A Shot in the Dark

Do vaccines really cause autism?

Comments (2)
Thursday, February 05, 2009

To say there's a big debate over autism is an understatement. More than 5,000 families have filed court claims blaming vaccine makers for their children's autism symptoms, including serious language delays, poor social skills and repetitive movements. Yet the research to date repeatedly shows no connection between vaccines and autism. A recent court decision added fuel to the fire by awarding compensation to the family of a young girl who developed autism symptoms after being vaccinated.

What's the real story? Laurie Tarkan asked leading autism researchers to help us figure it out.

Q: Why does there seem to be a sudden epidemic of autism?

A: Epidemic may be the wrong word. In the mid-1970s the reported rate of autism was 21 in 10,000 children, or 1 in 470. Today it's 65 to 67 per 10,000, or 1 in 150—about a threefold increase in 30 years. While any uptick in these numbers is worrisome, scientists aren't calling that an epidemic. Many experts believe the actual rise in autism cases (additions to the amount typically seen in the general population) is quite small. The surge in diagnoses, they say, is largely due to a broader understanding of what qualifies as autism, greater awareness of the disorder, and the increased availability of services for children with autism symptoms.

To better understand that argument, consider this: many children who are classified as autistic today would have been diagnosed with speech disorders or mental retardation 30 years ago. Indeed, as the number of children with autism has climbed, the number diagnosed with mental retardation has dropped. "These factors could explain all of the increase in autism cases," says autism expert Eric Fombonne, M.D., head of the department of psychiatry at Montreal Children's Hospital.

What's behind the idea that vaccines are to blame for autism?

There are many theories—and there's not much scientific support for any of them. One blames the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine, suggesting that the measles proteins in the shot can damage a child's stomach; a leaky gut could allow protein fragments produced during digestion to travel to the brain and wreak havoc. Another theory implicates the vaccine preservative thimerosal, which contains a form of mercury known as ethylmercury. Some believe the heavy metal causes neurodevelopmental abnormalities that lead to autism, in part because methylmercury (a similar compound commonly found in some fish) can damage the brain.

However, more than 10 studies comparing hundreds of thousands of children who did or didn't receive MMR vaccines consistently showed no increased risk of autism. And six studies comparing children who received thimerosal-based vaccines versus thimerosal-free vaccines also showed no increased risk. That said, some experts don't think the studies were rigorous or sensitive enough to pick up an effect in a fraction of susceptible children. "If 1 in 1,000 of the kids with autism had been affected by vaccines, you would not detect it in those studies," says Isaac Pessah, Ph.D., director of the Center for Children's Environmental Health at the University of California, Davis.

That means the debate is likely to go on. Pessah believes that many questions need to be answered, such as when to vaccinate and how many shots to give a child at once. "While we've increased the number of vaccines that are required, we haven't kept up the research on what is too many within a certain period of time," he explains.

Are some children more susceptible to autism after they've been vaccinated?

Most experts believe that autism has a strong genetic component, and a kid with a genetic predisposition may be susceptible to any number of insults, or "hits," to his or her system—from vaccines, infections, or other environmental factors yet to be proven. But Pessah says it's doubtful that vaccines alone could be the sole contributor to autism.

If the vaccine-autism link isn't proven, why did the federal government recently settle a lawsuit alleging that a girl got autism from vaccines?

The reason for the settlement isn't entirely clear. While many autism advocates hailed the decision as an admission that vaccines can cause autism, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) went out of its way to dispute that notion. The agency insists that the research does not support a link between autism and vaccines.

The case concerned Hannah Poling, now nine, who was 18 months old when she received five shots at once that vaccinated her against nine diseases. Ten months later, she was diagnosed with mitochondrial enzyme deficiency, a rare inheritable disease that causes brain damage and autism-like symptoms. The question put to the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), a federal body established in 1988 to help control the slew of lawsuits against vaccine makers, was whether her vaccinations caused her autism symptoms, which didn't appear until after she was vaccinated.

The VICP conceded it was biologically plausible that the vaccines worsened her underlying disorder, triggering her symptoms. However, the case did not prove that vaccines can trigger autism symptoms in children with mitochondrial disease, only that common infections can set off the symptoms in these kids. (Hannah had endured several ear infections and fevers before displaying autistic behavior.) In fact, many experts on mitochondrial disease say that instead of avoiding vaccines for kids with these problems, it's critical that they get vaccines to prevent devastating infections.

If vaccines aren't a root cause of autism, what is?

