A Functional Medicine Approach to Autism
The functional part of functional medicine is an understanding that disease is an endpoint and function is the process by which we get to this endpoint.
This is a game-changer in the field of autism and the potential to treat people on the spectrum. A functional process is not static. It can move backwards or forwards, which means that if you can identify and understand its driving forces, you can influence and change the factors that cause the endpoint.
It is a model of health concerned less with the disease diagnosis, and more with the dynamic process that resulted in the person’s dysfunction. Evidence-based research of recent years has provided a whole new framework of understanding the biology of dysfunction. It has profoundly influenced our understanding of the biology and pathological forces that result in autism.
Key areas of research shows that most disease process is largely driven by the interaction between genetics, environment (including toxic exposure and accumulation in the body), lifestyle and diet.
It also shows us that we are not captive to our genetics, that appropriate diet and nutrition have a powerful influence on genetic expression, as well as the harm that environmental influences can exert and that they deeply enhance detoxification ability. Nutrition and diet are a fundamental cornerstone of addressing the processes that result in disease, imbalance and ill-health.
The Autism Puzzle
Autism is in many ways a very meaningless and frustrating diagnosis. It is essentially the definition of a behavioural phenotype. As a diagnosis it can give the impression that whilst a ‘spectrum’ of degree is involved, there is a similar biological process at work within children and adults who have been diagnosed 'with autism'. This is true, but in a misleading way. Those whose behaviour matches a set of parameters will receive a label of ‘autistic’. But there is no coherent version of a ‘single trigger’ pathological process that leads to autism.
The reality is that there may be completely different biological dysfunction in each individual on the autistic spectrum.
They may have one or a whole host of comorbidities creating a state of systemic dysfunction whose outward manifestation is the behavioural symptoms that are described as ‘autism’. But this may stem from different triggers, toxins, infections, genetics and imbalances in each child.
Modern medicine does not yet understand autism. Whilst there is some consistency amongst the abnormal biomedical findings and biomarkers in autism, the medical field has not as yet found a coherent answer to what causes autism, or what it means as a pathological definition. This means that parents are often offered very few options via the traditional medical route to address or to try to improve their children’s state of health. They may also be offered very little hope that there is any way forward.
Understanding autism requires seeing a potentially significant number of dysfunctions and health issues that underlie the manifestations of its symptom picture. In order to treat and improve symptoms, those dysfunctions need to be identified and addressed.
Whether it is a case of PANDAS or Lyme Disease, severe bacterial dysbiosis or heavy metal toxicity from mercury or aluminium or lead, methylation or transulfation related genetic issues leading to impaired detoxification, there are systems involved that we know produce ‘autistic-like symptoms’ when they are present in a child (or adult) who is for whatever reason, vulnerable to these pathologies. Your child may have just one significant dysfunction or they may have many, but these need to be understood and addressed, one by one.
There is a clinical picture and a treatment path for ‘autistic behaviours’ and symptoms. They just need to be tailored to each individual child with an understanding of what their health issues are, and that they may be entirely different to the next child.
This is the story told time and again by parents who have succeeded in reversing their child’s diagnosis.
Find the dysfunction and then treat it.
Multi-modality approach to a multifactorial puzzle
Because autism does not appear to have one biological dysfunction at its core, we approach treatment as a multi modality operation, both to help better understand the processes that are happening within the child and to better meet the ‘spectrum’ of treatment requirements.
We use a biomedical systems approach to autism founded in principles of functional medicine as a broad framework for our bio-resonance assessments. Screening runs tests for patterns of dysfunction in multiple areas; neurological stress, environmental toxicity from either industrial, food, agricultural or medical sources, immune imbalance or signs of auto-immune reaction and allergy sensitivity, gastro-intestinal dysfunction and infection, detoxification problems, including methylation, sulfation and transulfation processes, metabolic imbalance, hormone and neurotransmitter imbalances, mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress.
We check nutrient status to widen our understanding of digestive deficiencies, detoxification ability or other support measures that may be needed. We look for patterns of key food sensitivities that may be aggravating factors. Food sensitivity screening combined with symptom assessment also helps to refine the dietary support measures and plans that are best suited for each patient.
We also test for results that may indicate stress from infectious agents including Lyme Disease bacteria, co-infections and traces of streptococcal infection. Testing is extremely comprehensive and covers set parameters to help understand which systems may be compromised or where priority attention is needed. However it is open ended enough to detect individual health patterns in each patient which may not necessarily fit the biomedical systems model.
Bio-resonance: a therapeutic tool
Bio-Resonance therapy is also used in treatment, specifically for phenol desensitisation that is worked up with results from the allergy sensitivity tests. It is also very helpful as an adjunct for parasite clearing, which is also based on test results.
Homeopathy crosses the divide between the need for treatment that recognises and responds to the individual picture of symptoms and dysfunction, but is also able to work deeply and gently to stimulate a healing response.
Homeopaths pay particular attention to the history of a client, because the aim of treatment is to understand the root cause and address this. So the primary 'cause' of ill health is sought through detailed investigation of the patients health history going back to pregnancy, birth and even preconception. The parents health and family history is also taken into account as this often provides significant clues. This is attention to family and genetic inheritance is extremely valuable in the field of autism, where research points to a significant role of genetic SNPs in creating vulnerability to the development of autism.
The symptom picture is also a primary focus of investigation. This is because symptoms are also a 'language' of dysfunction. They are the external manifestation of a deeper imbalance and disturbance. Understanding the symptom picture is like gaining a road map to the internal dynamics of a health problem. Small details, like the side one experiences a headache, the way a child expresses hyperactivity or OCD like behaviour, what temperature they are, what foods they prefer or dislike, what time do they wake up at night and what do they seek to make themselves feel better. These are all signposts to what is imbalanced in the systems of the body, and guides the practitioner to understanding and a clear prescription.
This is also invaluable in the field of autism, as it gives a 'voice' with which to hear and understand the individual permutations of children who may be 'voiceless' and a way in to 'hearing' what their symptoms are actually telling us about their inner state.
Homeopathy works with the body to gently trigger healing. It can also help the system to clear layers of toxicity and screening analysis as well as hair mineral analysis is used to help integrate gentle and targeted detoxification protocols.
To support gentle and permanent treatment, diet and nutrient support measures are integrated into protocols. Without healthy nutrition and balanced nutrient levels it is difficult for any system to thrive, heal, detoxify efficiently and improve.
Naturopathic nutrition is guided by the principles of functional medicine and works to address the root cause of disease. Diet, herbs, and nutritional supplements are recommended to support imbalances like sleeping issues or digestive problems, as well as indicated lifestyle interventions where needed. Naturopathic treatment can be used to address dysfunctions such as bacterial imbalance, nutrient deficiency or digestive dysfunction, oxidative stress, or detoxification difficulties. Protocols are built to synchronise with homeopathic treatment and make specific use of the bio-resonance screening results. Screening results can be extremely helpful at indicating difficulties with compounds such as oxalates, salicylates, glutamate rich foods, phenolic compounds, yeasts, etc, which can save valuable treatment time to help build a truly patient specific protocol. Case history and symptoms are assessed with these results to recommend a diet plan that best suits the child. This may be the Feingold, low oxalate or salicylate, low phenol, GAPS diet, Keto or Paleo template. Recommendations may also be tailored more specifically if need be.