Following the Web from “organic foods” to “hyperbilirubinemia”

What does it tell you about eating “conventionally grown” foods if your own health insurance plan includes in its newsletter a short article about eating “organic”?

Harvard Pilgrim’s Winter 2009 mini-magazine includes a brief feature titled “Eating Organic on a Budget.” (see page 11)

Now, if you read the “fine” print (the paragraph titled “A Guided Tour of the Supermarket”), this feature seems to be just somewhat of an ad for one of the Harvard Pilgrim programs called “Supermarket Shopping” which

includes an aisle-by-aisle supermarket tour, led by a registered dietitian, that teaches you how to make informed decisions about the food you buy for yourself and your family.

Too bad they do it only on Cape Cod! I’m quite a long way from the Cape.

But the article also includes “Tips to avoid pesticides” and provides a link to a pdf of the “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce” released by the Environmental Working Group. I especially like the page titled “Reducing Exposure is Smart” on the EWG site, which has a section “Tiny Doses Can Be Toxic to Children” and a list of references at the end.

I took a peek at Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children and what really got me interested was a quote that’s actually not related to pesticides or organic food at all.

Chapter 2, “Special Characteristics of Children” says

Because of the dependence of behavioral development on physical and functional development, toxic effects occurring before maturation may permanently alter behavioral development. The most commonly encountered and well-known toxicants that can permanently change all four of the components of behavioral development are bilirubin toxicity in the newborn and lead toxicity in the infant or young child. All four aspects of behavioral development are important in studies of developmental toxicology, but much more attention has been given to the first two because they are easier to measure.

The four aspects of behavioral development that they’re writing about are:

(a) gross motor and fine motor activities; (b) cognitive ability; (c) emotional development; and (d) social development.

And apparently:

Alteration in one of these domains can affect the development of each of the other three.

Interestingly, both of my children had neonatal hyperbilirubinemia, which was caused by our blood type incompatibility.

My son’s hyperbilirubinemia was severe enough that he had to get phototherapy. (if I remember right, when he was two days old his levels were at 17 or 18 mg per dL).

My daughter also had hyperbilirubinemia but didn’t receive phototherapy because supposedly her levels were never high enough to warrant that. I do not remember what they were and I do not have these records at home, and now I wonder, because her jaundice hung around for much longer. In fact, she is quite yellow in the pictures from the first days of her life.

Now, I knew that one of the effects of hyperbilirubinemia might be “mild mental retardation.” But if I understand the paragraph I cited correctly, hyperbilirubinemia might also influence the other aspects of “behavioral development” such as gross motor and fine motor activities; emotional development; and social development.

I wonder if anyone has done studies what percentage of people with autism and ADHD had neonatal hyperbilirubinemia as compared to “control group.”

Another thing to add to my “things to research” list…

Connection between levels of fetal testosterone and autistic traits

I wanted to title this post “Would you want to know if your child might be autistic?” but after reading in the Guardian Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen’s response article titled “Our research was not about prenatal screening for autism,” I have decided to give my post a different, more neutral title, and closer to the title of the original research article.

I am talking here about a discussion in the Guardian spurred by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen’s research published in the February 2009 issue of the British Journal of Psychology, titled “Fetal testosterone and autistic traits.”

On January 12, 2009, the Guardian published a front-page article “New research brings autism screening closer to reality,”by Sarah Boseley (health editor), which was accompanied by a double-page spread inside the paper titled “Disorder linked to high levels of testosterone in womb”  (also by Sarah Boseley).

The articles resulted in several comments. The same day, January 12, 2009, Michael Fitzpatrick published “Toxic treatments for autistic children” with a sub-headline “Worrying about antenatal testing is premature — there are dangerous procedures being performed on children now.”

Then on January 14, Anya Ustaszewski published “I don’t want to be ‘cured’ of autism, thanks” and Marcel Berlins published “Newton and Einstein may have been autistic. But is their genius an argument against a screening test?“(which generated 113 comments by the time the comments were closed).

Finally, on January 20, 2009, the Guardian published a response from Simon Baron-Cohen I mentioned above — “Our research was not about prenatal screening for autism,” with a sub-headline “We merely aimed to understand what causes differences in autistic traits” in which he slams the January 12, 2009 articles’ headlines and captions as “inaccurate.”

