Question: Could you please give me an update on the use of vitamin A and other antiviral agents in the treatment of autism?

Answer: There is a great deal of evidence linking several classes of viruses with autism. Research conducted in England by Andrew Wakefield, MD identified a chronic form of the measles virus growing in the lymphatic tissue of the small intestine of autistic children. Since none of these children had measles, it is clear that this virus originated from vaccines. If the virus is found in the small intestine it is likely that it also resides in other parts of the body, conceivably including the brain.

Vaccines employ weakened forms of viruses to trigger an immune response that renders the individual immune to a disease. It is believed that this does not happen as planned in at least some children who later develop autism because of an immature immune system. Instead the virus in the vaccine is able to replicate and grow in the body, eventually causing trouble.

Other viruses related to herpes have also been found to be prevalent in some children with autism and ADHD. These viruses include Epstein Barr virus (EBV), human herpes virus 6 (HHV6), and cytomegalovirus (CMV). Exposure to these viruses is very common among children, and random blood tests often yield positive results. The unusual finding in children with autism is the very high antibody counts that are often found and that indicate an active disease process.

At the present time we can’t determine precisely the role of viruses as causative agents in autism or ADHD. It is also hard to establish the interaction, if any, between viruses and other common troublemakers (including yeast and mercury) although they may be synergistic, possibly causing viruses to be activated by these other factors. We do know from numerous parent and practitioner reports that antiviral therapies are associated with clinical improvements in some of these children, possibly as many as a third.

Vitamin A therapy is used in children with autism primarily as a treatment for chronic measles. In the most recent version of the Defeat Autism Now (DAN) manual, Dr. Sid Baker referenced 33 studies showing that vitamin A is effective and safe in various conditions associated with measles.

This vitamin has also been found to reduce the rate of complications from measles in undernourished children, thus dramatically cutting the death rate associated with this disease.

Benefits were also documented in well-nourished individuals, and indicate that vitamin A should really be given to every child with acute measles.

However, no studies were performed on autistic children who seem to have a chronic form of this virus, and the use of vitamin A in this context is still a matter of speculation that is supported primarily by reports of positive outcomes.

Various protocols of vitamin A administration have been tried and Dr. Baker initially recommended starting with a low daily dose and building it up gradually while screening for possible toxicity. Experience has shown this approach to be ineffective and the preferred protocol now involves a very high dose (400,000 IU) given once a day for two consecutive days only. This method seems to deliver a deadly blow to the virus not achieved with the gradual approach.

Numerous studies performed on large numbers of children confirm the safety of this high-dose protocol. Because the dose involved is hundreds of times higher than normal intake it should be administered only under medical supervision.

There is also no clear way to prescreen children for this therapy. Blood levels of vitamin A are not helpful. Regression after receiving the MMR vaccine might be a more useful indicator, as may be chronic diarrhea or other intestinal complaints tha t possibly indicate the presence of chronic measles. While antibodies to measles are expected in vaccinated children, extremely high levels of these antibodies in blood can raise suspicions of a chronic infection.

While possibly effective for measles, vitamin A doesn’t appear to help with the chronic herpes-like viruses discussed above. These viruses can be addressed either with antiviral medications, supplements or a combination of both. I am not an expert on antiviral medications and will not discuss them here. These medications are nevertheless a valid option and are available to my patients through the physician with whom I am associated.

Supplements also offer valid and not necessarily less effective options. Certain antiviral herbs and especially herbal combinations have been shown to have significant inhibiting effects on viruses (including EBV, HHV6 and others) while being virtually non-toxic. Some of these herbs work by stimulating the immune system and can be of benefit also for yeast and bacterial control. Herbal medications are often considered less effective than drugs in our society, but this view is inaccurate. In many cases they are simply better than drugs. Last July I wrote an article on antiviral herbs that can be accessed in Newsletters.

Other supplements with anti-viral properties include the trace elements selenium and lithium. Although lithium is considered a prescription drug for bipolar disorder with significant side effects, tiny amounts of lithium may be essential for human health. Supplement doses of 500 mcg to 5 mg have been associated with significant health benefits and no side effects or toxicity.

These nutritional doses of lithium can stimulate the growth of gray matter in the brain (Lancet 2000;356:1241-1242), protect brain cells from toxins (Neuropsychopharmacology 2000;23(S2):S39), and inhibit viral replication (Pharmacotherapy 1996;16(6):1070-1075 and others).

Finally, the natural antiviral supplement Monolaurin can be effective, although it is a little more challenging to administer because of taste and the large amounts needed to achieve optimal results. Monolaurin contains lauric acid, a fatty acid extracted from coconut oil. Using organic coconut oil for cooking can also provide some of the same benefits and is therefore recommended. A complete review of monolaurin research with detailed references can be found at

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