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Autism: it's all in the gut

MagazineOctober 2000 (Vol. 11 Issue 7)Autism: it's all in the gut

The Autism Research Unit (ARU), University of Sunderland, has concluded that autism is not a mental illness, but a metabolic one

The Autism Research Unit (ARU), University of Sunderland, has concluded that autism is not a mental illness, but a metabolic one.

In their research of more than 1200 children with autism over 11 years, they have evidence that autism is caused by the action of peptides outside the brain and central nervous system. These peptides result in effects which either cause opioid activity or help to break down the opioid peptides that occur naturally within the CNS. Natural opioid peptides, which include the enkephalins and endorphins, play a central role in regulating the CNS, affecting all high cognitive functions, like perception and emotion. Through the action of these peptides, the neuroregulatory role may be altered or intensified to such an extent that most higher processes within the CNS are completely disrupted.This interference would affect perception, cognition, emotions, mood and behaviour, leading to all the diverse symptoms we characterise as autism.

But where do these extra peptides come from? The ARU believes the culprit is certain foods and the inability of the body to process these foods due to an inadequacy of the enzymes ordinarily responsible for breaking them down. The most frequent causes are gluten from wheat and other gluten containing cereals, like rye, barley and oats, and also milk and dairy products.

Genetic factors or nutritional vitamin or mineral deficiencies may be behind the inadequate function of the enzymes involved.

These rogue peptides make it to the CNS largely due to a damaged gut. Normally, the proteins lining the gut wall are sulphated, forming a protective layer over the gut wall surface. But when the gut doesn't produce enough sulphation, proteins in the gut wall tend to clump together, causing an uneven gut wall surface and increasing gut permeability. This, in turn, allows foods into the bloodstream (and eventually the CNS).

Most of the children examined by the ARU have this abnormality in the gut. These gross gut wall abnormalities appear to be the result of an insult to the body or a toxicity. The ARU has evidence that one of the most common insults is the MMR vaccine (see box, p 3). Gut abnormalities and the onset of autism have also followed a bout of encephalitis or meningitis. Other environmental toxicities, such as pesticides, also appear to be implicated in damaging the gut.


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