By Maureen H. McDonnell, RN
Subsequent research funded by ARI and other organizations revealed abnormal patterns and metabolic dysfunctions in the ASD population that include: Gastrointestinal dysfunctions (constipation, diarrhea, reflux, increased permeability, decreased enzyme production including DPP1V, abnormal microflora etc ( 1), Neuro-inflammation (neuro-glial activation (2) decreased blood flow to certain parts of the brain, abnormal brain size), Hormonal disturbances (including increased cortisol production, disorders of serotonin and dopamine), Immune dysfunctions including a Th1 to Th2 shift and pro inflammatory cytokine production) (3), Oxidative Stress (decreased methionine and other markers indicating decreased methylation capacity, increased Homocysteine, lower levels of Glutationione, increased lipid peroxidation, decrease, B12 levels etc.) and Mitochondrial Dysfunction (decreased canrnitine levels, increased lactate) (4)
As parents and clinicians work feverishly to address these abnormalities by assessing the individual issues each child presents with, and attempt to normalize or correct these various disturbances, children are improving (speech, behavior, cognition, attention, general health etc) and in some instances they are even recovering. But this is tremendously difficult and expensive work. Since some of these biochemical abnormalities may be preventable, more and more parents are working to optimize their health prior to conceiving.
I’ve been a pediatric registered nurse for 33 years during which time I’ve worked as a certified natural childbirth instructor, labor and delivery nurse and had a private practice where I provided nutritional counseling. More relevant to this discussion however is the fact that during the ten years I coordinated the Defeat Autism Now! Conferences, I interacted with hundred of parents of children with autism. These are the same parents who worked tirelessly to implement the biomedical approach to treating their children’s autism symptoms. Many of them exhausted (and often broke) from instituting various treatments, repeatedly said to me "if only I knew then, what I know now, I would have made very different choices" Of course autism can not always be prevented and no one should harbor guilt. We know there are genetic components. But we also now know environmental toxicity and suboptimal nutrition play a role. As a result of the research and parents reporting improvement in their child’s condition when they correct the various dysfunctions, I and many other practitioners are realizing that more has to be done to build awareness and education around the idea that autism can be prevented.
I believe we know enough now to encourage couples who are contemplating pregnancy, have conceived or who have an infant, to implement certain precautionary principles to minimize the risk of having their child develop autism. These strategies involve minimizing ones exposure to environmental toxins (5), maximizing the nutrition and general health of the mother prior to conceiving, during the pregnancy and while breastfeeding, providing superior sources of nutrition for the infant and child and careful, strategic and individualized consideration and use of vaccines.
Of course there are no guarantees. However, with so many parents, physicians and researchers united in their opinions as to what is contributing to this condition, as well as which strategies are bringing about improvements in these children, we now have a pool of wisdom, good science and common sense from which to draw the following safe, effective and practical recommendations for preventing autism…….. and we can do it now!
Prior to conception:
6. If a woman’s toxic load has been high (has taken many prescriptive or non prescriptive drugs or works or lives in a chemically-laden environment), she might want to consider a detoxification or cleansing program such as those found at www.BlessedHerbs.com .
13. For more information about water filters, call 1-800-673-8010 or see NSF International's Web site at www.nsf.org/Certified/DWTU and the Natural Resources Defense Council Web site at
14. Minimize consumption of large fish (for mercury levels of fish check: www.gotmercury.org )
15. To build beneficial microflora, take high quality probiotics (in addition to improving levels of beneficial intestinal flora, these have been shown to decrease intestinal absorption of certain chemicals by facilitating their excretion(10) and consume more fermented foods. See BodyEcologyDiet.com.
16. Improve indoor air quality by opening the windows and creating cross ventilation.
17. Test Vitamin D levels and add additional Vitamin D3 if necessary. Many studies are supporting the use of higher levels of Vitamin D to support immune, cardio and neurological function than what was previously recommended. (11)
21. Use cell phones only when necessary and keep the phone in your pocketbook as opposed to in your pocket.
During the newborn and infant stages:
Maureen McDonnell has been a registered nurse for 33 years (in the fields of: childbirth education, clinical nutrition, labor and delivery, newborn nursery, and pediatrics.) From 1998 to 2008 she coordinated the Defeat Autism Now! Conferences. Since the late 70’s Maureen has been a vocal advocate and frequent lecturer promoting whole foods, green living and preventative health measures as the most logical and cost effective methods for minimizing complications associated with pregnancy, birth and reducing chronic illnesses in children. In 2008 Maureen co-founded Saving Our Kids, Healing Our Planet Green Expos www.SOKHOP.com and established the blog Raising Healthy Kids Naturally at www.RaisingHealthyKidsNaturally.blogspot.com .
15. Higher rate of autism with cesarean section