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The Connection: Neuroinflammation & Autism

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To date, there is no cure for autism spectrum disorder and the cause of onset is unknown, which makes scientific research extremely important. The prevalence of the disability was recorded at 1 in 68 children according to the CDC’s surveillance data from 2010, however, recent data from the National Health Statistics Report pegs the prevalence rate at 1 in 45 children aged 3 to 17. This significant increase in prevalence is a great cause of concern and requires researchers to work that much harder. With that in mind, there isn’t an effective one-size-fits-all treatment because individuals with ASD can have a wide variety of symptoms. But, one thing that has been overlooked in individuals with autism is the treatment of neuroinflammation.

Mark Geier and his fellow co-authors published a literature review titled “Relevance of Neuroinflammation and Encephalitis in Autism” where they point out a trend among those diagnosed with autism. The researchers approximate that 69% of those with autism have encephalitis or microglial activation, which is a brain pathology that suggests continuous neuroinflammation (encephalitis) in different regions of the brain. Why is this important to know? Well, autism is often categorized as a psychiatric disorder and the diagnosis does not include evaluating or treating the physical symptoms of the disorder like neuroinflammation.

For many years, the psychiatric categorization has slowed the progress of treatment and despite decades of proven research that autism is much more than just a psychiatric disorder, the categorization has hindered research into the physical side of things. It is conceivable that treating the neuroinflammation could possibly help alleviate some symptoms of ASD. This substantial finding indicates that the encephalitis includes microglial & astrocytic activation, a unique & elevated proinflammatory profile of cytokines, and abnormal expression of nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells. Researching the treatment of the encephalitis could open the doors to more effective treatment.

This means that the sole psychiatric categorization of autism needs to be re-worked to include the physical symptoms of the disorder.

Comparing American and French Biomarkers of Toxicity

While we’ve known mercury to be a dangerous substance for years now, the nature of this element’s toxicity—at what levels it burdens the body, and in what ways—has been less well-known and acknowledged. Previous studies into mercury’s toxicity have uncovered some startling risks for adverse effects, but these findings have been met with relatively little concern given their association with autism and vaccines. That’s why researchers Janet Kern, David Geier, Francoise Ayzac, James Adams, Jyutika Mehta, and Mark Geier were interested in conducting additional research on mercury toxicity by comparing mercury body-burdens between neurotypical populations in Texas and France with urinary porphyrins, biomarkers that reveal the presence of mercury toxicity through specific patterns.

The Experiment

Unlike Kern et al.’s many previous studies on mercury toxicity, this study did not examine children with neurodevelopmental disorders; rather, the group’s sample population was comprised exclusively of neurotypical children. This was done to ensure that accurate results of toxic metal burden were obtained, given that there is some evidence to suggest that ASD children are less likely to excrete heavy metals and therefore maintain higher levels of toxicity in the body for inherent reasons.

To conduct the study, each day a subject’s first urine sample was collected and sent to a laboratory for a profile assessment of their urinary porphyrins. For practicality, these samples were collected by subjects’ parents via a collection kit with detailed instructions. Subject populations from both Texas and France included children that were between 2 and 13 years of age, had received routine childhood vaccinations, and did not qualify as maintaining any neurodevelopmental disorder as identified by the Childhood Autism Rating Scale.

After profiling the urinary porphyrins from both American and French sample subjects, Kern et al. employed statistical analysis, specifically the Wilcoxon matched-pairs sign-ranked test statistics, to produce an accurate comparison between corresponding ages and genders. The statistical analysis also accounted for differences in fish consumption, another way in which children are exposed to mercury.

The Findings

Given Kern and the Geiers’ previous research on vaccines and mercury, their results were not surprising. Statistical analysis of the two test subject groups revealed that children in the United States maintain much higher levels of urinary porphyrins associated with mercury body-burden than children in France. For example, increases were shown for the levels of urinary precoproporphyrins and total coproporphryins.

Significance

The disparity found between mercury body-burden in American and French test subject groups underscores the reality that increased environmental exposure to mercury does lead to increased body-burden of the toxic element. For example, the United States is the world’s leading producer of Hg emissions, as a result of its heavy dependence on coal-fired power plants, while France maintains a limited amount of coal reserves and emits far less mercury into the air. Additionally, the mercury-containing preservative Thimerosal was present in more than 30 routinely-administered childhood vaccines in the United States in 1999; in France, children were administered just 3 Thimerosal-containing vaccines. The United States also continued to advocate for the administration of Thimerosal-containing influenza vaccines to women, infants, and young children, even after Thimerosal was removed from other childhood vaccines. France, meanwhile, did not advocate vaccine administration to these groups.

Exposure to mercury also affects neurodevelopment and performance in more ways than many may realize; mercury doesn’t just target one specific cognitive function or area of the brain. Rather, exposure to mercury can disrupt at least a dozen of areas and functions of the brain, and these can trigger additional abnormalities and dysfunctions throughout the rest of the body. Such is why Kern et. al believe that more research must be conducted into the long-term effects of increased mercury body burden, and propose that studies that focus on longer experiments from sample populations in multiple locations be pursued.

The Promising Potential of L-Carnitine

For most outside the realm of scientific research, L-Carnitine is an unfamiliar substance. However, L-Carnitine is something we might all be wise to learn more about, as this amino acid plays a critical role in mammalian metabolic function. Essentially, L-Carnitine ensures that fatty acids can enter into a cell’s mitochondria to deliver the oxygen needed for energy production. Aside from creating energy, L-Carnitine is thought to both improve and preserve our cognitive performance. It’s even been suggested that L-Carnitine can sustain high cognitive function throughout an individual’s lifetime.

