading to decreased NF-kB. Palmitoylethanolamide and luteolin decreased NF-kB levels in mice. Luteolin with diosmine “reverses the behavior and neruopathoological changes of autism”. Quercetin inhibited Interleukin 12.
Helping out autism patients restore a healthier more abundant life requires looking at these triggering factors, removing the identified triggers, lowering inflammation, and supporting brain development. This research supports our efforts indicating we are on the right track to lower inflammation and look for inflammatory triggers.
Singh, R., Kisku, A., Kungumaraj, H., Nagaraj, V., Pal, A., Kumar, S., & Sulakhiya, K. (2023). Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Recent Update on Targeting Inflammatory Pathways with Natural Anti-Inflammatory Agents. Biomedicines, 11(1), 115. https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines11010115
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.