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Billy Johnson, MD, Ph.D

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Childhood Autism on the Rise, Why? (Parts 3 & 4)
by Billy Johnson, MD, Ph.D   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Thursday, March 06, 2008
Posted: Thursday, March 06, 2008

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Childhood autism is now found in about 1 in 150 children displaying a range of behaviors, including inability to socialize or expressing themselves. Could this disease too be linked to oxidative stress triggering silent inflammation as a result of environmental causes like radiation, toxins and pesticides? Parts 3 & 4 will try to provide some basic common sense approaches to help a child with autism. Excerpt from "New Prescription for Childhood Obesity"

     What Really cause Autism? 

As you can see, no single cause for autism has been established, although genetic and environmental factors are implicated. The good news is that there is growing evidence that a good diet and balanced healthy nutrition can really make a big difference to children with autism. Many have severely disrupted digestive system, so a major focus must be towards restoring a healthy bacteria balance that keeps the gut functioning properly. Also, ensure a balance blood sugar and insulin levels with low-glycemic foods; check for brain-damaging heavy metals, exclude food additives, food allergies and possible nutrient deficiencies, and ensure an optimal intake of the anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids.

Recently, scientists mapped the genetic code, the book of life. This has helped to increase our understanding about our genetic link and subtle differences, which make some of us more susceptible to a specific disease and others resistant to it. Perhaps the most important message that is coming from the genome project is that the environment influences are extremely important in the development of disease, perhaps even childhood autism.

For instance, if you are worrying about degenerative disease, such as cancer, the chance of you getting the disease from genes you inherit from your parents is probably small compared to environmental influences. Scientists speculate that almost all the genetic changes seen in degenerative  diseases are probably triggered by environmental causes like sunlight, radiation, and environmental causes (such as poor diets, imbalanced nutrition, pesticides, pollutants, cigarette smoke, physical inactivity, chronic stress, and sleep deprivation to name a few).  They argue that the environmental causes are probably more important than our genes in the development of degenerative diseases, such as cancer or heart disease. Autism may fall in this category. We are surprised to know that genes we inherit from our parents are only a small part of the puzzle.

Understanding the significance of this is critically important  knowing that you can probably  reduce the chance of getting a degenerative disease, such as cancer, or in this case childhood autism even if you had inherited the genes from your parents. When you know that you have a high probability of not getting a disease that you may be genetically susceptible to, it changes your outlook and may even motivate you to change your lifestyle.  While you may not be able to change your genes, you can modify the environmental influences that may increase your chance of getting the disease. This idea is particularly relevant to childhood autism that is on the rise and we have no more definitive answers as to what cause the disease. Nevertheless, it seems to make sense to focus more on minimizing the risks or possibly improve on the outcome of the disease by tailoring treatment.

In other words, a person’s genetic information, which can reveal his/her predisposition to disease, can provide a useful tool to tailor treatment, as well as, modify environmental factors that may cause the disease to be fully expressed. A good example of this is evident in the drop in cancer deaths for the second straight year as a result of people smoking less.

Experts attributed the success to declines in smoking and to earlier detection and more effective treatment of tumors. Also women stopped using hormonal replacement therapy for menopausal symptoms. All of these contributed to the drop in death rates for breast cancer, prostate and colorectal cancers – three of the most common cancers.

        Oxidative Stress & Silent Inflammation

The scientific evidence is overwhelmingly pointing to oxidative stress as a factor in autism.  Oxidative stress occurs when highly reactive molecules called “free radicals” damage healthy cells and their components, such as DNA, protein, lipids, and cell membranes. Oxidative stress is more likely to occur when there are not enough antioxidants and phytonutrients to neutralize the effects of the damaging free radicals. Oxidative stress triggers low-grade silent inflammation leading to degenerative diseases, including premature aging, loss of energy and vitality, and perhaps autism.

 

Domenico Pratico and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Medicine, studied blood vessel function in autistic children. They evaluated urinary samples from 26 autistic children and 12 non-disabled controls. They measured three substances in the urinary samples: isoprostane, a marker for oxidative stress; thromboxanes, an index of platelet activation; and prostacyclin, a measure of blood vessel activation.

