Notes from the October DAN (Defeat Autism Now!) conference

I have now been to DAN conferences for four years in a row and the latest one I attended was earlier this month in Portland, Oregon. Looking back on these past four years a great deal has changed in the way that I work and in DAN, and most of the change has been for the better. A once-mysterious condition is beginning to reveal itself more and more, and treatment outcomes are better than ever, with a growing number of children now “losing” their diagnosis. The treatment itself is made of simple steps, like diet change, vitamins, and detoxification: quite a triumph for natural holistic approaches to health!

Although there were a number of topics I wanted to cover in this month’s newsletter, I decided to write an account of the latest DAN conference instead while the information is still fresh in my mind. If you are looking for an unbiased summary of topics that were presented at the conference, this isn’t going to be it. Instead I am going to offer my own biased and sometimes rambling comments on topics or events that caught my attention.

If you have no connection with an autistic child, you may be thinking that this newsletter won’t concern you. I would encourage you, however, to keep reading. Children with autism do not come from Mars. They do not have some strange and yet-to-be-discovered genetic defect. They are healthy at birth. Autism is what happens when environmental toxins, like mercury, overwhelm infants’ bodies and brains. Others are able to withstand this early onslaught, but with a gradual long-term buildup of toxins something else can go wrong later in life and they end up with a different condition like, for example, chronic fatigue syndrome.

A good example of a link between autism and adult problems comes from a recent conversation I had with a pediatrician from out of town. When her health started to deteriorate, she received no help from her mainstream colleagues. Later she found that she had high levels of mercury in her body and started a lengthy detoxification process that led to her gradual recovery. She had no trouble understanding or accepting that autism is linked with mercury. She attended several DAN conferences and is now planning to start a DAN practice.

The debate on whether autism is genetic will just not go away. A few years ago, at one of my first DAN conferences, British researcher Paul Shattock made an analogy I can’t forget.

He talked of a fictional lake that becomes polluted from industrial runoff. This type of thing has happened time and again in recent history. At first some of the fish die, but not all. In fact the majority of the fish appear completely healthy.

One could argue that the fish who die have a genetic defect, otherwise why don’t they all die? This line of reasoning might seem foolish in the context of fish in a lake, but it’s close to what some experts are saying about mercury and autism. If mercury in vaccines causes autism, why don’t all vaccinated children have it?

A better explanation came from Jill James, PhD, a researcher from the University of Arkansas. Dr. James reported on a study she conducted in which autistic children were tested for blood levels of sulfur intermediates. Their results were then compared to those of normal children.

Sulfur plays a critical role in detoxification, but is also linked to other processes that are vital to normal brain function. It is taken into the body primarily by methionine, a protein-derived amino acid. Methionine is converted through a series of steps to SAMe, homocysteine, cysteine, and then to glutathione or, according to need, it may be recycled to methionine. All of these intermediate metabolic products were tested and found to be lower in autistic children than in normal controls.

In summary, autistic children don’t have the ability to rid their bodies of poisons, a point DAN doctors have been making for years and that is now finding validation in research.

Dr. James didn’t just stop there; she tested the ability of certain nutrients to correct this problem. First she tested a combination of folinic acid, an activated form of folic acid, and TMG and found a significant improvement in detoxification capacity but without reaching completely normal levels. Next she added vitamin B12 as methyl-B12 injections to the previous protocol and levels normalized completely.

We already knew that the methyl-B12, TMG and folinic acid were associated with improvements, sometimes dramatic ones, in speech, responsiveness, focus, etc. This study tells us that we’re seeing these improvements because with the help of these nutrients children’s bodies are finally able to eliminate toxins. It was also pointed out that this combination of nutrients can help reduce seizures and has even been found to be beneficial for children whose seizures did not respond to standard medications.

Since this combination of nutrients helps activate detoxification, there is no reason why it shouldn’t also produce significant benefits in many adults whose health conditions are associated with impaired detoxification. This may include people with ch ronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic headaches or even depression.

Another interesting contribution came from Richard Deth, PhD, a researcher with Northwestern University and author of the book “Molecules of Attention.” Although Dr. Deth’s book is excellent, it is also prohibitively expensive and difficult to read. If you are brave and decide to read it anyway, be sure to take notes as you read on what each acronym stands for and what concept it’s expressing. Otherwise you may start to ask yourself if you are reading a foreign language by the time you reach Chapter 3.

