04/05/2011 05:00 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2011

Connecting the Dots: Autism Awareness

Dr. Ricki D. Robinson, M.D. honored World Autism Awareness Day with a thoughtful blog that superbly navigates between this steadily rising health concern and a medical model that has been challenged to find either an explanation or a treatment approach.

Our health scientific research model studies one substance at a time, yet people are exposed to and retain many chemicals and other kinds of toxins. An assessment of umbilical cord blood showed that even newborns have accumulated over 150 chemical toxins in utero.

Over our lifetimes, we receive multiple exposures of all types, from toxins and synthetic chemical ingredients in foods, agriculture, medicines, and personal care products, to industrial contaminants in air, water, earth and food.

The President's Cancer Panel Report (PCPR) of 2010 indicated that this buildup is a prime contributor to cancer. Both the National Academy of Sciences, and the PCPR identify research into the cumulative impacts of toxic exposures as a missing link in addressing serious health issues, like autism and cancer.

A report on medical research found that, "The pharmaceutical industry, now the largest sponsor, focuses on developing and testing new products." But this pharmaceutically based treatment and research model rarely studies how all of the tiny exposures add up. Instead this scientific method persists in looking at one ingredient at a time. Though necessary, this research process is agonizingly slow for the children born every day, who are at risk for autism.

In a study, chemicals can be isolated, but in the human body they interact. Therefore this research method inevitably produces partial findings because it can't assess synergies, healthy or not. Moreover, since people respond differently even to a single substance, it's no surprise that complex treatments with multiple ingredients can harm some. Yet our vaccination guidelines fail to allow modifications for these individual differences.

Even when a specific ingredient is known as problematic, that knowledge may not translate into current medical practice. For example, Merck, the producer of the MMR vaccine notes in its literature that those sensitive to eggs may experience a negative reaction to the MMR vaccine. But neither doctors nor parents always know whether or not newborns, or babies have egg allergies, prior to vaccinating them.

When children have a decreased ability to detoxify, it's harder for them to withstand both specific and cumulative toxic inputs. That's why autism treatments often enhance detoxification, an approach that conventional medicine neglects. At autism conferences I've covered, and in the books on autism approaches that I've read, integrative health doctors are often the ones developing treatments. I've witnessed numerous presentations and heard many cases reporting health improvements via well monitored advanced integrative detoxification approaches. A similar treatment model is also applied to other illnesses.

While we wait for better answers from conventional medicine, can we afford to turn up our noses at clinical outcomes, which forge the way to a new treatment model for autism?

Fortunately, just a few weeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) signaled that it will launch a new research initiative that includes multiple environmental impacts, although the exact nature of the research is still being defined.

Since it may take years until we know the results, in the interim, why not widen access to treatments that help? As I write this on Autism Awareness Day, the illnesses of so many children call us to soften the absolute allegiance to double-blind "one substance at a time" science, as the only pathway to constructive health treatments. Approaches that operate on the ground have merit too. A willingness to build upon promising clinical treatment approaches characterizes both authentic scientific inquiry, and the mission to serve health.

Too frequently we see a rejection of other approaches. Is this rejection purely scientific? Or is it biased by business agendas? I love science. I come from a family with many doctors, and I've reported on health and health science for over two decades. That's why I contend that it's disingenuous to ask people to accept isolated study findings, without an honest assessment of the shortfalls in health guidelines. Especially when recommendations are made within an overall context for medical science, which is structured on meeting business goals. Let's be honest. What is the effect on science when business agendas:

  • Dictate what we can, or can't study?
  • Allow someone with a vested interest to do the research into a health product?
  • Influence the governmental watchdogs who oversee an industry that affects everyone's health?
  • Indemify industries from liability for health harm?

It's the elephant in the room. When there is too much latitude for science to be influenced by business agendas, the net result is that we lower the public trust in authentic science. Instead of blaming those who raise questions, why not consider how it has come to pass?

Last week, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a report that recommended a rigorous upgrade of guidelines on conflict of interest in medicine. A new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that nearly half of those who developed cardiology treatment guidelines had a conflict of interest.

Judy Salerno, the Executive Director of the IOM articulates the problem, "As a nation, we put our trust in guideline developers to establish evidence-based recommendations as to how clinicians should treat patients. Americans must be confident that their medical treatment is guided by the most trustworthy of sources or we risk an erosion of trust in the medical profession as a whole."

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