Autism and Colostrum

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Autism Spectrum Disorders

The Benefits of Bovine Colostrum

By: Alfred E. Fox, Ph.D.

Autism, better known today as autism spectrum disorders (ASD), is a pervasive development disorder (PDD), all of which are characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills, social interactions, and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior. Autism spectrum disorders range from a severe form, called autistic disorder, to a milder form, known as Asperger syndrome. If a child has symptoms of either of these disorders, but does not meet the specific criteria for either, the diagnosis is called pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PPD-NOS). Other rare, but very severe disorders that are included in the autism spectrum disorders are Rett syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder.

The autism spectrum disorders are more common in the pediatric population than some better-known diseases, like diabetes, spinal bifida or Down syndrome. A recent study in the United States estimated that 3.4 of every 1,000 children 3-10 years of age has autism. Males are four times more likely to have autism than females.

The hallmark feature of autism is impaired social interaction. As early as infancy, a baby with autism may be unresponsive to people or focus intently on one item, to the exclusion of others, for long periods of time. Some affected children appear to develop normally and then withdraw and become indifferent to social engagement. Children with autism also usually fail to respond to their name and often avoid eye contact with other people.

Many children with autism engage in repetitive movements, such as rocking and twirling, or in self-abusive behavior, like biting or head-banging. They also tend to start speaking later than other children and may refer to themselves by name instead of I or me. Some affected children speak in a sing-song voice about a narrow range of favorite topics, with little regard for the interests of the person to whom they are speaking. In addition, they ordinarily do not know how to play inter-actively with other children.

Children with autism spectrum disorders also have a reduced sensitivity to pain, but are abnormally sensitive to sound, touch or other sensory stimulations. Some sounds †a vacuum cleaner, a ringing telephone or a sudden storm †can cause some of the children to cover their ears and scream. Many of the affected children find the feel of clothes touching their skin to be unbearable. These unusual reactions may contribute to behavioral symptoms, such as resistance to being hugged or cuddled.

The most severe forms of autism spectrum disorders are Rett syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder. Rett syndrome almost exclusively occurs in females, with the frequency being one per 10,000 to 15,000. After a period of development, usually between 6 and 18 months, the childs mental and social development regress †she no longer responds to her parents and pulls away from any social contact. If she has been talking, she stops; she cannot control her feet; and she wrings her hands.

Fewer than two children per 10,000 with autism spectrum disorders would be classified as having childhood disintegrative disorder. Males are predominately affected and, although symptoms can appear by the age of 2, the average age of onset is between 3 and 4 years. Until this time, the child usually has normal age-appropriate skills in communication and social relationships. The loss of vocabulary, motor, language and social skills is often dramatic and is accompanied by the loss of bowel and bladder control and, frequently, seizures and very low IQ.

In addition to the behavioral and social impairments, children with autism spectrum disorders often have one or more of the following associated complications.

  • Mental retardation. Some areas of ability may be normal, while others may be especially weak.
  • Seizures. One in four affected children develops seizures, often starting in early childhood or adolescence.
  • Fragile X syndrome. A defective segment of the X chromosome is the most common form of inherited mental retardation and affects 2-5% of individuals with autism spectrum disorders.
  • Tuberous Sclerosis. 1-5% of individuals with autism spectrum disorders have tuberous sclerosis, a rare genetic disorder that causes benign tumors to grow in the brain and other vital organs.

Recognition of autism as a medical syndrome more than 50 years ago led to a search for causative risk factors. Various research organizations came to the conclusion that mercury poisoning due to the use of thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative, in childhood vaccines was the responsible agent. Thimerosal was never used as a preservative in some childhood vaccines (measles, mumps, polio) and was removed from others (DPT) several years ago. Despite the fact that no childhood vaccines have contained thimerosal for several years, the incidence of autism rose from 0.3 per 1,000 births in 1993, to 1.5 per 1,000 births in 2003; to current estimates of 3.4 per 1,000 births.

It is now believed that genetics and the environment both play a role. Recent studies strongly suggest that some people have a genetic predisposition to autism. In families with one autistic child, the risk of having a second child with the disorder is approximately 5%, which is greater than the risk for the general population. A number of genes linked to the disorder have been identified. A recent study at the University of Chicago identified a micro-deletion on a particular chromosome in affected families. The micro-deletion represented the loss of about 25 known genes, with 12 of them being part of a single genetic network that includes genes involved in cell-to-cell signaling and interaction. At least three of these genes are primarily expressed in the brain and are thought to influence behavior. Studies at other institutions have identified micro-deletions on other chromosomes with similar consequences in affected families.

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