Children with Starving Brains: A Medical Treatment Guide for Autism Spectrum Disorder
By Jaquelyn McCandless, MD
Bramble Books, 4th Updated Edition, 2009
Any book about autism will bring to mind a comparison with Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, and there is a good deal of commonality between these two approaches. McCandless recognizes that a gluten-, casein- and soy-free diet is a critical part of the solution. Her list of nutrients in which autistic people are deficient is very similar to the list in GAPS. The discussion of copper-zinc imbalance concurs with what we have learned about the late Paul Eck’s research from Laurie Warner (Wise Traditions, Spring 2007) and Theresa Vernon (Wise Traditions, Winter 2008).
I think both researchers would agree that vaccination is not the root cause of autism but is definitely a contributing factor. McCandless does well to defend and support the controversial work of Dr. Andrew Wakefield and the correlation between mercury-laden vaccines and autism. There is a very good appendix in the back of the book revealing how the CDC has corrupted the data pointing to that correlation. However, since not every child who is vaccinated becomes autistic, there must be other confounding circumstances. McCandless describes the role of bacteria in the gut, and of nutritional status in general. Because autistic children commonly suffer ear infections, they tend to be subjected to many courses of antibiotics, which will upset the bacterial balance in the gut. Breast-fed babies are less likely to be autistic, which reinforces the understanding that nutrition is a factor in the development of the disorder. McCandless also suggests that genetics may play a role. I suppose that is possible but I’m always suspicious of that explanation. Genetics is a popular default scapegoat that scientists resort to when they really don’t know for certain what causes a disease. McCandless does make it clear that no autism gene has ever been identified.
A number of treatment options besides diet and supplements are covered. Low-dose Naltrexone (LDN) is an interesting option. It is not a cure, but since digestive systems of autistic children tend to create caseo-opioid and gluteoopioid compounds, it makes sense that LDN (which was originally used to treat heroin addiction) might help manage symptoms. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy also seems to stimulate at least some temporary improvement.
The list of supplements used for treatment is long and intimidating, and McCandless admits that it is difficult even for parents, let alone children, to get all that down. Campbell-McBride, by contrast, recommends that supplements be kept to an absolute minimum. There is a more serious problem when we come to the section on vitamin A. Unfortunately McCandless is led astray by Dr. John Cannell’s murky and muddled research, which informs his vitamin A-phobic advice, extending to cod liver oil as well. She notes several times that research does suggest the importance of vitamin A but always defers to Cannell. Fat-soluble vitamins are a core principle with the Foundation’s dietary recommendations and McCandless’s intimidation has unfortunate repercussions on my thumb.
I do respect the intelligence of Dr. McCandless. There is no question that she and the other contributing authors are intellectually and emotionally engaged. Although I did not find any mention of Campbell-McBride or GAPS, if I am correct, this book could be seen as independent confirmation of much of Campbell-McBride’s research. If I had to choose between allopathic medicine and the approach of McCandless I would readily choose McCandless, but would not let her pry the cod liver oil out of my hands. The thumb is reluctantly DOWN for this one.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2010.🖨️ Print post
“McCandless does well to defend and support the controversial work of Dr. Andrew Wakefield and the correlation between mercury-laden vaccines and autism.”
Seriously? Wakefield is a quack, and the premises and methods of his initial research were seriously flawed. There has been a significant amount of evidence that has surfaced over the past year regarding Wakefield, and I think the evidence quite clearly presents his research as not credible. He hand picked his study subjects from all over the map, mis-represented their medical histories to suit his agenda, and made the fundamental mistake of confusing correlation with causation. Just because he’s a charismatic speaker who cares about children doesn’t mean he isn’t spewing junk science.
Please read the book, “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre.
I’m all for dispelling myths about diet, and I think this website is valuable in that regard, but to perpetuate misinformation about vaccination is unwarranted.
Juli Keene, CN says
Thank you for your review. I don’t agree with the thumbs down for this book however. I have been working with autistic children since the late 80’s early 90’s first in psychiatric settings and since 96 as a Clinical Nutritionist with degrees in both psychology and biochemistry/molecular biology and Clinical Nutrition. We have to remember that this book came out years ago and in my opinion was one of the first comprehensive books on the connection between autism and nutrition. Another great one that came out about the same is Dr Kenneth Bocks’ “Healing the New Childhood Epidemics” The 4 A Disorders”. Neither book is perfect of course. What book on such a huge subject (and relatively new subject at the time of the first printing) could be perfect? Also, we are learning daily more and more about Autism and nutrition and biochemistry.
I agree with you that cod liver oil is a must for most kids on the spectrum. However you do have to blood test for food allergies/sensitivities first, and make sure kidney, liver and detoxification pathways are working well before you give any supplements in a large amount. I also, don’t think anyone should be on more than a few supplements at a time. (Yes, even food based supplements like Standard Process). I have been to many Weston A Price events, classes, seminars over the years so I know the recommended protocols can be extensive. and some of the SP products have gluten and other allergens so I am careful with them but do recommend some on a regular basis. I try to recommend the best possible supplement from any brand I can find. I don’t sell what I recommend for profit, because I think that is a conflict of interest. I used to before they were so readily available to patients on the internet. Just so that people would have access to practitioner lines, and for compliance and yes I made money off of them. However I have patients who walk in my office with grocery bags full of supplement bottles for one autistic child. In my opinion that is either someone who doesn’t know what they are doing or someone who is not using their clinical skills if they have any. Or that is a chiropractor that has no nutritional training except supplement company seminars that tell them they can fix their patients and make lots of money…I find that not acceptable to me anymore. Even RD’s and Nutritionists are selling too many supplements these days in my opinion. That is the main thing I disagree with in both books ( and most books on autism and nutrition)is that recommending a patient take too many supplements at once can be as big of a problem as taking none. And also, just a note from me and in support of Dr McCandless’s book – we now have genetic SNP’s “epigenetics” which if we understand it, give us much more information on biochemical pathways, methylation, sulfation issues, histamine issues,MTHFR, CBS, DAO, MAO, and many other SNPs that for $99 and a saliva test can help an informed practitioner to work more specifically with each ASD patient. In my opinion Autism Spectrum Diseases have a huge genetic component. We have come a long way in this field. When I started in child psych 25 years ago, kids with autism were institutionalized and labeled with “oppositional defiant disorder” and similar diagnoses. Now we know we can help them. It doesn’t have to be a lifelong issues. It can be improved with proper nutrition. Food mainly and some supplements as needed. I will also say that I do agree with many of Dr Weston Price’s theories and work as well. Thank you for your article. I was sending some info on the book to a patient of mine and found this post. Juli Keene, CN Redondo Beach CA
I do not agree with your thumbs down.
In 2002 when this book first came out and I had two children born that year that two years later were diagnosed with ASD; this was my bible.
If you are not a parent of a child(ren) with autism, with all due respect; your out of your league here.
Parents; I give this a whomping thump up especially when you cannot find any other resource, medical processional or service as you live every day with no sleep and SIBs.
This book is WELL worth the price even if just to follow the supplements recommendations.
Hundred percent correct people with different DNA mutations can not rid their body of the mercury laden vaccines like some others can! Quit putting everybody in the same box we are not all the same!