They found that autistic children’s levels of isoprostane, a byproduct generated when free radicals attack fat cells, was nearly double compared to control children – an indication of high oxidative stress levels. Their findings were consistent with earlier studies indicating that autistic children produced higher levels of free radicals and lower levels of antioxidants or have impaired antioxidant defenses. Also a number of autistic children improve when they were given antioxidants. As you know, antioxidants are substances found mainly in fruits and vegetables that deactivate free radicals.

Furthermore, the samples from autistic children had elevated levels of thromboxanes and prostacyclin, which work together to maintain proper blood vessel function. These findings are consistent with higher levels of oxidative stress. Interestingly, abnormalities in blood vessels correlate directly with an abnormal blood flow. This is supported by earlier imaging of the brain of autistic children who demonstrated a reduced amount of blood flow to the brain. 

        What are Possible Solutions?

The common denominator in the genesis of degenerative diseases and perhaps autism is the overwhelming free radicals that cause oxidative stress and low-grade silent inflammation –  as a response to bacteria, virus, environmental pollutants, cancer, infection, poor diet and insufficient nutrition, including foods like refined carbohydrates and processed foods. A sedentary lifestyle and chronic stress also trigger our bodies to produce more oxidative stress and cellular inflammation. Fortunately, most of these are due to the environment and not our genes, which we have no control over. On the other hand, environmental risk factors can be modified to achieve a positive outcome, and this is encouraging and empowering.

In theory it seems a lot of good can be done for children with autism by providing high levels of antioxidants and phytonutrients  rich foods to help deactivate free radical that trigger oxidative stress and cellular damage. The process will be more beneficial if initiated early before permanent damage to vitals tissues occurs. To this end the following discussions will shed light as to how this can be achieved based on well established scientific research:

 

Research shows that vegetables and fruits are the richest sources of antioxidants and phytonutrients --- notably vitamins A, C, E, and the mineral selenium. Recently the Acai Berry has been found to be the richest source of protective antioxidants and phytonutrients known to man. As you already know, antioxidants help prevent oxidative cell damage – which is the underlying cause of chronic degenerative diseases, including cancer and possibly autism.

 A recent study of Greek women showed that women who had 4-5 servings (2-2 ½ cups cooked or 4-5 cups raw) per day of vegetables had a 46 percent reduction of breast cancer risk compared with women who had less than 2 servings (1 cup cooked or 2 cups raw) per day. Similar finding were found with fruits. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, a plant-based diet that is high in antioxidants and phytonutrients can reduce the risk of cancer by as much as 30 to 40 percent.

Eating cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage, reduces the risk of getting breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colorectal cancer. Studies at UCLA Medical Center showed that men and women who ate about 4 cups of broccoli a week were 50% less likely to develop colorectal cancer than those who never consume broccoli. As little as ½ cup of broccoli sprouts two or more times a week can be protective and in fact seems to be more beneficial than eating the full grown vegetable. Researchers think that the sulforaphane, which is present in the broccoli sprout before the vegetable matures, may be the primary cancer-fighting agent or phytonutrients.

Why MonaVie Acai Berry Juice?

Despite the known benefits of vegetables and fruits, the intake of these nutrient dense foods among children continues to be below the recommended standard serving of 7-9 a day. As a result, children often do not have enough antioxidants and phytonutrients in their meals. One of the ways to remedy this critical nutritional deficiency is with a unique formula developed by scientists in 2005 that is available under the brand name MonaVie.

 The key ingredient in MonaVie is the Acai Berry – a deep purple, grape-sized, nutrient- dense berry that grows at the top of tall palm trees in the Amazon Rainforest of Brazil. The MonaVie formula includes the Acai Berry with 18 other fruits that are rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients. The Acai berry in the juice ––– it’s five times more concentrated than any other fruit in the blend, and therefore, contributes the majority of the antioxidant activity. The additional fruits are: pomegranate, apricot, aronia, acerola, purple grape, passion fruit, camu camu, cranberry, prune, kiwi, blueberry, bilberry, pear, wolfberry, banana, lychee fruit, nashi pear, and white grape. The blend of MonaVie provides literally thousands of powerful antioxidants and phytonutrients found in wholesome and natural fresh fruits superfoods –– each selected for its unique, beneficial properties and abilities to fight damaging free radicals and silent inflammation in the body.

