Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Study : Omega 3 and Sensory Overload

According to research published this month by the American Psychological Association, Omega 3 fatty acids may help people avoid sensory overload.

In the researchers are correct, Omega 3 could help with sensorimotor gating, which is a "behavioural trait in humans and animals that reflects the ability to filter out extraneous stimuli and to process information that comes in rapid succession."

Or to put it another way, this is the process that your brain uses to filter out extra sensory input so that you can you process information quickly and don't become overwhelmed by too much sensory input at once.

The title of this study is "Deficit in prepulse inhibition in mice caused by dietary n-3 fatty acid deficiency", which, if you ask me, is a mouthful.  The study is not open access, but there is a good write up of it over at Science Direct.

The details of this study are somewhat over my head, but in general terms the researchers divided a group of  pregnant mice into several groups and fed them different diets.  Some of the diets were deficient in omega 3 fatty acids while others had a diet enriched with types of omega 3.  The mice's offspring were kept on the same diet after they were weaned and they their auditory sensorimotor gating was measured.  The results showed that the mice who had a a diet with added omega 3 fatty accids did substantially better in sensorimotor gating than those who were on a diet low or deficient in Omega 3.

I am glossing over a lot of the details, but the general idea is that having enough Omega 3 in your diet might  help a person process sensory information better.

So, what does this have to do with autism?  If you have been around people with autism or have spent some time reading about it, you should be aware that autism and sensory issues seem to go together.  There is also evidence that children and adults with autism have problems with sensorimotor gating.

Prior research has shown that omega 3 fatty acids are beneficial and may help with irritability and speech problems and now the current study suggests that omega 3 could help with sensory issues.

I think that bottom line is that it would be a good idea to make sure that children with autism get enough omega 3 in their diet.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Maybe the CDC finally is getting the point?

The CDC is updating the information on its site about autism and it looks like that are (finally) getting serious about looking for non-genetic causes of autism.  From the updated information on their site (added emphasis is mine)  -
Understanding Risk Factors and Causes
We do not know all of the causes of ASDs. However, we have learned that there are likely many causes for multiple types of ASDs. There may be many different factors that make a child more likely to have an ASD, including environmental, biologic and genetic factors.
What Research Tells Us
  • Most scientists agree that genes are one of the risk factors that can make a person more likely to develop an ASD. Studies have shown that: 
    • Among identical twins, if one child has an ASD, then the other will be affected about 60-96% of the time.
    • In non-identical twins, if one child has an ASD, then the other is affected about 0-24% of the time.
    • Parents who have a child with an ASD have a 2%–8% chance of having a second child who is also affected. 
  • ASDs tend to occur more often in people who have certain other medical conditions. About 10% of children with an ASD have an identifiable genetic, neurologic, or metabolic disorder, such as: 
    • Fragile X syndrome
    • Tuberous sclerosis
    • Down syndrome
    • Other chromosomal disorders 
  • Some harmful drugs taken during pregnancy also have been linked with a higher risk of ASDs, for example, the prescription drugs thalidomide and valproic acid. 
  • We know that the once common belief that poor parenting practices cause ASDs is not true. 
  • There is some evidence that the critical period for developing ASDs occurs before birth. However, concerns about vaccines and infections have led researchers to consider risk factors before and after birth.
So there you have it - the CDC has quietly shifted its position and seems ready to look into the biological and environmental side of autism.

Its about damn time.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays

Wishing you and your family and safe and happy holiday season.
(and may autism not wreak havoc on your x-mas plans)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Autism Rising : Its Groundhog Day

I read the latest CDC report on autism prevalence for 2006 and 2004 and I am beginning to feel that I am trapped in that movie Groundhog Day.  You know the one, where Bill Murray is doomed to repeat the same day over and over and over again until he gets it right.  This report from the CDC is like that - these same lines have been repeated over and over again for over a decade.
In 2006, on average, approximately 1% or one child in every 110 in the 11 ADDM sites was classified as having an ASD (approximate range: 1:80--1:240 children [males: 1:70; females: 1:315]). The average prevalence of ASDs identified among children aged 8 years increased 57% in 10 sites from the 2002 to the 2006 ADDM surveillance year. Although improved ascertainment accounts for some of the prevalence increases documented in the ADDM sites, a true increase in the risk for children to develop ASD symptoms cannot be ruled out.
Looks strangely like the lines that we have been hearing for years now.  Yes, autism is once again more common than thought, but no, we don't know why that is.  We think it is because we are getting better at finding it but we cannot rule out a true increase.

I love that phrase - "cannot rule out".  That phrasing makes you believe that there is strong evidence that shows that autism is not rising but, to be overly cautious, they will still admit that it might be possible that it is more common than it used to be.