It’s for this reason that L-Carnitine has caught the attention of autism researchers Mark Geier and David Geier, whose recent paper, “L-Carnitine Exposure and Mitochondrial Function in Human Neuronal Cells,” published in Neurochemical Research in 2013, expanded upon the premise that L-Carnitine can improve cognitive function. Specifically, the Geiers were interested in determining whether or not introducing acute amounts of L-Carnitine to the mitochondria found in human tissue cells subsequently results in an increase in its function.

Researchers have previously conducted clinical trials in humans that found that when subjects received doses of L-Carnitine, cognitive performance improved. Perhaps most interestingly, a study was conducted using patients with the autism spectrum disorder, and in this study too, cognitive performance improved and symptoms of ASD became less prominent.

However, observational trials aren’t always enough to prove relationships in science, which is why the Geiers sought to evaluate what was happening between L-Carnitine and mitochondria on a mechanistic level to determine for certain if and how L-Carnitine affects the mitochondria.

The Study

The Geiers used in vitro cells (cells in grown in a culture) and a vital cell assay (which determines a cell’s health status), along with specific statistical techniques, to measure mitochondrial function.  The test cells included neuroblastoma cells and astrocytoma cells found in brain tumors.  These cells were grown in lab flasks until the cells merged together, and then were disassociated using Trypsin. From there, cells were exposed to a highly-pure L-Carnitine hydrochloride compound solution. Using a colorimetric XTT cell assay, the neuroblastoma and astrocytoma cells had their mitochondrial function measured over the course of 24 hours.

The Results

So here’s why we should care about L-Carnitine: the Geiers’ mechanistic study did in fact prove that what other researchers had observed about L-Carnitine administration and improved cognition function was correct. When the L-Carnitine hydrochloric solution was applied to neuron cells, mitochondrial function increased. Their work stands as the first-ever mechanistic support of a biological basis for heightened cognitive function following L-Carnitine administration.  However, it should be noted that the Geiers found that only a certain range of L-Carnitine concentration has a statistically significant impact on mitochondrial function; L-Carnitine solutions with too high or too low concentrations don’t seem make any difference in function.

The Geiers’ findings present a number of potential applications to chronic disorders. First and foremost, L-Carnitine may be used to mitigate the effects of ASD, a disorder with many symptoms that seem to stem from dysfunctional mitochondria. Secondly, L-Carnitine has also been shown to be inhibited in those with cirrhosis, chronic renal failure, heart failure, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes mellitus. With additional studies, decreasing the severity of each of these chronic disorders with L-Carnitine applications may very well become a viable therapy option.

 

The Dangers of Dental Amalgams: Risks of Illness, Anxiety, and More

We don’t often think of a cavity filling as being dangerous. Sure, receiving these fillings can be unpleasant and uncomfortable, but we generally don’t have any worries about their potential negative side effects. However, recent research conducted by Dr. Mark Geier reveals that these fillings (amalgams) pose a number of health risks. Specifically, the elemental mercury in these amalgams has been shown to lead to depression, anxiety, and fatigue, all of which are commonly associated with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia, among other chronic illnesses.

For years, science has identified mercury as a toxin harmful to humans. This element’s potential for severely damaging the nervous system has led to its ban from a number of household products and almost all childhood vaccines. At the international Minimata Convention on Mercury in 2013, over 140 nations signed a treaty that aims to limit human exposure to mercury. Yet, mercury continues to comprise 50% of the composition of the dental amalgams issued to patients in the United States.

If you think dental amalgams aren’t prevalent enough to be of concern, consider that over 181 million Americans have at least one dental amalgam in their mouth, and that these amalgams are given to children as young as 26 months of age. Today, 45 percent of all dental restorations rely on amalgams that contain elemental mercury. These fillings aren’t just concentrated sources of mercury, either, as they continually release mercury vapors.

Proof that an individual’s dental amalgams lead to increased mercury concentrations in the body is evident from a number of studies. For example, research has shown that those with dental amalgams containing a 50% composition of elemental mercury also had high concentrations of mercury in their tissues, kidneys, brain, and urinary porphyrins. The mercury in a dental amalgam is therefore not confined to the amalgam itself; its vapors do reach other areas of the body, and over time, form concentrations in these locations.

However, because the release of mercury vapors in dental amalgams occurs gradually, individuals are more likely to experience chronic toxicity. This type of exposure makes identifying the effects of toxicity slightly more challenging to study, but Geier does point to a number of case studies that illustrate the types of chronic illnesses that can develop over prolonged exposure to mercury. A study of dental assistants that had occupational interactions with mercury demonstrated higher rates of neurological symptoms, sleep deprivation, psychosomatic symptoms, difficulty concentrating and fatigue.

Low-level exposure to mercury has also been shown to significantly alter an individual’s mood, resulting in a wide range of somewhat extreme behaviors, including outbursts of anger and excessive shyness.  A study that evaluated a group of ex-miners who had prolonged exposure to mercury and a group of controls found that the ex-miners were significantly more likely to be depressive, have low self-esteem, and tend towards introversion. Other studies of dental workers have also demonstrated the negative effects of mercury exposure, even when exposure occurred at levels that were deemed to be safe. These studies revealed that dentists with elevated levels of mercury were more inclined to distress, aggression, confusion, tension and irritation.

A study of suicide victims further revealed that over 60 percent of the victims had more than 12 dental amalgams, and were found to maintain triple the amount of mercury in their bodies than those that had died of other causes.

Geier’s research ultimately reveals an unfortunate reality: the levels of mercury exposure we previously believed to pose no health risks can in fact be harmful, leading to both chronic illness and psychosomatic conditions with dangerous consequences.