iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Dr. Patricia Fitzgerald

GET UPDATES FROM Dr. Patricia Fitzgerald
 

Jenny McCarthy's Autism Crusade: Healing, Hope... And Controversy

Posted: 04/23/09 10:36 AM ET

Every 20 minutes, a child is diagnosed with autism. In a study of select populations around the United States, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that one in 150 children has the condition. According to the Autism Society of America, this is the fastest growing developmental disability with a 10-17% annual growth rate.

April is annual Autism Awareness Month. The actual cause of autism and a definitive treatment are still being researched and are under debate.

Jenny McCarthy and thousands of concerned parents, doctors, and health advocates aren't just waiting for an official cure. They're finding answers, and getting results.

Jenny, an actress and a former Playboy model, continues her crusade against autism with her new book, Healing and Preventing Autism, which she co-authored with Jerry Kartzinel, MD, a pediatrician who has successfully treated hundreds of patients with autism. Dr. Kartzinel is also the parent of a son with autism. Jenny has publicly shared her struggles with finding her son, Evan, effective treatment, and now reports that he has officially recovered. Evan lost his autism diagnosis per the State of California.

On Larry King Live's blog, Generation Rescue (an autism advocacy group) Founder J. B. Handley proclaims: "Jenny McCarthy's son Evan no longer has autism. This is a very hard concept for most people to grasp, because the popular understanding of autism is that it's lifelong. Quietly, a revolution of tens of thousands of parents around the world are standing firmly behind Jenny and using the same treatments to heal their children that she used to heal Evan. Not a day goes by where I don't hear a story from a parent of their child's dramatic improvement or complete recovery from autism using what we call 'biomedical intervention.'"

What Is Autism?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), "autism ... is the most common condition in a group of developmental disorders known as the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Autism is characterized by impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual, repetitive, or severely limited activities and interests."

What Causes Autism?

The cause is not known, but experts say that autism is most likely caused by a combination of genetic vulnerability, nutritional deficiencies, and environmental factors.

Healing and Hope

In their book, Healing and Preventing Autism, Jenny and Dr. Kartzinel share their beliefs that the best way to tackle the factors contributing to autism is through a biomedical approach.

Biomedical intervention looks at nutrition, detoxification, and removal of interfering factors, such as yeast, food allergies, viruses, bacteria, and heavy metals. Jenny and Dr. Kartzinel admit that biomedical interventions do not help everyone, but thousands of children have improved with this type of therapy.

An important focus of this approach involves supporting the body's innate healing response with healthy food and nutritional supplements.

Their book asserts that autism is not rooted in one cause, and therefore successful treatment is often multifaceted.

Key Components of the Biomedical Treatment:

First of all, clean up the diet. A gluten-free, casein-free diet is one that has helped thousands of kids. In addition, eat as organic as possible, and avoid artificial colorings and flavorings, sugar, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners.

Consider nutritional supplementation. Dr. Kartzinel believes autistic kids have major nutrient deficiencies. The book highlights the supplements he has found most helpful for his patients.

Reduce or eliminate environmental toxins. Advocates of the biomedical approach believe that children with autism are especially sensitive to the toxic elements of most household cleaners, paints, pesticides, etc.

Test and treat for other contributing factors, such as food allergies, yeast infections, heavy metals, etc., that the child's doctor might suspect are involved. Treatment must be supervised by a doctor. Doctors who offer the biomedical approach, known as "DAN (Defeat Autism Now!) doctors," can be found at the Autism Research Institutes's website.

The Autism Research Institute has collected data from 26,000 parents on the effects of biomedical treatments. You can view the percentages of those parents who observed improvement in their children with such approaches as the gluten-free, casein-free diet, removing sugar from the diet, supplementing with cod liver oil, etc. Elsewhere on the site, parents share stories of their children's recovery.

The Biggest Controversy

When it comes to healing autism or any chronic condition, improving the diet and adding nutritional supplements are interventions that are rapidly gaining mainstream acceptance.

However, the most controversial area that Jenny and Dr. Kartzinel discuss in their book is that of vaccinations. The two have brought to light what they consider to be an excessive use of vaccines in the US, and therefore they have often been accused of being "anti-vaccine."

Here's how Jenny explains her view of this hot-button issue at the beginning of the chapter on vaccines: "Despite what anybody thinks, I'm still not against vaccines ... if I were you, I would educate myself on each shot and what it protects against, along with the possible side effects." The rest of the chapter is a conversation during which Jenny and Dr. Kartzinel discuss vaccine pros and cons, side effects, an alternative shot schedule, and the ingredients in vaccines. Resources for further research are also provided.

The autism-vaccine link is being studied because there are actual concerns that warrant these studies. Some studies support the use of certain vaccines, while other studies do not. Often there are conflicts of interest within studies. It can make anybody's head spin trying to sort through these studies.

Some research has denied the autism-vaccine link, while some has supported such a connection. There are two cases recently highlighted in the news related to children who received compensation because of a vaccination connection to autism spectrum disorder.

A Deeper Look

The autism-vaccine debate will most likely continue for a long time. Meanwhile parents are confused and often feel desperate to know how to make the right choices for their children's health and safety.

Here are some web links for further exploration of the autism and vaccine issues:

David Kirby, author of Evidence of Harm

http://evidenceofharm.com; also see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-kirby/

FourteenStudies.org, which looks at vaccine studies and presents the studies' limitations and conflicts of interest

Jay Gordon, MD, an author and pediatrician with over 30 years of experience

http://Drjaygordon.com; also see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jay-gordon

Robert Sears, MD, another author and pediatrician

http://www.askdrsears.com/thevaccinebook/

Autism Awareness, Prevention, Support

I am not a pediatrician. However, I have seen numerous patients with autism spectrum disorder, who were often referred to me by pediatricians for help with food allergies and nutrition. I have witnessed the improvement in many of these children after changes in diet along with nutritional supplementation. Many of my colleagues have reported similar results to me.

I am writing this piece to encourage parents, loved ones of children, and those contemplating having children to be as informed as possible. It is important to keep up to date with the latest research and information.

There is a lot of support available. Generationrescue.org is a great resource site, with research, recommended doctors, Rescue Angels (parents who help other parents), and testimonials (listed according to the child's age, from 2 years through 10). An inspiring documentary by Generation Rescue can be found at autismyesterday.com.

Autism awareness is not just about recovery from the condition. It is also about prevention. Healing and Preventing Autism's chapter on autism prevention offers women preparing for pregnancy advice on how to remove toxins from their body and their environment, as well as how to maximize their nutrient intake.

Recovery and prevention. That's the message of Jenny McCarthy, Dr. Kartzinel, and the thousands of advocates who share their stories and support for families who are faced with the challenges of getting proper care for their children with these special needs.

Throughout Healing and Preventing Autism, Jenny passionately reminds us that she and her dedicated army of advocates for autism are in this for the long haul:

"Thousands of parents, like me, have learned so much and the only reason we won't shut up is to teach YOU, so you don't have to walk in our shoes. Dr. Jerry and I want to arm parents with all the tools and information necessary to have the healthiest baby you can. The next generation of kids is counting on it!"

*Follow HuffPostLiving on Twitter and become a fan of Huffington Post Living on Facebook*

 
 
 

Follow Dr. Patricia Fitzgerald on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drpatriciafitz