Dr. Deth described his research on a receptor in the brain called the D4 receptor that is involved in our ability to pay attention. His research team discovered, almost by accident, that this receptor is highly vulnerable to damage from mercury and other metals like lead and aluminum, even in minuscule concentrations. Damage to this receptor has been linked not only with autism, but also with schizophrenia, ADHD, and depression, further suggesting that there is a common thread linking these conditions.

Interestingly, while mercury is slowly being phased out of vaccines, aluminum is still being used – probably because it has received less attention. As far as I know it is present in most vaccines, including the flu vaccine. For more information on the flu vaccine, see

Another fascinating aspect of Dr. Deth’s research is his discovery that the D4 receptor has an enormous degree of variability between people. In fact it is one of the most variable aspects of our genetic makeup. This means that it comes in many different types, some of which have a more complex structure and have been found predominantly in people who tend to have more initiative or creativeness. Because of their increased complexity, these receptor types may also be more vulnerable to toxic damage.

This year I heard a great deal of discussion concerning many autistic children being diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and being treated with sulfa drugs and/or steroids. IBD is a general term that encompasses a variety of auto-immune disorders affecting the intestinal tract, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Incidentally, Crohn’s Disease (CD) is another modern epidemic. This condition used to be rare but has now become very common and often affects young individuals who were not previously thought to be susceptible to it. In fact, the spread of CD has paralleled the increase in autism and there is a great deal of suspicion that the MMR vaccine – and particularly

the measles portion – may be a culprit in this condition as well. You can find out more about the CD-measles link, including all the official denials, by doing a search on Google. You will also find support groups for the condition.

While I am sure that these children’s IBD diagnoses are accurate, I would caution anyone against just going for the drug treatments without first considering alternatives. These drugs do not treat or arrest the disease; they only control symptoms and usually lead to more invasive procedures down the road, including surgery to remove parts of the intestinal tract.

Even though the drugs may initially help mitigate some of the autistic symptoms by reducing pain and inflammation of the gut, they also have side effects, some of which can be severe, and tend to lose their effectiveness over time.

Although I have spoken about this diet numerous times, it is worth remembering once again that the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) was originally developed as a treatment for IBD.

It does not just control this disease, it can also lead to complete recovery and, when this happens, the diet can be discontinued. To find out more about this diet read the book “Breaking the Vicious Cycle” by Elaine Gottschall.

While IBD is officially diagnosed by endoscopy, look for clues like recurring or persistent yeast overgrowth, digestive disorders that do not seem to respond to usual treatments, and/or persistent aggressive or hyperactive behaviors that could be triggered by abdominal discomfort.

In all of these cases you may want to seriously consider trying the SCD, or a similar diet. While on this topic I would like to point out that the SCD is not such a unique diet as it is sometimes portrayed. Elaine Gottschall did not invent it, she just reported it, and a few forward-thinking doctors have used similar diets for decades, if not longer.

A good example of this is the excellent book entitled “Life without Bread” by C. Allan, PhD and W. Lutz, MD. The diet described in this book was used clinically by Dr. Lutz for forty years in his native Austria. However, Dr. Lutz doesn’t claim to have invented this diet either and traces its roots as far back as ancient Greece. He used it successfully to treat more than 10,000 people suffering from IBD and other digestive disorders, as well as hormonal imbalances, fatigue, diabetes, weight problems, heart disease and other conditions.

The problem with the SCD is that it makes some artificial distinctions that end up limiting its effectiveness while complicating it unnecessarily. Although the basics of this diet are sound, it is best adjusted for each individual case. In some instances the complete elimination of all grains is simply unnecessary, while for others foods that are freely allowed in the SCD, such as honey, fruit or nuts, should be restricted to achieve optimal results.

Several practitioners at DAN also discussed yeast overgrowth and how they treat it. I was surprised to find that some physicians don’t hesitate to prescribe powerful and toxic antifungal drugs, like diflucan, every few months, apparently without solving the problem.

I have always held that these drugs are not useful when it comes to chronic yeast overgrowth. Even if they quickly wipe out all of the yeast in the body, they are too toxic to be taken over long periods of time, and the odds of re-infection are overwhelming as long as the body presents a favorable environment for yeast to proliferate.

