Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Vitamin E, Omega-3s & Carnitine for Autism Spectrum Disorders

As a physician and researcher at Children's Hospital & Research Center in Oakland, Dr. Claudia Morris studies both kids and nutrition. Her most recent article is titled Syndrome of Allergy, Apraxia, and Malabsorption: Characterization of a Neurodevelopmental Phenotype that Responds to Omega 3 and Vitamin E Supplementation.

Phew, what a title, eh? Dr. Morris and her co-author Dr. Marilyn Agin found that with a variety of neurological disorders in children--including autism, attention deficit disorder, and dyslexia--involve deficiencies in vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and carnitine are common.

What caught my eye was the high incidence of gluten sensitivities: 68% of the children had high antigliadin IgA antibodies (meaning that they were reactive to the wheat protein) and 100% tested positive for a "gluten sensitivity" gene. Food allergies or asthma existed in 88% of the children. And, gastrointestinal issues existed in a full 83% of the children. Poor kids!

Alas, problems with concentration, coordination, and communication is a big burden for these kids and their families. Couple that with GI upsets due to wheat and other food allergies and potentially asthma and it's a nightmare to manage all the symptoms, especially when most treatments for autism spectrum disorders have primarily been behavioral (speech and occupational) therapies.

That's where Dr. Morris and Dr. Agin come in--with a novel metabolic and nutritional approach to treating verbal apraxia. They studied 187 children, giving them supplemental vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) and carnitine as needed. With high doses of these nutrients, children in the study experienced "rapid clinical improvement" in both speech and coordination!

With an additional focus on eliminating trigger foods (wheat, dairy, yeast, and other allergens specific to each child), GI tract problems started to clear up as well, enabling nutrients to be effectively metabolized for neurological functioning and general intestinal function as well.

Interestingly, 80% of the children in the study exhibited a carnitine deficiency (also common in celiac disease), and the researchers believe that:

"Low carnitine may be a cause rather than an affect of gut inflammation, as recent studies support an obligatory role for carnitine in the maintenance of normal intestinal function...Carnitine also plays a critical role in fatty acid transport into the mitochondria and (low carnitine) may contribute to abnormal fatty acid metabolism."

Morris and Agin believe that children with autism spectrum disorders have a faulty fatty acid metabolism that is remedied by high doses of vitamin E (800IU divided into two doses was typical) and omega-3's (DHA at 280mg and EPA at 695mg was typical).

Children experiencing the most significant recovery were those using doses greater than 2000IU/day of vitamin E, but this very high level was monitored carefully by their pediatricians. And, based on another study on high-dose vitamin E therapy, Morris's team reports that:

"Even at 3200 IU/day, vitamin E clearly still works as an antioxidant rather than the theorized potential to become a pro-oxidant."

Unfortunately, when supplementation stops, children regress. When children had viral illnesses, the need for supplements increased, as inflammation, whether triggered by food or illness, consistently compromised neurological function. The takeaway according to the researchers?

"Pediatricians need to recognize the early warning signs of apraxia, consider screening for common metabolic and nutritional abnormalities associated with this syndrome, and initiate a referral to a knowledgeable developmental pediatrician or pediatric neurologist to obtain an accurate diagnosis."

While most of my readers don't have young children in the home, with the numbers of children affected by autism spectrum disorders, someone not too distant probably does. Pass the word on this cutting-edge research on safe nutritional therapies that could make a huge difference in both a young child's life and the lives of his/her parents and extended family.

Meanwhile, if any of you have a history of gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, you may want to understand your own carnitine levels, as celiac may cause carnitine deficiencies, and carnitine is critical not only to muscle energy but also to the transport of long chain fatty acids like omega-3's!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Insulin Resistance & Breast Cancer - No Surprise

Elevated levels of insulin in post-menopausal women bumps the risk of getting breast cancer up. Women with insulin levels in the top third had double the risk over women in the bottom third.

Research was conducted at Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University and published in the International Journal of Cancer. According to their press release:

"Since insulin is known to promote cell division and enhance breast tumor growth in animal models, the Einstein scientists reasoned that relatively high insulin levels may contribute to breast cancer risk in women...(and)...Notably, the link between elevated insulin level and breast cancer was strongest among lean women and weakest among obese women (who, in general, have higher insulin levels compared with lean women). “This finding is potentially important because it indicates that, in postmenopausal women, insulin may be a risk factor for breast cancer that is independent of obesity,” says Dr. Kabat. However, because the number of lean women was small, this finding is preliminary."

The study included 5450 participants who were followed over eight years.

Meanwhile, the correlation between insulin resistance and any disease is not surprising. Insulin resistance has been correlated to type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, cognitive disorders, and more.

There are supplements that are useful in maintaining glycemic health; however, in all honesty, diet and lifestyle changes are critical if we moderns (too sedentary, too many yummy treats available) are to avoid insulin resistance issues.

Diets high in protein and fiber help. And, exercise helps burn off stores of excess sugar in the old bloodstream. No wonder exercise is associated with maintaining mental fitness well into old age!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Swearing Actually Helps with Pain!

