It’s All in Your Genes, The Genetic Component of Autism

Have you ever heard the statement, “the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree”? When it comes to the seemingly complicated puzzle of autism, many parents stop and ask, “How did this happen to my child?” Did you ever stop to think that the answer could be in your genes? Your genes are the blueprint of your body’s metabolic factory, and how these genes are expressed greatly influences your health. Have you ever imagined that you could influence or change your genetic predisposition to disease or conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?  Did you know that your genes are controlled or “turned on” and “turned off” by a cycle in your cells known as methylation?  Think of this process as the editing software of your computer which corrects your improper spelling on a document. While it’s true that you can’t pick your parents, by knowing more about your genetics, you can be proactive in controlling the expression of disease and achieving overall health.

So we must ask, “Is there a genetic component of autism?” By close self-examination, the examination of your parents, grandparents and other family members, you may discover traits such as anxiety, depression and OCD. If you inherit the genetic defects in the methylation cycle, you may have mood swings, irritability or aggression. Other common observations in those on the spectrum are behavior and cognitive function abnormalities. You may also discover a family history filled with cancer, heart disease and common mental health problems. The answer lies within the methylation cycle, which happens over a billion times per second in the cells of the human body. A methyl group (CH3) is merely the pairing of a carbon molecule and three hydrogen molecules.  Like water (H2O), its importance cannot be understated. This cycle is dependent on proper genetic regulation, and if defective, your body is greatly impaired in its ability to detoxify heavy metals, fight off infections, and maintain a healthy immune system. Controlling one’s genetic expression is critical to managing disease and optimizing health.

The functioning of this cycle depends on the genetic structure being properly sequenced and in good working order. Understanding the genetic mutations in the methylation pathway and implementing specific nutrients can dramatically change your child’s life. For those of you who are interested in the field of biomedical autism treatments, you are undoubtedly concerned with trying to diagnose, analyze and improve your child’s health through diet, supplementation and medicine. You spend copious amounts of time, energy and money researching various diets, supplements, and the “latest and greatest” biomedical treatments  available.

Would you like to eliminate the guesswork from choosing nutritional supplements, avoid a cookie-cutter, one-size- fits- all nutritional approach, and utilize the cutting- edge field called epigentics?   Epigenetics is the science of using customized nutritional supplements and highly specific diets to get around or “bypass” genetic mutations. Nutrigenomics is the newly- emerging science that describes the use of human genetic testing and the results of nutritional and biochemical tests to thoroughly understand what type of diet and supplements are best for the health of your body. It has great application in both the treatment and the prevention of disease. So what is the connection between genetics and nutrigenomics as it relates to autism spectrum disorders (ASD) such as ADD, ADHD and Asperger’s?

Perhaps you have heard of a genetic mutation called MTHFr (methyltetrahydrofolate reductase) that influences the risk of having heart and cardiovascular disease. What you probably didn’t know that this gene is also highly correlated to children on the autism spectrum. After more than 10 years of practicing  in the treatment of biomedical autism, I have found that approximately 90% of the children on the spectrum have this mutation. The great benefit of knowing your genetics is that it empowers you by giving you the ability to “bypass” this genetic roadblock just as you would take an alternate route when driving in traffic to bypass an accident.  The solution would be to, for instance, select the appropriate form of folic acid based on your genetic profile. This would allow your body to carry out its proper functions, such as making new and healthy cells. For example, those of you with children with digestive problems like “leaky gut syndrome,” could begin to make new and healthy intestinal cells. In other words, it’s like putting cement between the cracks in the mortar and mending the broken wall.

Upon closer examination of the specific biochemistry of the methlylation cycle, it contributes to maintaining healthy levels of glutathione for detoxification, production of serotonin for mood stabilization, melatonin for sleep, dopamine for speech, and epinephrine (adrenaline) for focus and concentration. Proper methylation helps to regulate all of these pathways, including the balancing of these brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. They function in your brain and body in ways that define your personality and your physical abilities. Low serotonin has been implicated in depression, anxiety, OCD, digestive dysfunction, and perseverative behavior. Dopamine is essential for attention, focus, executive function, and goal motivated behavior. Higher norepinephrine relative to epinephrine has been correlated to ADD/ADHD. Understanding one’s genetics allows one to use specific nutrients, vitamins and minerals, as well as make select dietary choices that help regulate these neurotransmitters.

The take home point is that the science of epigenetics empowers one to take control of their health and implement dietary choices that are customized to their genetics. In my personal practice, Dr. Noah’s ARC, I routinely test a patient’s genetics by using salivary and blood tests. This enables me to implement a customized treatment plan using diet and nutritional supplements which essentially treat the child from the inside- out. It is a natural treatment which does not involve the use of prescription drugs. My personal view of autism is that it is a multi-factorial condition involving a compromised immune system, infectious organisms, brain chemical imbalances, as well as heavy metal toxicity with an underlying genetic predisposition, all of which contribute to a neurological inflammatory condition. This condition is also provoked by  excessive levels of glutamate, a stimulatory brain chemical that is found in abundance in the typical American diet. This trigger for behavior is also regulated by genetic control, and when out of balance, causes nerve destruction known as exocitotoxin damage.

My personal passion as a biomedical autism practitioner is to identify the unique biological factors affecting each child.  Making the connection between genetic mutations and autism spectrum disorder has completely revolutionized the methods I now utilize when implementing  the customized nutritional programs.  In summary, knowing your child’s genetic profile is absolutely critical, and, with valuable information,  will enable you to accurately implement the proper forms of vitamins,  and give you the knowledge to make ideal dietary choices to maximize your child’s potential.

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