Autism and the Microbiome  

It is estimated that worldwide one in 160 children has an Autism Spectrum Disorder with the estimate representin an average figure, and reporting prevalence varies substantially across studies.

Published: 06th September 2020 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th September 2020 06:09 PM   |  A+A-


For representational purposes

A popular MP of Tamil Nadu dies of COVID-19 in a premier allopathic hospital. The press does not blame the allopathic system or the physicians who treated the patient. If this scenario had played out in an Ayurvedic hospital, the press would have trashed Ayurveda and called it unscientific and dangerous.

That said I will stop my rant and discuss the unprecedented rise of autism in India and many countries in the world. It is estimated that worldwide one in 160 children has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

This estimate represents an average figure, and reported prevalence varies substantially across studies. Some well-controlled studies have, however, reported figures that are substantially higher. Based on epidemiological studies conducted over the past 50 years, the prevalence of ASD appears to be increasing globally.

US Center for Disease Control's most recent estimate (2018) is that one out of every 59 children (one in 37 boys, and one in 151 girls) has ASD. This estimate is a 14 percent increase from the one in 68 rate in 2016 and a 47 percent increase from the one in 88 rate in 2012. In the 1980s autism prevalence was reported as four in 10,000.

In the nineties, the prevalence was one in 2,500 and later one in 1,000. ASDs in South Korea affect an estimated 2.64 percent of the population of school-age children, equivalent to one in 38 children, according to the first comprehensive study of autism prevalence using a total population sample.

There are many possible explanations for this apparent increase, including improved awareness, expansion of diagnostic criteria, better diagnostic tools and improved reporting. However, my gut feeling is that the health of the gut has been compromised leading to accumulation of toxins within the body.

Once the internal environment is toxic it makes children susceptible to all kinds of external stimuli, be it a vaccine (MMR has been implicated by many parents as a culprit) or other toxic elements consumed by the parents or pollution in the external environment.

The trigger could occur in utero or during the postnatal period. Food is loaded with pesticides and chemical fertilisers, and the impact of these on a growing foetus has not been properly evaluated. Vested interests will downplay the effects of such toxic chemicals on our systems. I am still amazed at how the tobacco lobby managed to hide the toxic effects of tobacco smoke on the lungs for decades when study after study proved the contrary.

The vested interests would have us believe that it is genetics and that the genes are responsible for autism. Vested interests are looking for a scapegoat so that the true culprits are not brought to light. Commercial agriculture, which has made toxic our food, land and water, and rapid industrialisation with little regard for the environment are some of the culprits.

Parents, especially mothers, pass on the toxins in the food to the foetus. When the right trigger happens, it pushes the baby beyond a point of no return. The gut, the brain and the body are inextricably linked and it is not surprising to see so many autistic children whose digestion or agni (the digestive fire) completely compromised.

When the child cannot digest the food, the internal environment becomes toxic. All products of digestion, starting from rasa dhatu (chyle), rakta dhatu (blood), mamsa dhatu (muscle tissue), meda dhatu (adipose tissue), asthi dhatu (bone), majja (bone marrow) to shukra dhatu (reproductive tissue), are vitiated resulting in an ojas or an end product of digestion that does not support the proper functioning of the human being. So in order to address the issue of autism, one needs to look first at preventing autism by consuming organic foods and living in non-polluted environments.

As far as treatment is concerned, our ancient Acharyas have laid down well-reasoned principles on how to correct a malfunctioning agni and the resulting vitiated ojas. While this will not work for all autistic kids (as the autistic spectrum is as diverse as it is complicated) a rule of thumb would be to address the gut health of the child, which would improve both gnanendriyas (sensory functions) and karmendriyas (motor functions) of the child.

Allopathy has to still appreciate the role of agni, the digestive fire, in disease. For Ayurvedists, the gut is the centrepiece which determines the health of an individual. So it is that Ayurvedic physicians try a combination of oushadams (drugs), including gold and panchakarma techniques, to restore the normalcy of the agni and internal environment and set the child towards a path of wellness and improvement.

Catching children young is important. I am dismayed by how many parents shop around and ultimately seek out an Ayurvedic physician with an attitude of “what do I have to lose?” To all parents out there looking for solutions, seek out an Ayurvedic physician and you will experience good results if you come there early.

(The writer is a former Health Secretary and retired in the rank of Chief Secretary, Tamil Nadu. She can be reached atsheelarani.arogyamantra@gmail. com. Earlier articles can be accessed at


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