Baron-Cohen explains

The new research was not about autism screening; the new research has not discovered that a high level of testosterone in prenatal tests is an indicator of autism; autism spectrum disorder has not been linked to high levels of testosterone in the womb; and tests (of autism) in the womb do not allow termination of pregnancies.
The Guardian was reporting on our new study in the British Journal of Psychology that found a correlation between levels of foetal testosterone (FT) and the number of autistic traits a child shows at the age of eight. The study was not about prenatal screening for autism, and indeed did not even test children with autism.

Interestingly, before Sarah Boseley’s articles appeared in the Guardian, on January 7, 2009 the paper published “A prenatal test for autism would deprive the world of future geniuses,” by James Randerson, referring to Simon Baron-Cohen’s article on the BBC web site”Autism test ‘could hit maths skills’” in which he says

Research is not yet at the stage where autism can be detected prenatally using a biological test [...] But assuming such a test is developed, we would be wise to think ahead as to how such a test would be used.

I must say that while I find Baron-Cohen’s research fascinating, and liked his Guardian article and like the tone of this article overall as well, I have a huge problem with a statement

If reducing the testosterone in a foetus helped that baby’s future social development, we would all be delighted.

Frankly, I for one would not be delighted if people started meddling with babies’ “future social development” by manipulating fetal testosterone levels or in any other way. I don’t think we should be getting into the business of controlling future generations’ personalities. Do you think we should?

(Added January 28, 2009 — I found a blog,, (which seems to have closed since then) with an entry on the same subject — “Testosterone Levels Linked to Autistic Traits,” which provides a link to the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University, which in turn provides a link to the original, 22-page, article “Fetal testosterone and autistic traits” published in the British Journal of Psychology.)

Biomedical Treatments for Autism

Saturday, November 1, and Sunday, November 2, 2008 there will be a conference in Weston, Massachusetts titled “Successful Inclusion in School & Community” organized by Autism Conferences of America.

It looks interesting and I would like to see “Learning Social Skills Through Play: Life’s Most Important Skill Made Fun!” by Rick Clemens, MA, and would love to see “Biomedical Treatments for Autism from A to Zinc” by Nancy O’Hara, MD. Unfortunately $95 to listen to two lecture is a bit steep for me, so I’ll have to pass.

However, the conference web site also includes a pdf of an article titled “Summary of Biomedical Treatments for Autism” written by James B. Adams, Ph.D., which sounds very interesting. James B. Adams is Full Professor in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering at Arizona State University, and Director of the Autism/Asperger’s Research Program.

The Autism/Asperger’s Research Program site includes a pdf of another publication – “Pilot Study of a Moderate Dose Multivitamin/Mineral Supplement for Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder,” by James B. Adams, Ph.D. and Charles Holloway, B.S. published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2004.

By the way, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine is the official journal of the International Society for Complementary Medicine Research and the Society for Acupuncture Research. It is a peer-reviewed journal, it has an editorial board, and the publisher’s web page on Manuscript Submission says “A primary goal of this international peer-reviewed journal is the establishment of rigorous and appropriate research methodologies.” The Editor-in-Chief is Kim A. Jobst, MA, DM, MRCP, MFHom, DipAc, and a Visiting Professor in Healthcare & Integrated Medicine at Oxford Brookes University. 

Now, the developmental pediatrician that tracks my son says the studies so far do not prove whether it’s the nutritional deficiencies that cause autism or it’s the autism that causes nutritional deficiencies. But she did give us a referral to see a nutritionist.

In the meantime, I wonder whether I should ditch the regular vitamins for two months and try to enroll our son in the National Vitamin/Mineral Study for Children & Adults with Autism at the ASU’s Autism/Asperger’s Research Program to see what happens. Of course, there’s the risk that he’d be on the placebo and we personally would not benefit from this study.

Report on Medications and Choices

PAL, the Parent/Professional Advocacy League, and Institute for Community Health (both based in Massachusetts), have just published Medications and Choices: The Perspective of Families and Youth: What Parents and Children Tell Us about Psychiatric Medications which they call “a ground breaking, family-driven study of the decision making process families go through when they choose to use psychotropic medication to treat their child’s mental health needs.”

PAL, the Parent/Professional Advocacy League, is “an organization of parents and professionals who advocate on behalf of children with mental, emotional or behavioral special needs and their families in order to effect family empowerment and system change” founded in 1980s.