 The Acai fruit has the highest antioxidant activity of any fruit or vegetable currently known on a gram – to – gram basis. Comparing the antioxidant activity known as the ORAC value, which is the food’s effectiveness in the fight against free radicals, MonaVie stands supreme like the nutrient-dense berries at the top of towering palm trees in the Amazon Rainforest. The ORAC value for MonaVie’s OptiAcai™ freeze-dried acai fruit powder is 1027 per gram. Contrast this to the traditional standards for foods high in antioxidants: cranberry (94), blueberry (92), plums (73), blackberry (53), raspberry (48), apple, red delicious (43), and strawberry (36). Clearly, there is no comparison.

 The remarkable ORAC value of OptiAcai represents the unaltered pure freeze-dried fruit.  Most important, there are no added preservatives or antioxidants that may artificially increase the ORAC value of the product.

The OptiAcai freeze-dried acai powder retains the full spectrum of valuable antioxidants and phytonutrients, which makes MonaVie uniquely different from other acai products that do not retain their nutrient activity as well due to the use of air drying or spray drying methods. This is critically important, because the higher the antioxidant activity, the more the food’s effectiveness in the fight against free radicals and oxidative stress triggering silent inflammation.

The phytonutrients retained in fruits after being processed in the commercial marketplace have only a fraction of the antioxidant activity (ORAC) found in MonaVie Acai Berry – this substantiates the fact that “Acai Berry juices are not created equal”. Methods of preserving the berry fruits after harvesting are critical and hold the key. The fruits deteriorate and lose most of their antioxidant activities with inferior methods other than freeze drying – a patent protected method developed by MonaVie. In fact, it’s believed that MonaVie’s freeze-dried Acai powder boosts antioxidant activity.

  • OptiAcai freeze drying (MonaVie)-----  100%
  • Air drying (Commercial Market)--- ---   45%
  • Spray drying (Commercial Market)----- 30%

 The MonaVie formula provides a convenient and the most effective way to retain the essential super-antioxidants and phytonutrients that your children need to help reduce free radicals and inflammation in their bodies.  Fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber that may also help protect your children from chronic diseases and autism. Therefore, you should encourage them to eat more generous amounts of vegetables and fruits as part of a standard meal. However, keep in my mind that the Acai berry fruit has the highest antioxidant activity of any fruit or vegetable. Relying on vegetables and fruits alone may not be   enough. They will have to eat an enormous amount of vegetables and fruits to have the equivalent antioxidant activity, which is not practical.

Another problem may be that our soils are depleted of many of the trace minerals and other nutrients. At the same time, the soil may be laden with poisonous chemicals, like commercial fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides, which are environmental poisons triggering more damaging free radicals. To make matters worse, we often overcook vegetables, removing many of their nutrients.  The fruits available in many supermarkets are limited to those that are sweet and low in essential nutrients. In short, our kids may not be getting the selection and quality of phytonutrients and antioxidants that we enjoyed in the past. This may be one reason there are so many degenerative diseases today, even among young children.

 Eating more vegetables and fruits high in antioxidants in combination with 2-4 ounces of MonaVie Acai berry juice daily will provide optimum protection against free radicals and oxidative stress – leading to less inflammation associated with degenerative diseases and possibly autism. MonaVie Acai berry juice is a good insurance policy from a wellness perspective.

Monavie  unique nutrient balance, good taste, convenience and reasonable cost makes this functional nutritional  juice the most effective delivery system we currently have to fight and reduce free radicals and oxidative stress in the fight against autism ––  a disease that is on the rise and crippling so many young children.  To get the optimum protection it should be integrated as a regular part of their daily meals.

MonaVie Acai berry juice is available in four formulations:

  • MonaVie Active Berry Juice –contains plant- derived glucosamine and essential fatty acids to help maintain healthy joint function.
  • MonaVie Original Berry Juice – basic formula. More appropriate for children below the age of 12 and pregnant and lactating women.
  • MonaVie Active Berry Gel – also contains plant- derived glucosamine and essential fatty acids to help maintain healthy joint function (convenient gel pack).
  • Monavie Regular Gel –  basic formula (convenient pack).