A range of environmental factors, including infections, medications, diet and pollutants may be to blame. For example, a lot of research fingers pesticides. One study measured markers of organophosphate pesticides like malathion or diazinon (commonly used in agriculture) in the blood or urine of children and their mothers, then checked the developmental abilities of the children; it found a higher rate of autism-like disorders in children with higher pesticide levels. Organochlorines seem to interfere with how the nervous system keeps from being overly excited, an issue in autistic children.

How would diet contribute to autism—or prevent it?

Some experts believe that two proteins—gluten (found in barley, rye, oats, and wheat) and casein (in dairy products)—don't get broken down completely in the gastrointestinal tracts of children on the autism spectrum, and that could hurt brain development and function. A gluten-and-casein-free diet is the diet most widely used for autism. Many families report that it helps regulate bowel habits, sleep and repetitive behaviors, and improves their kids' overall progress, though no good research confirms that. Several large-scale studies of this diet are underway.

Fombonne warns that the improvement seen by parents after a treatment is often due to the placebo effect or their desire to see a benefit. The bottom line: parents should do whatever they can to help their children, experts say, but it's crucial to find proof that any stressful intervention like restrictive diets is worth the cost and time.

Comments (2)
Post a Comment
Laurie Tarkan's Advocate investigative piece, "A Shot In The Dark", amply demonstrates modern medicine's continuing failure to recognize that health is primarily determined at a quantum level. There's a sound reason why the practice of 'mainlining' is advised against with intravenous drug abusers - so why should the medical equivalent be blithely administered to infants and young children? If Pasteur's germ theory is thought to have been the basis for prevailing 20th century foreign policy, then vaccinations can easily be seen as its shock troops. And if more Americans were aware of modern medicine's thoroughly sordid origins, championed as it was by his opportunistic fellow European chemists-cum-pharmacists (it's no coincidence the pharmaceutical industry began in Europe) they would be even more questioning of its assumed preeminent status. Antoine Bechamps, Pasteur's would-be rival, understood that protection against disease was not a matter of quantity or dosage, but rather quality and the health of symbiotic relationships in one's inner, as well as outer, environment, increasingly borne out as both continue to deteriorate before 21st century eyes. And as someone with environmental illness that has benefited tremendously from alternative medicine since abandoning conventional regimens over a decade ago, there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that autoimmune diseases such as autism are caused in no small part by not just genetics or even mercury preservatives, but inoculating vulnerable infants well before they are capable of reconciling societally familiar trauma associated with the practice, provoking a rarely interrupted lifelong pattern of disproportionate involuntary responses which activate genetic predispositions for cancer, diabetes, MS, Parkinson's and other dreaded maladies that may ultimately kill them. (It's also no accident that the incidence of allergies and autoimmune illness has soared since childhood vaccination was mandated). Alternative modalities provide approaches that subtly condition nascent immune systems to react to perceived threats in a much healthier, less traumatic way. While modern medicine may have indeed saved millions of lives, too many have been lost to its resolute ignorance. James M. Cayon
Posted by James M. Cayon on 2.7.09 at 7:32
Nike shoes so toasty your feet will think its summer all year round. Featuring high grade merino sheepskin leather, double stitching and an inner lining that is both extremely lush and cushy. To ensure your sheepskin boots keep your toes extremely warm without sweating we utilize only premium grade Australian merino sheepskin prized for its natural thermostatic benefits. The inner fleece circulates warm air ugg around your feet while also removing moisture and odor. This bed of warm air will keep your feet comfortable in temperatures as low as -30 degrees.
Posted by jordan shoes on 6.8.09 at 14:09
Comment:

Name:

Password:

New User/Guest?

Find it Here:
keyword:
search type:
search in:

« Previous   |   Next »
Print Email RSS feed

Wellness
Rest isn’t always the answer to chronic pain.
Paradise Regained
Valley author Suzanne Strempek Shea’s new book looks at a mother’s remarkable response to tragedy
Wellness: Cord Blood Banking
Why new parents need to educate themselves about cord blood banking
Wellness: Gut Check
The new science of good bacteria
The Burden of Caring
A Valley journalist delves into the challenges faced by family caregivers.
Wellness
Refusing vaccination puts others at risk.
The Vegan-in-Chief
T. Colin Campbell makes friends and enemies by advocating against meat and dairy.
Wellness: No More Heartburn, No More Drugs
Food is the medicine in the program for healing the digestive system offered by Valley nutritionist Craig Fear.