Sunday, September 29, 2013

Alternative Medicine

Parents sometimes comment that life would be easier if their children came with instruction manuals. Since children with autism often exhibit puzzling behaviors, a definitive guide would come in especially handy for dealing with them. Even with the myriad of books I’ve read about autism and how to address behaviors, I’ve discovered the most useful research to be found in the medical field, especially that which focuses upon alternative medicine, such as diet and nutrition. This week, I ran across some interesting medical stories in the media that piqued my curiosity as I considered how new research may help children with autism.

The first report, “Anxiety in Your Head Could Come from Your Gut,” [To read this news account, click here.] caught my eye because both Alex and I deal with panic attacks. While he takes Zoloft to address his anxiety, I use cognitive therapy techniques I learned several years ago in a stress management workshop to help me calm my nerves. Alex has also benefitted from cognitive therapy calming approaches his behavioral therapist has taught him, learning to take control of his anxiety through breathing techniques and distracting himself from the obsessive thoughts that upset him. I found this article especially intriguing because it profiled children with ADHD, anxiety, and/or OCD whose symptoms improved once they were treated for digestive issues using probiotics. As the article notes, “In one 2010 study at McMaster University in Canada, published in the journal Communicative and Integrative Biology, scientists found a link between intestinal microbiota and anxiety-like behavior.” The article goes on to state: “And now, scientists think there may be a link between what's in your gut and what's in your head, suggesting that bacteria may play a role in disorders such as anxiety, schizophrenia and autism.” Since Alex has often struggled with candida, or yeast overgrowth in his digestive system, his doctor has recommended treating him with probiotics, or good bacteria, to fight the overgrowth of harmful bacteria in his system. When he has yeast flares, his behavior declines, making him obsessive, agitated, and even aggressive. However, by treating his gut with antifungals and probiotics, we see significant improvement in his behavior, likely because his digestive system also improves with this intervention. According to this article, the encouraging news for those whose digestive issues impact their behavior negatively is that the National Institute of Mental Health “is encouraging studies to address the mechanisms of gut bacteria and their association with mental health functions.” Perhaps if more children with autism were treated with probiotics, their behavior might improve, as well.

A second article I found quite interesting explained the use of nutritional supplements to treat traumatic brain injuries, such as those found in automobile accidents. [To read this article, click here.] Dr. Leslie Matthews, a trauma surgeon at Grady Memorial Hospital in Georgia, treats patients with the following combination of supplements:  vitamin D and omega three fatty acids, two powerful natural anti-inflammatories to reduce brain swelling, along with the hormone progesterone and the amino acid glutamine to protect damaged nerve cells. Because of the amazing success they have found with this natural intervention, the article notes, “Every brain trauma patient at Grady receives the same supplements.” As Dr. Matthews explains, "So basically you're giving the body what it needs to heal itself. The body, the way God designed the body, is to heal itself if you give it the right nutrients." Not only was I impressed with Dr. Matthews’ use of alternative treatment for life-threatening injuries, but I also loved that he gave God credit for the marvelous design of the human body. Moreover, his approach is similar to that which Alex’s doctor is using to heal his nervous system and to reduce inflammation by having him take high doses of vitamin D, the omega six supplement (because Alex does not respond well to omega three supplements) evening primrose oil, and progesterone cream. While we have not tried the amino acid glutamine, I will be asking Alex’s doctor for his opinion about adding that to his supplement regimen when we see him next week. Like Dr. Matthews, I believe that God designed the body to heal itself with proper nutrition. I’m just thankful for doctors like her and Alex’s doctor who support an alternative and natural approach to healing.

While the first two articles gave me hope that doctors are beginning to have innovative ways to heal conditions associated with the nervous system, such as autism, a third article disappointed me in the medical approach used for a teenager with autism. In “Surgery Reduces Autism-related Screaming,” a reporter detailed the case of a teenager with autism who “screamed louder than a lawn mower more than 1000 times a day.” [To read this article, click here.] To address this problem, doctors performed surgery on his vocal cords to limit his volume. While I can certainly understand how stressful having a child who screams all day could be, like many who commented on this article, I have issues with performing this surgery, which some described as “mutilation.” I have to think that these parents were driven to their breaking point to consider such an extreme solution to the problem, and I wish someone had thought to find out why this poor child was screaming constantly. Was he in pain, and screaming was the only way to communicate his suffering? Perhaps if his doctors had treated him with probiotics, they might have addressed gut issues, or if they had given him vitamin D to decrease inflammation or progesterone to heal his damaged nerves, they may have healed his body so that he didn’t need the surgery on his vocal cords. While I don’t know the cause of his constant screaming, I just feel bad that he may now be suffering in silence and pray that he is not.

Yesterday, on a rare eighty-degree day in late September here in Northwest Indiana, Ed, Alex, and I went to the Indiana Dunes State Park, enjoying the late afternoon sun reflect on Lake Michigan as we sat on a bench in the sand. In that peaceful setting, I thanked God for the healing we have seen in Alex over the past several months that allowed us to enjoy that moment as a family. In that beautiful setting, I watched Alex smile and wondered what he was thinking, but I was filled with joy that he was happy. As I glanced at the sun dipping lower in the sky, I began to hear Alex saying something softly, and I leaned my head closer toward him so that I could hear him better. In a barely audible voice, he was singing, which he rarely does, a Kenny Chesney country song that is one of his favorites: “When the sun goes down, we’ll be groovin’. When the sun goes down, we’ll be feelin’ all right. When the sun sinks down over the water, everything gets hotter when the sun goes down.” It doesn’t get much better than that.

“But for you who fear My name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in His wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.” Malachi 4:2

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