MonaVie's Acai berry functional beverage is the Ultimate Health Solution delivering a Powerhouse of Antioxidants and Phytonutrients!  — That even the pickiest eaters will like – tastes like fruit, yet the sugar is very low (4 grams or 1 tsp per serving).  The Acai berry also has the nutritional ingredients of an ideal super food:

  • Essential fatty acids (Omega-3 and Omega-6) –  help control craving, mood swings, stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels, which may trigger free radicals and oxidative stress. They also promote better blood circulation and improved mental focus that is a problem in autistic children by reducing inflammation in blood vessels. Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly, DHA, is required in high levels in the brain as a physiologically-essential nutrient to provide for optimal neuronal functioning like learning ability and mental development. Make sure you get adequate Omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy or lactation to protect your child’s brain development. Most pregnant women intake is very low and is not protective.
  • Contain more than 16 powerful phytonutrients and super-antioxidants.
  • Contain the healthy protein profile of an egg (8 essential amino acids or building blocks of protein, and 13 vitamins and minerals essential for good health).
  • A low glycemic index that may help to reduce insulin resistance, which is linked to abnormal blood sugar levels, including erratic behavior, such as hyperactivity, focus, and concentration.  One in three American has insulin resistance or syndrome X.
  • Contain high amounts of anthocyanins (30 times that found in red wine) –with anti-inflammatory activity.
  • Contain plant sterols, such as Beta-Sitosterol –which is effective in lowering cholesterol causing arterial inflammation and decrease blood flow. Plant sterols are used in margarines, like Benecol and Smart Balance.
  • Contain high levels of essential amino acids and hosts of trace micronutrients (i.e. Cr, Co, Cu, and Mo) and macro-minerals (i.e. Ca, Fe). Missing in the diet of some autistic children.
  • Rich in vitamins, including natural vitamin E (mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols) – with super-antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities (reduce cholesterol and fight oxidative stress and inflammation).
  • Moderate levels of dietary fiber.

Other reported health benefits from MonaVie’s Acai juice are better sleep, immune system support, anti-aging support, improved digestion, and improved energy and stamina. In spite of its rich nutrient balance and unique phytonutrients composition, MonaVie Acai berry juice should be used in combination with whole vegetables and fruits. It should be used as a complement in synergy with proper diet, physical activity and stress control --- this will give your kids the best chance to deactivate free radicals and oxidative stress destroying brain cells and tissues and possibly giving rise to autism. We may not fully understand what causes autism at this point, but we can minimize the risk caused by environmental influences, and possibly improve the outcome and quality of life for those children who are already afflicted with the disease. So they can also enjoy a better and richer quality of life. The powerful antioxidant and phytonutrients protection of MonaVie Acai berry juice may hold the key.

               

Selected References

 
   
   
 

Ash, M, Gilmore, E. Modifying autism through functional nutrition, paper given at Allergy Research Group conference, London, January 2001.

 

Bell, JG.  et al. Red blood cell fatty acid compositions in a patient with autism spectrum disorder: a characteristic abnormality in neurodevelopmental disorders?  Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids, Vol 63(1-2), 2000, pp. 21-5.

Cade, JR. University of Florida Department of Medicine and Physiology, at www.panix.com/~paleodiet/autism/cadelet.txt
 

Carson, R. “Phytonutrients and Natural Compounds for Promoting Wellness: Natural Anti-inflammatory Support for Safety and Effectiveness”. R3GLOBAL, 2006.

Folstein, SE, Rosen-Sheidley B. (2001). "Genetics of autism: complex etiology for a heterogeneous disorder". Nat Rev Genet 2 (12): 943–55.

 

Freitag, CM. (2007). "The genetics of autistic disorders and its clinical relevance: a review of the literature". Mol Psychiatry 12 (1): 2–22.

Happé, F, Ronald A, Plomin R. (2006). "Time to give up on a single explanation for autism". Nat Neurosci 9 (10): 1218–20.

 

Langseth, L, Dowd J. Glucose tolerance and hyperkinesis. Fd Cosmet Toxicol, Vol 16, 1978, p.129.

Martineau, J. et al. Vitamin B6, magnesium, and combined B6-Mg: Therapeutic effects in childhood autism. Biol Psychiatry, Vol 20(5), 1985, pp. 467-78. 

MonaVie (www.monavie.com) Synergistic phytoblend of 19 nutrient-balanced fruits.

 

MonaVie Resources: R3Global (904-209-3080)

MonaVie Resources: www.theabundaneteam.com

Newschaffer, CJ, Croen LA, Daniels J et al. (2007). "The epidemiology of autism spectrum disorders". Annu Rev Public Health 28: 235–58.

