There is a lot to be gained from suppressing inflammation, especially when it affects the brain. I saw some astonishing recoveries in the 1980s and 90s, removing inflammatory foods from the diets of kids with autism. I was one of the leading pioneers, worldwide, in treating autism holistically.
Here’s a completely novel way to suppress brain inflammation is autistics! Deliberate infections with parasitic worms!
Last year a case was published in The Scientist (Feb 2011) of a father’s search for a cure for his autistic son, Lawrence, which led him to the “helminth therapy”, or the deliberate infection of the patient with worms; in this case Trichuris suis, the pig whipworm.
No question the patient, Lawrence Johnson, was in a bad way. By his teenage years, he had veered into the dangerous realm of self abuse. He smashed his head against the wall dozens of times a day. He bit himself until he bled. He gouged at his eyes and tore at his face. A normal school experience was virtually impossible. He couldn’t walk a single block from the family’s Brooklyn brownstone without kicking and screaming when a traffic light changed at the wrong moment or streets were crossed in an unacceptable order.
Over the years, the Johnsons tried several treatments to curb Lawrence’s violent and disruptive outbreaks, including every pharmaceutical that could potentially treat his problems—antiseizure medications, serotonin-reuptake inhibitors, atypical antipsychotics, lithium, and others in various combinations.
At best these heavy medications offered momentary reprieves from what the Johnsons called Lawrence’s “freak outs.” But any improvements in the boy’s behavior were usually short-lived.
By 2005 the Johnson family was at its breaking point. The parents had coped with their almost unmanageable son for over a decade. Something had to be done, or Lawrence would need to be in managed care.
The father trawled PubMed and Medline sites for scientific studies that may help his son’s condition. He wasn’t looking for a “cure” so much as something just to make family life bearable. What he found was data that pointed to a link between some autism symptoms and inflated levels of proinflammatory cytokines, an apparent result of the immune system attacking glial cells in patients’ brains. [D.L. Vargas et al., “Neuroglial activation and neuroinflammation in the brain of patients with autism,” Annal Neurol, 57:67-81, 2005]
Finally, Stewart Johnson stumbled across the work of an Iowa research group on helminth therapy and how it reduced inflammation, especially the auto-immune type, where the immune cells inappropriately attacked cells of the patient’s own body. It was reasonable to hope this might calm his son’s outrageous behavior.
Stewart enlisted the help of Lawrence’s doctor, Eric Hollander, then the head of Mount Sinai Medical Center’s Seaver Autism Center in New York City. Hollander was impressed with Stewart’s research and agreed to help him obtain sterile, treatment-grade T. suis eggs that were being grown and tested in Europe by the German company OvaMed.
There was great difficulty in convincing the authorities of the safety aspect. But finally, common sense won. T. suis has evolved to infect the guts of pigs, and could only colonize humans in a very limited fashion. Like most internal parasites, T. suis cannot complete its entire life cycle in only one host, and in the environment the ova require a 3- to 6-week incubation in moist soil to mature, making inadvertent spread of the parasites to the rest of the family unlikely.
They had Lawrence drink a solution containing 1,000 of the roundworm eggs every two weeks for 5 months beginning in early 2006. But the results were very disappointing. Lawrence’s aggressive and agitated behaviors abated for just four days during the entire 20-week treatment period.
But OvaMed’s president Detlev Goj suggested the dose was too small and recommended Lawrence receive 2,500 eggs every two weeks for a period and see what happened.
This time, the results were astounding. Within 10 weeks of the higher-dose treatment, the autistic boy stopped smashing his head against walls. He stopped gouging at his eyes. The paralysis and frustration that held him and his family prisoners in their own home lifted. The freak outs ceased.
There was no gradual improvement; all the distressing behaviors just disappeared abruptly.
To learn more about good and bad in parasites, read my own report: The Parasites Handbook