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.