09/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

How to Tell if Your Kids are at Risk for Autism (and Other Neurological Injuries) from Vaccines

Even as controversy swirls around vaccines and autism, a set of lab tests can now identify many of the children who are most at risk for the kinds of toxic neurological injuries that can cause autism, Asperger's, attention deficits, and the rest of the pervasive developmental delays. Knowledge is power and when parents know what their children's risks are, they can then make more rational, evidence-based choices in collaboration with their pediatrician.

We and our kids live in this increasingly toxic soup of a world. Not exactly the post-Apocalyptic set of a Kurt Russell movie, but a lot more toxic than the world our grandparents, our parents, or even we grew up in.

In the United States, the EPA, FDA, Consumer Product Safety Commission, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration each regulate various chemicals that we are exposed to. The Environmental Protection Agency alone currently tracks more than 83,000 toxic industrial chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act. These chemicals make their way into our air, food, and water, and even into the umbilical cord blood of infants according to a 2005 study by the Environmental Working Group.

As the world we live in is becoming more toxic, the challenges to our natural detoxification systems and to the genetic programming that creates and maintains those systems is under increasing attack. Some kids are already showing genetic impairment from several generations of increasing exposure to environmental poisons. The bad news is that these kids are more at-risk for adverse effects from further toxic exposure than other kids. If there is good news, it is that are now tools to help parents and doctors identify which kids are more at-risk and which ones are not.

In order to stay alive and healthy, we have to be able to clean impurities out of our body. Fortunately, we are designed to be able to do just that. At least, up to a point. Today there is a whole body of books and publications, like Detox Box by Mark Hyman, MD and Our Toxic World: A Wake Up Call by Doris Rapp, MD, telling us how to keep those processes working. If they function properly, we can get rid of most toxins and wastes pretty well. This is vitally important, which is why we have not one but several different detox systems in our body designed to protect us from toxic chemicals from the outside world and from the toxic by-products of running our inner systems. When someone drinks too much and winds up "praying at the porcelain altar" or they eat something they shouldn't and experience "Montezuma's Revenge", we see evidence of our first line of defense: getting rid of what's noxious as fast as possible. If we can't simply get rid of the poison out of one end or the other (yes Mrs. Reidy, I know that's Hardly Dinner Table Conversation), then our liver has to break it down or "metabolize" it into something that's safe for our kidneys and other organs of elimination to process and excrete. If we can't simply 'get rid of it' or 'metabolize' it, then we hold on to the toxin until our body figures out what to do with it. Most of this storage takes place in our liver, kidneys, brain, 'adipose' or fat tissues, and mitochondria, the energy factories in each of our cells. And that is where most of the trouble starts.

The machinery that runs these clean-up systems is programmed to exist in us, to keep itself running smoothly, and to be able to protect us from a certain amount of internal and external junk. But just as cargo ships and supertankers that are built to withstand the usual storms at sea can be sunk by 100 foot high superwaves, our detox systems can be overcome by either too many or too-strong toxins. And if we are exposed to enough pollutants over time, then even our genetic programming starts to break down and the genes we pass along to the next generation start showing problems. Think of Rob Schneider's comedy Multiplicity. As he cloned himself and then cloned the clones, each successive clone became a little dimmer and less perfect than the one before it, kind of like copying copies on a Xerox machine.

Our kids' detox pathways are facing two kinds of challenges. One is that the genetic or "genomic" messages that tell their bodies what and how to detoxify are getting disrupted as they are being passed from one increasingly toxic generation to the next and so some of the machinery may not be running exactly the way it should. The other problem is that the machinery that may be running not-quite-right already is being asked to detoxify a larger quantity of more-toxic 'stuff' than ever before. Combine this with a child's tender and rapidly growing systems that depend on getting clear genetic messages on how to develop and we have the background for the current epidemic of autistic spectrum and attention deficit disorders that is filling our schools and the news.

And it's not just our kids who are taking the hit. It is happening to us, too. The same toxic patterns of exposure that are showing up in children are also causing all sorts of auto-immune problems in increasingly younger adults. Cancers that only used to show up in 60 and 70 year olds are frequently showing up in 40 and 50 year olds3. Hashimoto's thyroiditis, MS, ALS, lupus, and the rest of the auto-immune disorders are at an all-time high even with more research and money being thrown at them than at any other time in history.4

Now, before you throw the towel in, there IS something you can do about this. Remember that we started this article by stating that "knowledge is power". One of the best places to start is by doing the genomic testing that can tell you how intact your child's (or your own) detox systems are and the functional testing that can tell you how well they are working. These have become surprisingly affordable in the past few years with good quality genomic testing being available for under $450 and liver detoxification function testing being available for less than $100.

In order to do either of these tests, you simply need to have your doctor request that the laboratory send them the supplies (called a "test kit"). If they don't or won't do this type of testing, we can also order the tests for you and help you or your doctor with the interpretation.

For the genomic testing, they will draw and process a small vial of blood and send it off to the lab that runs the test. It takes a couple of weeks for the tests to be processed and then the results will come back to your doctor. You make an appointment with them as usual, and they can explain the lab results to you so that you will know what your child's or your own genetic challenges are with detoxification. Because the detox systems are genetically 'wired for' but not really developed in infants and very young children, this is a particularly good test to run for them. We've used this panel with kids as young as 12 months old whose parents wanted information before giving them some of the multiple vaccines. No lab test is infallible, but it can give you a big head-start on understanding what your child's risks are and knowing how to take care of them and protect their health.

The functional detoxification panel uses saliva and urine and is probably better for school aged and older kids through adults because they need to participate a little more to make the test work. They take a No-Doz tablet and then collect saliva 2 and 8 hours later to test the first part of their liver detox system. Then, they take a couple of aspirin and tylenol and collect urine overnight and first thing in the morning to test the second part of liver detox. The saliva and urine are sent off to the lab and, like the genomic profile, it takes about two weeks to get results back. This is less invasive but a little more complex than the genomic test and it is a better test to use for older kids and adults because their detoxifying systems are developed fully enough for the test to be able to measure them and make sense.

Knowledge is power and these lab tests can give you the power to make wiser, safer choices about your children's and your own health.