A whole-body approach to autism got a big boost today from the Pediatrics paper linking obesity, diabetes and hypertension in pregnant women to increased risk of autism. This linkage supports the idea that autism is a whole body problem affecting the brain. It suggests that this impact can start really early. And most important, it points to things we can do to reduce risk.
Obesity, diabetes and hypertensions are symptoms of the “metabolic syndrome” that is running rampant in our population. Look at this animated map of the year-by-year increase of obesity in the United States. Diabetes rates light up the map too. Meanwhile autism rates are going up too – 23% increase in reported cases in the past two years. Coincidence? Maybe. But after today’s report, it’s worth thinking about.
If you peek under the surface, you find surprising similarities between the metabolic problems in these syndromes and in autism.
What is metabolism? It is the intricate buzz of biochemistry constantly going on in every cell of our bodies. It’s what makes us alive. It can work great – but it can also get gummed up.
And what gums up metabolism? Our environment – particularly poor food, toxics, infections, stress. Genes too, but for most of us our genes are “good enough” to get by under most circumstances — and in any case they are what you have. Environment makes a LOT of difference, and here we have a lot of choices.
When metabolism is gummed up, lots of things drag. Your energy, your thinking, your attention. Your gut, your immune system, your skin.
A pregnant woman is the environment for her baby. What the environment does to mom, mom does to the baby inside.
Moms who have metabolic syndrome create an environment for their baby that promotes problems. That environment makes the baby’s brain and body very sensitive to inflammation. It can take a lot less triggering to set off problems when a baby is sensitive like that.
Chronic inflammation means your immune system is stuck, not working right. It is the royal road to chronic illness. In particular, there is a lot of research on inflammation and autism, and much evidence suggests that inflammation may be one of the royal roads to autism.
As I said in today’s WebMD story about the new study, “Given what we are learning about immune and metabolic problems in [autism], it is not surprising that the mother’s condition could affect the infant. This is not only a public health problem, but raises the possibility that more aggressive lifestyle modification could reduce the risk for having [children with] autism or developmental delay in this group of mothers.”
We know that poor quality food gums up metabolism. But great, high nutrient density food can make metabolism sing.
The same goes for food and our gene expression – poor food turns on disease-promoting genes; excellent food gives health promoting genes full voice.
Toxic exposures, infections and stress also make things worse. And poor quality food makes you more vulnerable to the effects of all of these things.
The interaction between our food, our genes, and our gut microbes is huge – and different in obesity and metabolic syndrome than in people who don’t have these problems.
The huge numbers of women with obesity, diabetes and hypertension are caught in a vicious circle that is driving them toward disease, and taking their children along for the ride too. They made personal choices that contributed – but their idea of choices has been heavily influenced by advertising and by the heavy load of “convenient” but nutrient depleted processed food on the market.
To protect your child – and yourself – there are lots of choices you can make to promote health. I talk about these choices in my new and easily readable book The Autism Revolution: Whole Body Strategies for Making Life All It Can Be.
Society can protect all of our children – and really the health of all of us – by making these whole body strategies the basis for public policy. Educate yourself so that you and your whole family can make the choices that give you a healthy life.
Even more, it’s not over at birth. Food and lifestyle choices can make these problems worse – or better, a little or a lot – throughout childhood and all of your lifeThousands of autistic children have done a whole lot better on a high-nutrient-density, plant-based low allergen diet. The whole-body influence of the body on the brain appears to work both ways – making things worse, or better.
You do have basic choices every day. Go for making life all it can be.