Tag Archives: Alternative Medicine

Biomedical Treatments for Autism #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day two of the A to Z Challenge. Today, I want to focus on a controversial subject: biomedical interventions for autism. Biomedical intervention can mean different things to different people. For example, NICE, the UK’s national institute that provides guidance on improving health and social care, defines biomedical treatment as any biologically-based intervention, including medications like antipsychotics. Most people in the autism community, however, see biomedical interventions as specifically treating biological dysfunction that they presume underlies autism.

Problems commonly believed to underlie autism include gastrointestinal disorders, food intolerances and immune dysfunction. These conditions are not always easy to diagnose, so many parents end up trying biomedical treatments on their autistic children based on a trial-and-error approach. This is not necessarily bad and is sometimes even recommended by regular doctors.

Biomedical treatments include special diets such as the gluten-free/casein-free diet or the Feingold diet, the latter of which is gaining increasing ground for being an effective intervention for ADHD. A special diet can be an elimination diet, as the GF/CF and Feingold diets are, but it can also be a diet that encourages people to eat certain foods, such as those containing essential fatty acids.

Biomedical treatments also include nutritional supplements such as vitamin B6 and magnesium, vitamin B12 or DMG (dymethylglycine). Hormones like melatonin (the sleep hormone) may also be used as part of a biomedical intervention.

Heavy metal chelation, where a person gets medications to remove metals like mercury or lead from thier system, is perhaps the most controversial biomedical treatment for autism. This is not only because autistic people do not have significantly higher levels of heavy metals in their systems than non-autistic people and hence the treatment is unproven, but also because it is one of the more dagngerous interventions.

There is no proof at this point that biomedical treatments are effective for autism, or even that physical conditions like the ones I mentioned above cause autism. However, many parents do report their child’s behavior significantly improves with these interventions. This could be because, like non-autistic children, autistic children may very well have food intolerances, nutritinal deficiencies, etc. These may cause significant physical discomfort. I for one do have a diagnosed vitamin B12 deficiency and irritable bowel syndrome (which is thought to be triggered by certain foods). When I got treated for the B12 deficiency, I not only got better physically, but mentally as well. This is the most plausible reason biomedical treatments help autistic children: they feel better physically so their behavior improves.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency: The Invisible But Treatable and Worryingly Common Disease

In the summer of 2012, I suffered from severe, persistent fatigue and episodes of lightheadedness. I went to my doctor, thinking I had iron deficiency anemia once again. My hemoglobin was always normal, but the ironn itself, which is necessary in the production of hemoglobin, had often been low. This time around, however, the cause of my fatigue was vitamin B12 deficiency.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is relatively common but used to be underestimated. It affects between three and six percent of the population, becoming more common as people age (Allen, 2009).

Vitamin B12 deficiency is usually diagnosed through a blood test. A deficiency is defined as a serum level of B12 below 148 pMol/L or 200 pg/mL (Allen, 2009). My level at the time was 120 pMol/L, which my doctor said was “not very low”. This may be so – I have met people on the B12 deficiency foundation forum with levels of 25 or less -, but it’s still cause for concern. Besides, my methylmalonic acid (MMA) was also elevated, which Allen says is the “gold standard” for diagnosing B12 deficiency.

Symptoms of B12 deficiency can be diverse. I only had tiredness and lightheadedness, but you may also experience rapid heartbeat or breathing, pale skin, sore tongue, weakness, an upset stomach, diarrhea or constipation. If B12 deficiency is not treated, it could lead to nerve damage. In fact, Chris Kresser, a natural health specialist, thinks that some symptoms common in the elderly, such as cognitive decline and lessened mobility, may in fact be due to untreated B12 defieciency. Kresser also cites a much higher prevalence than Allen, but this seems to be due to bias.

It is the Dutch B12 deficiency foundation’s position that, unless you’re eating strictly vegan, the cause of B12 deficiency is most likely malabsorption and you need to insist on injections. Malabsorption can, according to WebMD, be due to various causes, such as atrophic gastritis (where the lining of your stomach becomes very thin), pernicious anemia, Crohn’s or Celiac Disease, etc. However, eating a vegetarian diet with few eggs or dairy, as I did, can also cause low B12 levels. I went with injections anyway because I hated the taste of the tablets.

It is also the B12 deficiency foundation’s position that measuring serum levels after you’ve been using injections, won’t be useful. In my case, I was given blood tests after the round of injections anyway, and these showed my B12 level was elevated in fact. It dropped to normal within a few months and stayed within the normal range until at least my last blood test in December of 2013. I eat meat again, so it could be that my low consumption of animal products, even though I wasn’t strictly vegan, was causing me to have a B12 deficiency.

Reference

Allen LH (2009), How Common Is Vitamin B12 Deficiency? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(2):693S-696S. DOI: 10.3945/‚Äčajcn.2008.26947A.

Herbal Teas: My First Five Herbs

I promised already a while ago that I’d write a post on herbal teas. I bought a number of different herbs online and have been trying various blends. The herbs I’ve tried out so far are bladderwrack, raspberry leaf, lavender, chamomile and ginkgo biloba.

Bladderwrack has laxative properties and is therefore used for constipation. It is also recommended for weight loss, but I doubt its effectiveness for this, as laxatives don’t tend to work for that. When searching the web, actually looking for recipes to use bladderwrack in, I found some warnings about potential health risks. I only drink one cup every couple of days. I started by using the bladderwrack on its own, because I figured its salty taste would not go well with any other herb. Then, when I accidentally had some raspberry leaf left in my infuser, I liked the additional flavor. As I write this, I’m drinking bladderwrack tea with raspberry leaf and ginkgo biloba.

Raspberry leaf is well-known for its benefits on pregnant women, but can really be great for all women. It is high in magnesium, potassium, iron and B vitamins. It is claimed that this combination makes raspberry leaf good for the reproductive system. The store I bought my herbs at recommends raspberry leaf for cleansing the bloodstream and as an astringent. This means it is soothing and could help with diarrhea, nausea and such. Raspberry leaf is my favorite herb so far. Its taste is similar to regular black tea but smoother. It tastes well mixed with lavender, chamomile or as I just discovered bladderwrack.

Ginkgo biloba is another herb with quite a bland taste. It is said to be good for blood circulation and is useful for memory and thought disorders. When reading about ginkgo online, I found out that it interacts with many medications though. It tastes good mixed with lavender, chamomile or raspberry leaf.

Lavender was the most well-known herb I bought. I’ve used lavender oil as a calming scent in my essential oil diffuser for a long time, and wanted to see if it worked in a herbal tea too. Well, it did. Lavender has a spicy taste and it leaves a warm feeling down my body after I drink it. It is said to help soothe the respiratory tract and help against cough. Lavender is also said to have antidepressant properties. Due to its spicy taste, I do not recommend mixing it with other herbs which have a distinct taste, such as chamomile or bladderwrack. Instead, mix it with raspberry leaf or ginkgo biloba.

Lastly, chamomile. I had already tasted this several times before and didn’t like it then. On its own, I still don’t really like it, but mixed with ginkgo biloba or raspberry leaf, it’s quite nice. Chamomile is another calming herb, which helps with anxiety and sleep. I still need to try mixing it with lavender to gain optimal effectiveness.