Autism, Depression and Alzheimer’s: Is There a Connection

by Laurette Janak

Do you have a child with autism? A history of depression? A parent with Alzheimer’s?

Some discoveries I made might interest to you.

When I adopted my daughter, she was simply the girl I had always wanted. Little did I know what adventures her complicated medical issues would lead me into. My son Steven had been conceived through the help of nutritional therapies, and I knew that because Emily had Down Syndrome, vitamin therapy would be crucial for her. I read everything I could about her condition. Kent MacLeod at Nutri-Chem, the Canadian company whose nutrients for Down syndrome are known world-wide, called me a "one-woman research institute."

I learned that children with Down Syndrome have weakened immune systems and impaired folate cycles. Folates are products of complex biochemical reactions through which our bodies convert folic acid, a vitamin found in green leafy vegetables, into substances responsible for various important metabolic functions. Folate deficiencies are implicated in neural tube birth defects, vascular and heart disease, depression, memory loss, Alzheimer’s and various cancers.

Just before her third birthday, Emily’s blood work showed abnormally large red blood cells and high levels of folic acid: both red flags for impending leukemia. Although her body had adequate folic acid, it was not being converted into the correct form. Imagine you want to park at a meter that accepts only quarters. A pocketful of nickels and dimes is useless. Like money, folate comes in a variety of forms and Emily’s had accumulated in a form that was unavailable for DNA synthesis. I knew that she could develop cancer, as a consequence of her DNA not replicating properly.

A few months later, despite severe earlier vaccine reactions, but under threats of exclusion from school, I succumbed to pressure from doctors, and allowed Emily to receive her first MMR vaccine at three years four months old. Rash, fever and diarrhea occurred within 48 hours, followed by hand- flapping, teeth-grinding and other autistic-like symptoms. Symptoms persisted, and 95 days post-MMR I found Emily’s diaper soaked in blood. Diagnosis: acute lymphocytic leukemia. No one had informed me that the MMR vaccine increases leukemia risk.

Getting cancer is like playing the lottery: the more tickets you buy, the more likely you are to win. Emily had purchased one ticket too many. Which ticket won her the cancer prize? An impaired folate cycle? Exposure to mercury in her vaccines and in the Rhogam that her birth mother had received during pregnancy? Arsenic from the environment? (Metals can compound folate cycle disruptions and inhibit DNA repair enzymes.) Or DNA damage from the measles virus or avian leucosis virus, which contaminates the MMR vaccine?

I believe Emily’s impaired folate metabolism and metal detoxification contributed to her development of cancer. As if this were not bad enough, the doctors treated her leukemia with a chemotherapy drug that shuts down folate and knocks out metal detoxification. When the initial half dose produced no adverse reaction, they moved to full strength. My worst fears were realized: this drug damaged her brain and spinal cord. Emily lost speech and motor skills.

I was determined to find a way to treat Emily without further injury. I gave her tri-methyl-glycine (TMG) and methyl B12, which together increased her body’s ability to re-myelinate the nerves of her brain. She began to walk and talk again. Her leukemia went into remission, and she gradually got stronger.

So what does this have to do with autism and depression?

Researcher Jill James, PhD. recently showed that in a sample of 20 autistic children, all 20 had abnormalities in folate dependent homocysteine metabolism. According to medical literature, parents and relatives of autistic individuals have a higher than average rate of major depression. A subset of individuals with depression has elevated homocysteine levels, indicating they have a "functional folate deficiency." The connection between depression and low levels of folic acid has been known in the medical world for over 25 years.

Adverse health consequences associated with elevated homocysteine and folate disruptions include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart disease, stroke and Down syndrome. Given the ease with which folate can be modulated in adults using a combination of vitamin B12, B6 and folic acid, anyone with a history of these disorders should be screened for total plasma homocysteine to minimize health risks. Moreover, individuals on anti-depressants wishing to use folic acid should work with their doctors to adjust their dosage because folic acid can potentiate medications.

As for Emily, she is doing well. She helped me present these findings recently at the local ASA conference. Contact DDR for a DVD of my talk and a presentation by Dr. James, and MacLeod’s book, Down Syndrome and Vitamin Therapy.

If your child developed leukemia post-vaccine, please contact me by email.

[Initially published in New Developments: Volume 9, Number 4 - Summer, 2004]

All material in this web site is given for information purposes only and is not to be substituted for advice from your health care provider.

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