Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Melatonin Effective for Sleep Problems in Autistic Children

A new study printed in the April edition of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that melatonin at 3mg was effective at resolving sleep issues in some autism-spectrum children. This may not be new information for some of you, but it does help to confirm what many of us in the biomedical field have known for years about melatonin - that it can be a safe and effective sleep remedy - Dr. Woeller

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) Apr 20 - Three milligrams of melatonin at bedtime can effectively treat sleep problems in children with autistic spectrum disorder or fragile X syndrome or both, according to a study reported in the April 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

"Melatonin can be considered a safe and effective pharmacologic treatment in addition to behavior therapies and sleep hygiene practices for the management of sleep problems in children with autistic spectrum disorder and fragile X syndrome," the study team concludes.

Sleep problems are reported in up to 89% of children with autism and 77% of children with fragile X syndrome, Dr. Beth L. Goodlin-Jones, of the Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders (M.I.N.D.) Institute at the University of California Davis Health System in Sacramento, and colleagues note in their report.

In a 4-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study, 18 children, ranging in age from 2 to 15 years, with autistic spectrum disorder and/or fragile X syndrome took either melatonin (3 mg) or placebo nightly for 2 weeks and then crossed over to the alternate treatment for 2 weeks.

Data on 12 children who completed the study showed that treatment with melatonin was associated with significant improvements in total night sleep durations, sleep latency times, and sleep-onset times. Specifically, Dr. Goodlin-Jones and colleagues report, "Mean night sleep duration was longer on melatonin than placebo by 21 minutes (p = 0.02), sleep-onset latency was shorter by 28 minutes (p = 0.0001), and sleep-onset time was earlier by 42 minutes (p = 0.02)."

"Sleep onset problems at the beginning of the night are very troublesome for children and their families," Dr. Goodlin-Jones noted in a prepared statement accompanying the study. "Sometimes children may take one to two hours to fall asleep and often they disrupt the household during this time."

"The results of this study," she and her colleagues conclude, "suggest that melatonin is an effective treatment for sleep problems in children with autistic spectrum disorder and fragile X syndrome, a finding that is consistent with previous studies of children with autistic spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities."

Monday, April 27, 2009

Agave Nectar Not a Healthy Alternative Sweetener for Children on the Autism Spectrum

Many parents of autism-spectrum children have worked hard to eliminate excess sugar from their child's diet to help reduce poor immune function, yeast overgrowth, and generally to improve overall health. Adults looking for improved health have also turned to the reduction of sugar to lessen their risk for diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. One product that has caught the attention of the health advocate community is Agave nectar which is commonly used as a sugar and honey substitute in teas, health drinks, coffee or cooking items that require sweetening. Agave nectar is now being sold in many health food or specialty markets as a superior sweetening agent often advertised as "natural" or "organic" to appeal to the health conscious individual. The problem is Agave nectar is anything but healthy, and recent evidence suggests that it is a toxic substance on par with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

HFCS has been used for years as a sweetener in many processed food. HFCS is created by chemically altering corn syrup to increase its sweetness. The problem is HFCS is devoid of minerals and other nutrients often found in natural sugars such as fruit, and is a contributor to high triglycerides which predispose to heart disease. For children on the autism-spectrum the consumption of HFCS and Agave nectar the concern is certainly abnormal fat production, but also the increase in inflammation in the body which can weaken their immune system and adversely affect neurological function. In a recent article from food and nutrition researcher Rami Nagel you will learn about the dangers of HFCS and the hoax of Agave nectar as a healthy alternative sweetener. I would recommend avoiding the use of Agave nectar as a sweetener for your autism-spectrum child. It is definitely not a health product. See this link for the article on Agave Nectar.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Autism - Behavior Problems, Allergies, and the Onset of Spring

I have noticed a trend over the past month - right around the beginning of March - that many parents were calling my office (and still are) commenting that they were (are) seeing increased negative behaviors in their children on the autism-spectrum. These include hyperactivity, irritability, lack of focus and eye contact, emotional lability, tantrums, aggression, and even self-injury. I have even had many parents post me through my online website at that they are seeing this same type of change with their child(ren). Many of these kids live in various places throughout the United States - from Southern California (where I live and practice) to Idaho, the midwest, and down south in Florida and the Gulf Coast. All over the country the pattern has been the same.

I have noticed a trend over the years that when spring season comes so do pollens, and other other airborne allergens. We can all be susceptible to these spring time allerges with sneezing, itching eyes, and sore throat. These allergies lead to histamine release and the corresponding inflammation causes the aforementioned symptoms. One issue with seasonal allergies in children on the autism-spectrum is the onset of inflammation in the body that can trigger unwanted chemical changes neurologically. Also, with an increase in inflammation from allergies digestive yeast and bacteria can become exacerbated leading to adverse behaviors as well.

Yeast (aka. Candida) is commonly a trigger for inappropriate laughter (goofiness, giddiness and silliness), loss of eye contact, inattentiveness, and increase stemming behavior. Bacteria - commonly clostridia species - which is commonly found in the digestive tracts of autistic individuals can trigger aggression, irritability, and self-injury behavior. In some circumstances both bacteria and candida can become problematic making matters worse.

If you are seeing a pattern with your child as described above one thing you can implement is an over-the-counter allergy medication such as Claritin or Zyrtec. Be sure to check with your primary care physician about any interaction with other medication your child may be taking.

Great Plains laboratory carries an Organic Acid Test (urine) - that evaluates for yeast and clostridia bacteria toxins. If present these can be treated with various antifungal or antibiotic remedies.

Sometimes simple changes in weather patterns and/or seasons can bring about chemical changes in susceptible children on the autism-spectrum with negative behaviors as a consequence. With this understanding and the use of biomedical intervention for autism much can be implemented to help remedy the situation and improve the quality of health for your child, both physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Behavior Issues, Autism and the Digestive System

Many children on the autism-spectrum suffer with digestive problems. Pain from gas bloating, loose stools, constipation, inflammatory bowel disease have been well documented in this patient population. This is a very important subject, and critical for people to understand. The bowel problem with children on the autism-spectrum is a HUGE concern, and can lead to constant pain which can translate to behavior, sleeping, cognitive, and academic problems. Is it really a mystery that a child who is sick and doesn't feel well physically is not in a receptive mood or even capacity to learn? Of course not - we all recognize this to be true.

Also, if you think of yourself when you do not feel well - whether it is from not enough sleep, too much alcohol, nausea, fever, head cold, etc. you do not feel like conversing, and most people want to be left alone. So is the case with children on the autism-spectrum which is compounded by their inability to communicate effectively. They often act out in frustration because they are in pain. This article by Dr. Krigsman is a good reminder of this issue. Dr. Krigsman is a specialist in evaluating the intestinal systems of children on the autism-spectrum. Through specialized analysis we can obtain important information about the integrity of a child's digestive system and implement appropriate biomedical therapy such as dietary changes, medications, and more based on these findings. The biomedical assessment for individuals on the autism-spectrum is critical for long-term health.