At the DAN conference I also visited with a colleague who works for a major lab that runs stool tests. He told me that when they test stool samples from an entire family they usually find that everybody in the family has the same types of yeast, bacteria and parasites. This does not necessarily mean that they all have the same symptoms, because some family members may have stronger immune systems or other counterbalancing factors to keep the yeast or other organism under control. It just means that they’re all carriers and possible sources of re-infection for the child, the most vulnerable member of the family.

The late Dr. Bill Crook had actually already discussed this many years ago in his groundbreaking book “The Yeast Connection.” It just seems like we forget sometimes.

Unfortunately, even living alone is not enough to prevent re-infection because yeast contaminates clothes, sheets and other items with which a person is in daily contact. Washing clothes doesn’t help, although drying them in the sun might because ultraviolet rays do kill yeast.

In my view, a more effective solution to treat chronic yeast overgrowth is to use a natural anti-fungal substance that is not toxic and can be taken over long periods of time, possibly a year or longer. At the same time we should focus on changing the body’s environment so that the yeast won’t come back, by working on the diet and building up the immune system.

Nystatin is a prescription medication that is also toxic and can be used the same way, although I rarely find a need to use it because many widely available natural agents work just as well or better.

A common misconception is that Nystatin doesn’t work because stool cultures done at labs show the yeast to be resistant to it. In reality the Nystatin works in spite of what stool cultures say. The only way to understand this apparent contradiction is that yeast cultures are done in test tubes and are not always conclusive regarding what goes on in the body. I was actually pleased that one of the speakers, a medical doctor, made this very same point while addressing the DAN audience.

Another DAN practitioner, author of a widely read book, also talked about yeast. She said that a number of children in her practice had persistent and unresponsive yeast overgrowth.

No matter how often she treated it or which drugs she used, the problem was always there.

Mothers of her patients then found a diet on the internet and put their children on it. After switching to this diet, the children’s yeast problems “spontaneously” went away and they needed no more treatments. The diet she referred to was the specific carbohydrate diet (SCD). It seems to me that we are back to where we started this discussion!

The speaker then added that all of the sugary and starchy foods that are being used to replace gluten and casein in gluten- and casein-free diets could actually be hurting children.

This is exactly the point I have been making it for years, actually since going to my first DAN conference, although it seemed at times that I was preaching in the desert.

I also had the opportunity to meet fellow nutritionist and author Melissa Smith, who was at the conference to promote her new book “Going against the Grain.” Melissa’s personal story is an interesting one. As a health-conscious individual, she believed that foods like whole wheat or brown rice were the healthiest one could eat. Animal protein was really not healthy and was best consumed sparingly. Fat was dangerous.

While thinking and eating in this manner Melissa had a constant problem controlling her weight. She also struggled with fatigue and was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. At some point she realized that by eliminating wheat and gluten and severely restricting all other grains and starches she recovered from the fatigue and was able to normalize her weight.

What followed was a steep learning curve that led Melissa Smith to realize that she was not an unusual case. In spite of all the publicity and even government sponsorship, sugars, grains and starches in general are a problem for human metabolism. For many people, achieving optimal health means restricting their intake of all these foods.

An interesting point Melissa makes in her book is that the optimal level of restriction is not the same for everybody. Some people may do quite well if they simply cut back on their consumption of carbohydrates and follow a more balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, protein, good fats and small amounts of grains and other starches. However, for some people
this is simply not good enough and they need to eliminate wheat, gluten, or even all grains.

I fully agree with this targeted approach. Unfortunately in the field of autism we have been hampered by an overly inflexible view of the diet. The standard gluten-free/casein-free diet does nothing but substitute foods with replacements of similar and sometimes inferior nutritional value. Even though we often see early improvements, these are so frequently lost over time because there is no qualitative benefit to this diet. Children become sensitive to wheat in the first place because that’s all they eat. When rice is substituted for wheat it’s only a matter of time before the problem comes back, this time caused by rice instead of wheat.

At the other end of the spectrum, the specific carbohydrate diet (SCD) eliminates all grains and common starches like potatoes. Just the thought of this diet is overwhelming for many people. Here is where we should heed the advice of Melissa Smith and start looking at the many shades of gray. I believe that a combination of total elimination of the most offensive grains, and restriction of others, can yield very satisfactory results in many cases. If elimination of all grains becomes necessary as in the SCD, at least we get there by degrees, making the transition more attainable.

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