Pregnancy

There’s Amazing New Research About Autism And It Has Nothing To Do With Vaccines

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If you weren’t searching for news about autism, you might think that the only research being done today centers around vaccines and their autism connections. After all, the anti-vaccine crowd is vocal and determined. The have celebrity spokespeople like Jenny McCarthy and Donald Trump. Vaccines are frequently discussed on parenting blogs all over the internet, including this one.

The problem is that all of the anti-vaccination discussions can pull focus from some truly amazing advancements in autism research. While thousands of parents are reading the work of fear-mongers with dubious and unverified research, they’re missing out on real data that takes the debate into completely different areas.

This weekend, the New York Times published a piece on the extraordinary work done by multiple researchers in connecting immune disorders and autism. Scientists believe that the immune dysregulation and inflammatory disease account for at least a third of all autism cases. Here’s how the diagnosis works:

“It starts with what scientists call immune dysregulation. Ideally, your immune system should operate like an enlightened action hero, meting out inflammation precisely, accurately and with deadly force when necessary, but then quickly returning to a Zen-like calm. Doing so requires an optimal balance of pro- and anti-inflammatory muscle.

In autistic individuals, the immune system fails at this balancing act. Inflammatory signals dominate. Anti-inflammatory ones are inadequate. A state of chronic activation prevails. And the more skewed toward inflammation, the more acute the autistic symptoms.”

So if autism is caused by an immune disorder, why has it grown exponentially in recent years? Well, inflammatory diseases as a whole have been on the rise for the past 60 years. In fact, the growth in autism actually mirrors another popular disorder, asthma. And various inflammatory disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and celiac disease in the mother have been shown to increase the chances of autism in the child.

And why is the immune system so prone to inflammatory diseases lately? One prominent theory goes back to the hygiene hypothesis, the one that’s been blamed for the increase in allergies as well. Researchers believe that we’re eliminating too many bacteria and infections from our lives. Our immune systems don’t have anything to fight against and therefore become over-reactive. Scientists have seen that people living in conditions similar to those of our evolutionary past, who deal with parasites and microbes, don’t see the problems with inflammatory diseases that we do now.

So how will this explanation help us treat or prevent autism? Research is expanding and coming up with answers on that end as well. Scientists are actually looking at introducing medicalized parasites to help the immune system. They’re talking about drugs during pregnancy that could bolster the anti-inflammatory response. The most important thing here is that they’re finding actual solutions and things we can do to help treat and prevent autism.

This research is incredible – and more complex than I could describe here so you should read the piece on your own as well. And it’s unquestionable breakthroughs are overshadowed by a hyped-up conspiracy theory. Do we really need to get inflammatory disorders a celebrity spokesperson so that parents will pay attention? I hope not, because there’s a lot of great medical research going into problems like autism and we should be talking about all of it. Focusing on just vaccines keeps the discussion too narrow and it ignores important information that can help keep kids safe and healthy.

(Photo: Andrii Kondiuk/Shutterstock)