Researchers hypothesized that swearing would reduce tolerance of pain due to "catastrophizing." Lo and behold, 64 college students proved otherwise in a Keele University study in the U.K.

According to Dr. Richard Stephen's team of researchers:

"(T)he pain-lessening effect occurs because swearing triggers our natural ‘fight-or-flight’ response. They suggest that the accelerated heart rates of the volunteers repeating the swear word may indicate an increase in aggression, in a classic fight-or-flight response of ‘downplaying feebleness in favour of a more pain-tolerant machismo.’ What is clear is that swearing triggers not only an emotional response, but a physical one too, which may explain why the centuries-old practise of cursing developed and still persists today."

Not sure if those around you will approve of this particular form of therapy but if they object, you can just note the research that supports swearing as a form of pain management. They may not all see the humor in such a movet! But then again, they may, and if the word gets out, seniors centers all around the world just may get a tad bit noisier.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Attitudes, Emotions & Disease

Way back in 1952, the Department of Medicine at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center found that diseases and conditions ranging from eczema and cold hands to migraine and hypertension were correlated to particular attitudes and emotions.

Specifically, the researchers defined emotions as being "an attitude with its associated physiological changes." Thinking about carrying a certain weight actually increases electrical activity in appropriate muscles for carrying heavy loads. And, "sustained contraction of the skeletal muscles can be painful."

Here are some more of the findings from interviews with 128 patients:
  • Eczema, with associated vasodilation, is associated with frustration and may possibly represent heat loss by an organism which has abandoned its readiness for action.
  • Arterial hypertension occurred with a sense of vigilance, when an individual felt he must be constantly prepared to meet all possible threats.
  • Cold skin, the result of cutaneous vasoconstriction, is associated with an anticipatory response and occurs in individuals contemplating some kind of action, even if he doesn't know how to take such action.
  • Vasomotor rhinitis & asthma are both associated with feelings of wanting to have nothing to do with something (the desire to exclude, similar to how the respiratory mucous membrane reacts to noxious agents).
Mind affecting body. Not exactly new age, in fact, not new at all. And, at the cellular level, it's akin to proving Newton's Third Law of Motion (the law of reciprocal actions).

Sometimes, folks in the nutrition industry attend only biochemistry, specifically, how nutritional agents can help cells function and repair themselves. Necessary but not necessarily sufficient. What's often missing is a more integral approach that acknowledges that our cells are in communities, which function based on relationships. Emotions affect how cells coordinate action with one another.

To quote a 2009 article, "The Rebirth of Neuroscience in Psychosomatic Medicine:"

"The brain influences end organs through "information transfer systems," including the autonomic, neuroendocrine, and immune system."

So minding our moment-to-moment thoughts, our persistent attitudes, and our seemingly-mysterious emotions can yield critical insights to the root of our difficulties and paths to healing.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Visceral Manipulation for Adhesions & More

I wrote about a recent (short) hospitalization due to old surgeries and a web of scar tissue from them. My naturopath recommended that I get something called "visceral manipulation" from one of her Bastyr University colleagues, Dr. Victoria Sucher.

Visceral manipulation has been practiced since the dawn of medicine and was developed by Dr. Jean-Pierre Barral, an osteopath, who noticed the relationship fascia has to dysfunction in the body. Visceral manipulation is in fact a gentle form of bodywork to release the fascia that surrounds and protects our vital organs or viscera.

When organs cannot move freely within protective facia, circulation becomes restricted and dysfunction and pain can result, often in areas far removed from the source.

In my case, surgical adhesions in the area where my appendix ruptured, at least 2 years before anyone diagnosed me with a ruptured appendix, are apparently particularly bad. I was told that these adhesions were likely contributing to chronic tension in my right leg and were also contributing to my right shoulder being subtly pulled in, toward my rib cage.

The prescription? Visceral manipulation sessions (15-40 minutes in duration) twice a month for several months. Sigh. I'm committed to doing the whole series as prevention but it does take a real investment on my part (no insurance coverage and a fair bit of driving, at least until I find a practitioner who is closer).

My friend, Gino Giglio, who has studied light touch massage therapies such as cranial sacral and visceral manipulation, had this to say:

Visceral manipulation is well worth the effort. I have studied several levels.

All the internals have motion, orbits, paths and some spiral rotation. Your naturopath no doubt explained all this to you. If those glidings of fascial casings are inhibited in any way, eventually such dysfunction will take its toll.

As you must have noticed, the vogue 'tune' now is that 80% of your immune system in in your gut. And there's more to the gut than that, as Dr. Michael Gershon tells us in his The Second Brain.

Good idea to free-up as much inherent movement as possible, so the body is not forced into permanent compensatory movement patterns. The flow gotta go on. Or else

Wise words. If any of my readers live in South Florida or Manhattan, Gino practices in both cities. He is a gifted bodyworker, very intuitive, and highly-trained (having spent time at the Upledger Institute among others). Drop a line if you want me to introduce you.

Meanwhile, as such a disembodied culture, with ridiculous amounts of stress, bodywork is one of those genuinely kind gifts we can give to ourselves. I hope you get some "time on the table" some time soon!