Like the movie Groundhog Day, I think we will be seeing these lines again when we hear about the next revision in two years.  I am going to go out on a limb here, but I expect the number that we will hear next is 1 in 80.

But enough of me rambling on about this, I think I have made my opinion clear before.  Instead, I am going to use some pretty pictures to demonstrate my point.  The numbers on the following charts are from the CDC's data for 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006 and the National Survey of Children's Health (NSCH).

First up is the prevalence of autism in 8 year olds from the CDC and NSCH from 2000 to 2007.  The last point is from the 8 year olds from the 2007 NSCH survey and is likely a little high.

The next chart is the approximate year over year change in the autism prevalence from the above chart.  If you look at the average percent change, you will see that the number of 8 year olds with autism is growing about 10% per year.

The next series of charts are from the CDC's data for 2000,2002, 2004, and 2006.  For each of the states that had data for at least 2 years I charted the prevalence per 10,000.

Anyone see a pattern?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The CDC has an important decision to make

The CDC is widely expected to release its long overdue results from its Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network tomorrow that will tell us, once again, that autism is far more common that was thought just 2 years ago.  If my understanding is correct, tomorrow we will know how common autism is in children that were 8 years old in 2004.  Or to put it another way, we will finally have the answer to how many children born 13 years ago (in 1996) had a diagnosis five years ago.  I don't know about you, but I am more interested in how many children being born today will go onto have a diagnosis, but I expect that we will have to wait until 2022 to get that answer.

With the release of this new data point, the CDC is likely to be moving the official autism number 50% higher - from 1 in 150 to 1 in 100.  That means that the prevalence of autism would have jumped 50% between children born in 1994 and 1996.

As a result of this announcement, the CDC is going to have to make an important decision.

You might be tempted to think that this decision would revolve around how to tackle this ever growing problem.  But then you would be wrong, we already know that the increase in the autism number is due to the fact that we are all now (or were in 2004) far more aware of autism, doctors are better at spotting it, and the parent's are jumping at the chance to have their children labeled as autistic to tap into all of those great services available.

Then what is the important decision?  Simple, take a look at the following chart from CDC's autism page

Now ask yourself, do you think that the CDC is going to add another smiling child to the chart to reflect our new awareness of autism?  I think that would be the least they could do to acknowledge all of the hard work that the medical community has done to make us all so aware of autism.

I guess we will find out shortly.

Edited to add -

The CDC did indeed release new data today for 2004 and 2006.  The new "official" number is 1 in 110 which marks the four straight upwards revision in the autism rate.  In a related note, the CDC did make a decision concerning the children in the chart - they were removed altogether.

I guess this upwards revision is nothing to smile about.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Autism Advocates Wanted

Autism self-advocates who normally spend their days attacking parents for helping their children who suffer from autism.

Job Description
As an autism advocate, you will have the opportunity to lead the fight against the prejudices that stop people with autism from reaching their full potential.  You will have a challenging time dealing with attitudes like this "question" posted at experience project -
What is less fake, autism or ADHD?
First world 'illnesses' for a lazy, good for nothing generation.
The world is full of people who believe that autism is nothing more than laziness or bad parenting.  The person who posted this question, thelone82, is apparently a teacher of some sort who would presumably have a hand is shaping the attitudes of future generations.

As a autism advocate, it is your responsibility to help educate people like this that autism is a real disorder - one that can make life challenging for all of those who are affected.  Whether you believe that autism is a disorder or  just a difference, it is important to help people understand the challenges faced by people with autism.

You will make the world a better place for all people who suffer from autism.

To Apply
Click on the link and go to the experience project to submit your own answer to this absurd question.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Denialism or Realism?

Vaccines are one of the greatest medical accomplishment of past century and are perfectly safe .... or they are responsible for causing an epidemic of autism.  Most people stand on one side or the other in this debate with very few in the middle.

The reality of the situation is not so cut and dry.  Vaccines are a life saving invention that are mostly safe and, at the same time, can (and do) cause side effects.  The side effects run the gamut from the benign injection site swelling to the more serious conditions like Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome right up to (in rare circumstances) very serious ones like death.

This situation is not anything out of the ordinary - almost everything in life involves some sort of trade off between risks and rewards.   I would have to say that most people are willing to accept risks when they understand what they are.  Take for example the fact that millions choose to get behind the wheel of the car every single day even though tens of thousands die each year in fatal car crashes.  People know they there is a chance of serious injury or death, but they are willing to accept the risks.   I believe the part of the reason for this is that the risks are openly acknowledged - when you get behind the wheel of a car you know what to expect.

