In Optimum Nutrition for the Mind, Patrick Holford discusses “Answers for Autism” (pp 238-249). Holford Watch have already looked at Patrick’s views on autism in a number of posts – categorised here – but, having read Holford’s book I feel as though I should make some use of the time I spent.
Holford begins by claiming that the incidence of autism more than tripled between 1987 and 1999 [Ref: US Dept. Developmental Services], then states that there has been a dramatic increase in late-onset autism over the past ten years and that, according to the National Autistic Society, the incidence may be higher than 1 in 100 children. Holford follows this information on the incidence of autism with an assertion that: “This strongly suggests that something new is triggering this epidemic. Possible culprits include diet, vaccinations and gut problems, which are also very much on the increase in children.” [No references are given to support these assertions.] An alternative explanation could be that changes in diagnosis have led to an increase in the recorded incidence of autism. Science Based Medicine discuss a paper by Dorothy Bishop on this topic here. Abstract. There was also a post on Left Brain/Right Brain, here, that reported on a presentation at a conference on evidence of autism in a psychiatrically hospitalized sample.
Note also the list of potential culprits for the supposed epidemic. Media nutritionists (and others) have variously referred to the possibilities that mercury could be a cause of autism (often citing the mercury in thiomersal, the preservative used in some vaccines) and that the MMR vaccine could be to blame (despite the fact that the MMR vaccine never contained thiomersal).
Holford himself later states that autistic children may have “an inability to rid the body of toxic metals such as copper, mercury, cadmium and so on. The [sic] could happen either because the child has a genetic defect […] or [be] due to early over-exposure to toxic metals, possibly coupled with zinc deficiency” and that “in any event, the child ends up overloaded with toxic metals which are well known to induce many of the symptoms of autism.” [The only supporting reference is to a study that found a “high blood copper/zinc ratio” in autistic children. Cited as “W Walsh et al., Metallothionein and Autism, Pfeiffer Treatment Centre, Napersville, Illinois (2001). See hriptc.org”. This looks like the abstract of the paper PH is citing.]
In the MMR section of this chapter of ONM, Holford states that no-one knows the full consequences of “giving a child three immune attacks – measles, mumps and rubella – all at the same time”, that the illnesses aren’t caught at the same time “in nature” and that (perhaps) for children with nutrient deficiencies and weak immune systems (and lacking fatty acids, and susceptible to food allergies, infections and/or gut problems) MMR is “the last straw”. That sounds like the theory of immune overload to me. There’s a paper on that here: Pubmed; and WHO has a webpage on immune overload here. [*]
Holford then goes on to raise the spectre of mercury in thiomersal. Why he does this in a section titled “The MMR Vaccine Debate” is beyond me – MMR has never contained thiomersal. More on MMR not containing mercury can be found on blogs such as the excellent Breath Spa for Kids. This post includes links to FDA and NHS sites that show statements relating to the absence of thiomersal in MMR (handily, the FDA link has a table you can check to see which vaccines do contain, did-but-no-longer contain, and never have contained thiomersal/thimerosal).
[*Holford’s reference to support his statements in the above paragraph is to “Andrew Wakefield speaking at the Allergy Research Foundation conference, 1999” and Holford had earlier cited a study that he claimed was “the first hint of a problem” (with a caveat, surprisingly, that it “may be too early to jump to conclusions”). This important study? Wakefield et al’s Lancet paper. Listed in this PDF that presents a rough overview of the evidence on MMR and autism: look out for the big ‘retracted’ stamp.]