 Pfeiffer, SI. et al. Efficacy of vitamin B6 and magnesium in the treatment of autism: A methodology review and summary of outcomes. J Autism Dev Disord, Vol 25(5), p1995, pp. 481-93.
 

Prinz, R J. et al. Dietary correlates of hyperactive behavior in children. J Consulting Clin Psychol, Vol 48, 1980, pp. 760-69.

Riikonen, R. et al. Cerebrospinal fluid insulin-like growth factors IGF-1 and IGF-2 in infantile autism.  Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, Vol. 48, No. 9, September 2006, 751-5.

 

Rimland, B. et al. The effect of high doses of vitamin B6 on autistic children: A double-blind crossover study.  Am J Psychiatry, Vol 135(4), 1978, pp. 472-5.

Rutter M. (2005). "Incidence of autism spectrum disorders: changes over time and their meaning". Acta Paediatr 94 (1): 2–15.


Schauss, AG. Acai: An Extraordinary Antioxidant-Rich Palm Fruit. Biosocial Publications, Tacoma, WA, 2006.

Schauss, AG. Et al. Phytochemical and nutrient composition of the free-dried Amazonian palm berry, Euterpe Oleraceae Mart. (Acai). Journal Agricultural Food Chemistry, 2006b, 54(22): 8598-8603.

Schumann, CM, Amaral D. Stereological analysis of amygdala neuron number in autism.  Journal of Neuroscience, Vol. 26, No. 29, July 19, 2006, 7674-9. 

Sykes, NH, Lamb JA. (2007). "Autism: the quest for the genes". Expert Rev Mol Med 9 (24): 1–15.

Szpir, M. (2006). "Tracing the origins of autism: a spectrum of new studies". Environ Health Perspect 114 (7): A412–8.

Trottier, G, Srivastava L, Walker CD.  (1999). "Etiology of infantile autism: a review of recent advances in genetic and neurobiological research". J Psychiatry Neurosci 24 (2): 103–115.

 

Vancassel, S.  et al. Plasma fatty acid levels in autistic children. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids, Vol 65, 2001, pp. 1-7.

Vanhala, R. et al. Low levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 in cerebrospinal fluid in children with autism. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology (2001), 43: 614-616.


Wakefield, A J. et al. Enterocolitis in children with developmental disorders. Am J Gastroenterol, Vol 95(9), 2000, pp. 2285-95.

 

Whitely, P. et al. A gluten free diet as an intervention for autism and associated disorders: Preliminary findings. Autism: International J of Research and Practice, Vol 3, 1999, pp. 45-65.

 
Yao, Y, Walsh WJ, McGinnis WR, Pratico D.  Altered vascular phenotype in autism: correlation with oxidative stress.  Archives of Neurology, Vol. 63, No. 8, August 2006, 1161-4.

 

 

 

 


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Reviewed by K hartigan (Reader) 5/24/2008
Dr Johnson,
Thank you for this informative article. My 9yr old son has been on Monavie for almost 2 years, and he is recovering from autism. The incredible things I see on a daily basis just thrills me. We have used hyperbarics in conjunction with Monavie and the results doubled. Thank you for putting this article together to share with other families affected by autism. I have been trying to get families to try Monavie and several see it as just another fruit juice. Thank you! Katheryn Hartigan, mother of 9 year old triplets
Reviewed by Mary Washington 4/4/2008
Dr. Johnson,
I work with children with autism on a daily basis. This article was very informative. This article should be available to all.

Mary Washington, Speech Language Pathologist
Reviewed by Sandi Schraut 3/13/2008
Dr. Johnson, I am impressed at the research I am reading about. I am the mother of an autistic son, age 35. I am convinced that I passed this trait on to him by virtue of a viral infection similiar to "the kissing disease" mononucleosis that I had when pregnant with him. I do also suspect that a series of X-Rays given to my husband for his broken femur, (no lead apron protection for his 'family jewels') also may have had an effect. Please keep on looking into this serious issue as the ramifications of Autism are so life changing that much research must be pursued.
I am a Behavioral Health RN, who sees another issue for you to look into, is it possible that psychotropics are damaging our patients making them much more prone to hypothyroidism and diabetes??? We have many more patients with this problem then the general population! Sandi
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