The problem with vaccines is that an honest dialog about risks and rewards is all but impossible.  The current party line by the medical community and the media is that vaccines are perfectly safe and effective but any rational person knows that statement is not completely true.  I don't know about you, but I get very tired of people saying things that they know are not the true.  Yes, vaccines are (mostly) safe but, at the same time, they have to be honest about the reality of the situation and not deny the risks.

As a case in point, look at author Michael Specter.  Mr Specter wrote a book called Denialism that is about "How irrational thinking hinders scientific progress, harms the planet, and threatens our lifes". I would agree with the basic premise here - too often people are irrational about important subjects and don't take the time to understand what it is that they are talking about.  Mr. Specter proved this himself on a recent appearance on The Daily Show where he made the following statement (at about 1:00 in the video) -
There is flu virus going around that half of americans adults say they won't vaccinate themselves or their children against.  62 million people have received this vaccination and zero people have been shown to have been killed or seriously injured.  So zero - 62 milllion, thousands dead without the vaccination, it doesn't seem like a difficult calculation to do.
This is a perfect example of skewing reality for the sake of proving a point.  Mr Specter is correct - this isn't a difficult calculation.  What I have a hard time understanding is why he exaggerated his numbers and denied the risks involved with the H1N1 shot.

Lets start with the assertion that 62 million people have been vaccinated against H1N1.  A quick check at the CDC shows that number is wrong -
During October 5--November 20, a total of 46.2 million doses of H1N1 vaccines (11.3 million LAMV and 34.9 million MIV doses) and 98.9 million doses of seasonal influenza vaccines were distributed to U.S states and territories
The 46.2 million is the number of doses - not the number of people who received the vaccine.  Keep in mind that for some groups (children), the recommendations call for 2 doses of the vaccine.  And I would assume that there are still some vaccine doses that have not been administered yet.

As a result, I would guess that a more realistic number of vaccinated people would be 40 million.  But for the sake of argument, lets assume for a moment that a full sixty two million people have been vaccinated against H1N1. Would that have mean that thousands of lives were saved?

To answer this question, we first have to know how common the flu is and then what the mortality rate is.  According to estimates from CDC, around 7 percent of the population is expected to catch the flu and approximately 18 out of every 100,000 was expected to die from the flu or complications from the flu.

The next question to ask is how effective the flu vaccine is at protecting against the flu.  There are no real figures available for the H1N1 vaccine but the regular flu vaccine is though to be 70 to 80 percent effective (when it matches the circulating strain of the flu).  For the sake of argument, lets assume that 75 percent of the people would have been protected.

Putting all of these numbers together - out of the 62 million, about 4.5 million people would be expected to catch the flu.  Out of that group about 800 people would have been expected to die.  Now assuming that the vaccine would have prevented 75 percent of these cases, we are left with about six hundred lives saved.

While it would be a good thing to save six hundred lives, six hundred is much less than the "thousands" claimed by Mr. Specter.  And when you adjust the sixty two down to the more likely 40, what you would find is the number saved would be under 400.

To put these numbers in perspective, the CDC puts the (confirmed) death toll for all types of flu this season (Aug 30 - Nov 28th) stands at 1,336.  If you use the same estimates figures from above, you would find that the confirmed death toll would likely be 250 higher if people were not vaccinated.

As for the second claim, the one that zero people have been shown to have had a serious reaction to the vaccine, another trip to the CDC puts that claim to rest -
Through November 24, VAERS received 3,783 reports of adverse events after receipt of H1N1 vaccine, of which 204 were categorized as serious, and 4,672 reports after receipt of seasonal influenza vaccines, of which 283 were serious. [Snip]
VAERS received 13 reports of deaths occurring after receipt of H1N1 vaccine; three deaths occurred after receipt of LAMV and 10 after receipt of MIV (Table 2). In nine of these deaths, significant underlying illness (including illness that might be indication for vaccination) was present; one death resulted from a motor vehicle crash, and the remaining three deaths await review of final autopsy results or death certificates by CDC.
These numbers are very rough and just because something was reported to VAERS doesn't mean it was an adverse reaction to the vaccine.  But, I think it is reasonable to assume that a good number of these adverse effects were actually related to the vaccine and that puts the figure well above zero.

If Mr. Specter had limited his claims to the facts, his point would be better received. Perhaps he could have said hundreds of lives were saved and mostly mild side effects have been seen.  But whatever the reason, he did not stick to the facts - he exaggerated the rewards and denied the risks.

This approach is all too common when talking about vaccines and therein lies the reason that the autism-vaccine wars aren't going to end anytime soon.