Institute for Community Health, is a collaboration of the Cambridge Health Alliance, Mt. Auburn Hospital CareGroup, and Partners Healthcare, founded in 2000 “to improve the health of Cambridge; Somerville, and surrounding cities and towns.”

The 40-pages-long report presents data from a 2006 survey of 274 parents of children who have been taking psychiatric medications and more than 80 teens.

The foreword to the report was written by Joseph Gold, MD, Chief Medical Officer at McLean Hospital, Director of the Community Child Psychiatry Services at Partners Health Care, and Medical Co-Director of the Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Project (MCPAP). (for unexplained reasons in the report the foreword is called “Forward,” I don’t know who and how many people proofread the report before publishing it, but someone sure goofed)

What I found especially interesting is that “Parents reported that their health insurance was more likely to cover medication than therapy for their child.” 76% of the families said that “their insurance covered all of the medication visits their child needed” but only 53% said that “their insurance also covered all of the psychotherapy visits their child needed.” It seems health insurance companies think that once you take a pill, that’s it, the problem is fixed.

I also really liked the part covering the teens’ responses to the survey and what they say about being on medication.

DaVinci Method and LENS – Part Two of the Unwrapping the Gift of ADD series

The guests of the second session (Tuesday, April 22, 2008) in the Unwrapping the Gift of ADD Series were Garret LoPorto and Rebecca Shafir.

Garret LoPorto, a successful entrepreneur with ADHD, is the author of The Da Vinci Method – Break Out & Express Your Fire, published in 2005, by (I believe) his own company, Media for Your Mind, Inc.

LoPorto shared that despite great social life in school he had a low self-esteem as a student and dropped out of college. When he started his own business, he realized the traits of ADHD which caused trouble for him in college were helping him be successful in his business.

He says on his web site that “virtually all self-made millionaires, billionaires, leaders and captains of industry have the same personality type” – they “like thrill, excitement and risk, are a highly creative problem solvers, impulsive in nature, ambitious and industrious, have tons of energy for things they are interested in, and love to be the hero in an emergency.”

Apparently on the Myers Briggs Personality Tests people like that are categorized as N (Intuition) types who intuitively “pay more attention to the patterns and possibilities that they see in the information they receive”) and P (Perceiving) types who “use their perceiving function […] in their outer life” and prefer “a more flexible and adaptable lifestyle”).

LoPorto calls this combination the Da Vinci personality and as examples lists among others: Richard Branson (owner of the Virgin Empire), Bill Clinton, Ben Cohen (co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s), George Lucas (Creator of Star Wars), and others.

LoPorto’s book, The Da Vinci Method – Break Out & Express Your Fire, gives tips on how to master this “fiery” personality. Now he has a new product – a “Psychoactive Soundâ„¢ CD Audio Set” that “brings together technologies from brain research with innovative recording and sound-processing techniques” and is “designed to trigger your brain to produce brainwave patterns that match exactly the state you want to experience.” The set includes CDs for “Alert Focus, Inspired Tranquility, Deep Meditation & Prayer, ‘Better than Coffee,’ and Deep HGH Recovery.”

Rebecca Shafir is the director of the Low Energy Neurofeedback System (LENS) program at the Hallowell Center. The LENS program is “a safe and non-invasive procedure that monitors and analyzes EEG (brain activity) using brain wave monitors on the scalp. The LENS system uses that information as feedback for sending signals back to the brain to normalize brain activity for those whose brain waves are disrupted. Conditions that improve with LENS feedback training include bipolar, depression, anxiety, OCD, fibromyalgia and Asperger’s. […] The LENS method accomplishes improved functioning in about one third the time compared with traditional neurofeedback approaches, with the same durability of treatment effects.”

During the show Rebecca said that while the traditional neurofeedback methods requires on average 40 to 60 or more visits, with the LENS method the patients see improvement with an average of 15 sessions.

Dr. Hallowell pointed out that while both methods anecdotally have great results, it can’t be said that they are “scientifically proven” yet, because there have not yet been any double-blind studies done to prove their effectiveness.

The difference between both methods is that you can listen to the “Da Vinci Brainwaves” when and where you feel like it – you choose the CD and the time; but you have to monitor your reaction yourself – LoPorto cautioned to listen to only one rotation at a time.

With the LENS method you have to make an appointment and travel to the clinic, making it more inconvenient than the Da Vinci Brainwaves, but a trained technician monitors your brainwaves and can adjust the “feedback” as not to overdo the amount of stimulation.