Autism, or more correctly, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), are a series of neurodevelopmental disorders characterised by repetitive behaviours, social withdrawal and communication deficits. Patients with ASD display a wide range of cognitive ability, ranging from intellectual disability to high functioning adults with an above average IQ. The cases of confirmed ASD have continued to rise, and are reaching epidemic proportions.
The diagnosis of ASD is based exclusively on a particular developmental pattern in the child and has historically been considered a psychiatric disorder. Whilst a diagnosis is made on observation (see signs and symptoms below), and there are no quantitative biochemical tests to confirm diagnosis, there is evidence that indicates numerous biochemical abnormalities in these children, including oxidative stress, decreased methylation capacity, mitochondrial dysfunction, heavy metal accumulation, intestinal dysbiosis, inflammatory bowel disease, immune dysregulation and cerebral hypofusion.
AUTISM CAUSES & RISK FACTORS
The exact causes of autism are complex and in many cases may be unknown, or undiscovered. Some possibilities include:
• Heritable genetic polymorphisms influencing detoxification, methylation and dopamine signalling.
• Gender bias, with a 4:1 ratio (males to females)
• Heavy metal exposure – especially mercury, but others may be implicated.
• Immune dysfunction – Severe maternal inflammation, infections, allergy and autoimmunity during pregnancy may lead to a ‘cytokine storm’ turning on the brain’s defence system, (microglial activation), and CNS inflammation, influencing neurodevelopment.
• Immune dysfunction – mild acute or chronic inflammation of the gut, with ileo-colonic lymphoid nodular hyperplasia (LNH) leading to “autistic colitis”. May be a cause or consequence of systemic oxidative stress and inflammation associated with autism.
New large research studies have also highlighted links between;
Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) in mothers and increased ASD risk in their children
Certain anti-depressant medication usage during pregnancy by mothers and increased ASD risk in their children.