Autism or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a range of disorders that are characterized by challenges with social skills, development, speech and non-verbal communication, etc. ASD has an impact on the entire nervous system and can manifest in various ways including cognitive, emotional and physical deficiencies.
ASD is usually diagnosed around the age of 3 or 4 and is a lifelong condition that requires extraordinary compassion and support. There is no known cure for ASD, though there are various things one can do to manage symptoms. It is also not known what causes autism.
Some studies attribute autism to pre-existing genes, while others suggest that certain genes may mutate as one grows older. It can also be a combination of genetics as well as environmental factors. More recent studies have also been able to isolate environmental factors and attribute autism to things like heavy metal exposure at the prenatal stage. This is where heavy metal detox and chelation therapy comes into the picture, but let’s first look at what the studies say about the link between heavy metal exposure and autism.
A fascinating new study has found that children with autism had a higher concentration of heavy metals in their bodies than those who were not on the spectrum. The study was published in Nature Communications and demonstrated how researchers used lasers to extract and analyze dentine, the material that lies below the tooth enamel. The growth rings on a baby’s teeth also become a way to see how their body responds to their environment in various developmental stages.
The levels of lead in the dentine layers and the various degrees of exposure to heavy metals the research subjects had in their developmental stages offered various insights. There were 32 pairs of twins in the study whose teeth were studied. There were various threads of the study, one in which both twins were on the spectrum, one in which only one was on the spectrum and one in which neither were on the spectrum. Various analyses found that the babies with ASD had a greater concentration of heavy metal in their teeth.
The study concluded that prenatal exposure to heavy metals and the body’s ability to process the heavy metals it has interacted with, may have a correlation with autism. The researchers argue that autism may begin developing in the womb and that the mother and the fetus’ environment may have a direct relationship with autism. However, the diagnosis may occur only around the age of 3. But with this new analysis, it becomes possible to see who may be more vulnerable to developing autism.
In another study, the hair sample from 100 children with ASD was compared with 100 controls. The study found that the mean levels of lead, mercury and aluminum in the hair of the autistic subjects were much higher than the controls’. From the analysis, the study concluded that mercury, lead and aluminum levels in the body could be attributed to maternal fish consumption, living in environments like gas stations and using aluminum utensils, respectively.
The study argues that significant exposure to these heavy metals during important stages of development, pre and postnatal, could have a causal relationship with autism.
Now, coming to the main question, the answer to which could provide significant relief to those on the spectrum as well as their caretakers. How can heavy metal detox help in improving symptoms of autism in children?
As has been established above, there seems to be a close correlation between heavy metal exposure in the early stages of development and autism. Even if the environmental factor alone does not have a causal relationship with ASD, it has been established that environmental factors along with genetic makeup could make a child more vulnerable to autism.
The body must have certain trace amounts of metals like zinc, magnesium, copper, etc. However, when the concentration of these heavy metals increases in the body, there’s a problem. Prolonged exposure to heavy metals could cause problems with cognition, hamper development and affect various other impulses of the body. Since children also consume more food in relation to their bodies, they also tend to absorb heavy metals more readily than adults do.
Ridding the body of heavy metals, therefore, is a good way to manage the symptoms of autism if not cure the disorder altogether.
One of the most effective ways of reversing heavy metal exposure or poisoning is chelation therapy. Chelation therapy includes injecting the body with chelating agents like dimercaptosuccinic acid, dimercaprol and ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA).
While this is an effective method for most people to treat heavy metal toxicity, it is not always safe for children to be put through the process. Especially children who are young may respond adversely to such medications being injected in their system. This is not to say that chelation therapy has not been used in kids with autism, but this is not a highly recommended process and is not something that would be advised by doctors without making a parent aware of the risks. The treatment can be actively dangerous for young children.
If chelation therapy is not something that can be confidently recommended for children, let alone children with autism, what are the other alternatives? Sauna therapy, whether infrared or traditional saunas, can be an effective way of detoxing the body.
The presence of heavy metals in the body can act as endocrine disruptors, which are external elements that impact the functioning of the endocrine system. The sauna interacts with the endocrine system in various ways, including releasing various kinds of hormones and improving blood circulation so these hormones, such as endorphins, can be transported to relevant parts of the body.
It also aids the endocrine glands, such as thyroid and adrenal glands, by encouraging the release of the hormones from these glands into the bloodstream and enhancing circulation.
The skin is the largest organ in the body and is a great way to expel toxins. Of course, sweating cannot be the primary method of expelling toxins from the body. However, when there are excessive levels of toxins in the body, other organs that are responsible for detoxification may be overwhelmed. Sweating is a good way to take the load off the intestine and organs and rid the body of toxins.
In addition to detoxification, the heat from the sauna is also said to have several other benefits such as anxiety alleviation. The frustration of not being able to communicate properly can also translate into aggression and anxiety in people on the spectrum. The sauna is a useful way to calm the nervous system down and make a person feel relaxed.
Now, how do you get a young child, especially one who already faces challenges with communication, to sit in a hot sauna? Sweating may not necessarily be an enjoyable activity for a child. A way to make the process easier for the child as well as the parent or guardian is to use infrared saunas.
Infrared saunas heat the body directly without heating the air around the person. The infrared rays heat the body from within and clean organ tissues out at the cellular level. The benefits of infrared are that it heats deeply without raising the temperature of the sauna unit too much. This allows a person to sit inside an infrared sauna for much longer than a traditional sauna, as the former can operate efficiently even at lower temperatures. This makes it more suitable for young children as compared to a traditional sauna.
Autism is a difficult and challenging condition to live with, not only for the person who is on the spectrum but also for those who love somebody on the spectrum and take care of them. Despite the widening field of study, there still remain several question marks when it comes to autism. One cannot say for certain what causes autism and this makes the disorder even more frustrating. When you do not know what may cause a certain condition, how do you go about taking preventive measures?
What cannot be denied, however, is that environmental factors do have a certain role to play when it comes to autism. Even if it cannot be adequately proven that environmental factors like heavy metal exposure alone have a causal relationship with autism, the two studies cited above do demonstrate that the levels of heavy metals in the subjects on the spectrum were higher. Managing the elevated levels of heavy metals in the body may not cure autism, but it can certainly be a method to improve symptoms in addition to other forms of therapy. The sauna is a safe, effective and comfortable way of removing toxins like heavy metals from the body and is certainly worth an attempt for those looking for solutions.