Can autism be prevented?

I have been associated with the Defeat Autism Now! group for many years now. I attended my first conference with them in 2000 when a desperate mother almost begged me to go because she felt that no one knew how to treat children with autism in Houston, and there was a dire need for this type of expertise. Since then I attended many more conferences with them and plan to go to more in the future.

I have the greatest respect for this organization, but often wondered over the years why so little time was devoted at their meetings and conferences to discussing the topic of autism prevention, rather than just treatment. This has changed completely with an outstanding article on this very topic authored by David Berger, MD.

Dr. Berger is a board certified pediatrician who has been a long-standing member of Defeat Autism Now! and a regular speaker at their conferences. His article was accepted for publication and will appear in issue 4 (2012) of Autism Science Digest.

In it, Dr. Berger describes strategies he has been implementing for more than 10 years to prevent the birth of a second child with autism, in families who already have one. Statistically, parents with an autistic child are at much greater risk than the general population of having a second child with this same condition. Although more than 500 couples implemented Dr. Berger’s protocol, to the best of his knowledge, none had a second child with autism. Read More »

Health brief: Pesticides, neurodevelopment and testosterone

Three recent studies show how significantly common pesticide residues and other chemicals in the environment can affect our health from infancy all the way to old age.

The first study recorded the level of common pesticides in umbilical cord blood and then tracked the children born of those pregnancies until age 7. It found a direct correlation between developmental problems and the level of prenatal pesticide exposure (doi:10.1289/ehp.1003160).

A second study also measured cord blood looking for markers of exposure to exhaust fumes and it, too, found a direct correlation between exposure and symptoms of anxiety, depression, and attention problems in children (PAH/Aromatic DNA adducts in Cord Blood and Behavior Scores in New York City Children, Environmental Health Perspectives, 4/21/11). Read More »

Nutrition in pregnancy: a determining factor of health throughout life

It is no mystery to anyone today that pregnant women’s lifestyle and diet can affect the health of the baby to be. Research continues to show that maternal diet and possible deficiencies not only have a determining effect on the mental and physical health of babies and children, but also that of adults even late in life. This article will touch briefly on the major aspects of diet and supplementation during pregnancy but also provides interesting reading for anyone seeking to improve their health.

In fact scientists in this field now consider maternal nutrition to be a risk factor for cancer, diabetes and heart disease, regardless of when these might occur in life. Not only, but this risk factor is independent of other known factors like a person’s own diet, lifestyle and genetics. Lack of nutrients in pregnancy can turn on genes that would otherwise lie dormant and cause no harm, but that once activated become triggers for illness at any time in life.

In most cases, aside from being told to “eat well” and take a multivitamin, women are not informed of new research in this field or all the components of a healthy pregnancy that contribute to thriving babies who grow into healthy adults.

The three major dietary factors that were found to adversely affect the baby are insufficient protein, excessive sugar and starchy foods, and lack of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Protein is basically what the body is made of. It is the most essential building-block for the baby to be, but it is also as essential for the mother’s own health maintenance. Lack of protein in pregnancy can deplete the mother setting the stage, among other things, for post-partum depression.

The body has no way of storing protein, so it has to be consumed on a daily basis, and preferably several times a day. In the excellent book (now out of print) “Metabolic Toxemia of Late Pregnancy”, Thomas Brewer, MD showed how pre-eclampsia and eclampsia can be effectively prevented by making sure women eat enough protein during pregnancy.

According to the FDA a pregnant woman weighing 150 lbs needs 75 grams of protein a day. This is likely to be an underestimate because of a medical anti-protein bias that exists today and therefore it should be considered as a strict minimum. To give you an idea of how much food is involved, 2 large eggs contain a total of 12 grams of protein, lean meats or seafood around 7 grams per ounce, hard cheese 10 grams per ounce, and beans 7-10 grams per half cup cooked.
Read More »

Are you pregnant? Here’s more evidence that you should take extra vitamin D

According to a newly released study pregnant women taking 4,000 units of vitamin D daily cut their risk of preterm labor, preterm delivery, and infections by more than half. This dose of vitamin D is ten times greater what was recommended previously. Most prenatal multivitamins only contain 400 units of vitamin D, a dose now understood to be insufficient.

Prior to this study, higher doses of vitamin D had already been shown to lower the risk of infection, strengthen the immune system, reduce the risk of several types of cancer, and promote healthy nervous system development in fetuses.

When selecting the type of vitamin D you take I recommend that you choose vitamin D3, which is the natural form of this vitamin, and avoid the synthetic vitamin D2.

Because the body makes most of its vitamin D from the sun, nutritional needs of this vitamin vary depending on how much time we spend in the sun, what latitude we live in, the color of our skin and, most importantly, whether we use sunscreen, which inhibits vitamin D formation.

Recent research has shown that with regular sun exposure blood levels of vitamin D stabilize around 70-100 ng/ml, a level now considered optimal. For the majority of Americans blood levels of vitamin D are 30 or lower. If you’d like to find out where your levels stand and you are my patient let me know, as this can be found through a simple blood test.  If you are not my patient you can ask your doctor to run a simple and inexpensive blood test called 25-hydroxy-vitamin D, which is the correct way to assess vitamin D levels.

Read more about the study here:

Are SSRIs really safe during pregnancy?

As most people know these days, SSRI stands for “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor,” an acronym for a class of antidepressant medications that includes Prozac, Paxil, Celexa, and others. These drugs have become among the most widely prescribed in our country, but only recently have studies surfaced that question their safety for long-term use or for use in children.

These drugs are also considered safe – and are often prescribed – to pregnant women. As it turns out, this assumption of safety is based on cursory studies that only looked at major outcomes, such as physical growth, and complications that would be evident in medical records.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina studied 17 full-term newborns whose mothers had taken an SSRI and compared them to an equal number of infants whose mothers had not taken these medications (Pediatrics, 2004 Feb; 113 (2): 368-75). Unlike previous studies, this one focused specifically on neurobehavioral development. They found that infants previously exposed to SSRI’s were more likely to suffer from nervousness, startles, and sleep disturbances. Although this was a limited and very short-term study, it does raise legitimate suspicions that these drugs are not so safe after all. Larger and longer-term studies are now needed to shed light on exactly what these medications do to developing brains.

Lactobacillus GG taken during pregnancy prevents eczema in children

Lactobacillus GG is a type of beneficial bacteria that helps promote intestinal health. It is marketed here under the name Culturelle (see This product may or may not be preferable to any of the many similar ones found in health food stores, but its manufacturer – ConAgra – has very deep pockets and has been regularly funding studies on it.

In the newest study from Finland, approximately 50 pregnant women were given Lactobacillus GG and fifty others were given a placebo. At two years and four years after birth, all children were evaluated. In both cases there were half as many children with eczema – an allergic skin condition – in the lactobacillus group than in the placebo group.

This shows not only that lactobacillus given to expectant mothers protects their children from later developing allergies, but also that the protection lasts past infancy (The Lancet, May 2003; 361 (9372): 1918).

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding and wonder which other supplements besides lactobacillus and folic acid may help your child, fish oil has also been shown to be beneficial. However, you must be sure that the fish oil you take has undergone molecular distillation and is free of mercury and PCBs.