Boulder doctor offers prepregnancy guidelines in hopes of preventing autism, ADHD
Daily Camera (Boulder, CO)
Sept. 18--As a pediatrician specializing in holistic and integrative medicine, Dr. Debby Hamilton's practice serves a large percentage of children diagnosed with autism and their families.
She, like other holistic practitioners, treats problems that are common among autistic children such as digestive issues and difficulties with detoxification. The treatments, which include restricting the diet, eliminating environmental toxins, detoxification and prescribing supplements, improve symptoms in some children, Hamilton says.
"Kids with milder symptoms -- if they come in with a lot of medical problems -- really do get better," she says. Others, however, make much less progress.
One of the questions parents of autistic children, typically ask is how they can prevent the development of autism in a second child. Studies show that having one child with autism increases the likelihood of having a second autistic child.
The question is crucial as the incidence of autism continues to rise. In March, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Health Resources and Services Administration released results from a parent survey on school-age children that put the incidence of autism spectrum disorders at 1 in 50 or 2 percent. That number was greater than a CDC report in 2012 that estimated the numbers at 1 in 88.
The question of prevention has no definitive, evidence-based answers, since the cause of autism remains unknown. However, Hamilton believes women can reduce risk factors by making changes in their own nutrition, digestion, immune function, inflammation and detoxification. She has written and self-published a book, "Preventing Autism & ADHD: Controlling Risk Factors Before, During and After Pregnancy."
The book looks at studies that show correlations between autism and conditions such as digestive disorders or low levels of Omega 3 fatty acids. In her practice, Hamilton treats such symptoms with special diets, removing environmental toxins and supplementation. In her book, she recommends a similar approach for a pre-pregnancy diet. She calls the approach the Triangle of Prevention, with its three sides including healthy diet and nutrition, strong digestion and detoxification. Her hypothesis is that reducing risk factors in the mother before pregnancy occurs can prevent symptoms of autism from occurring in their children. She admits that there are no studies to back up her hypothesis. However, she points out that studying pregnant women by giving them small amounts of toxic mercury to compare with a control group of non-mercury consuming women would be unethical, since mercury is a known toxin. Likewise, since Omega 3s are known to promote healthy neural development in fetuses, denying them to a pregnant woman for the purposes of research would be unethical.
The approach Hamilton proposes is not radical. Many of the diet recommendation are typical of other pre-pregnancy diets -- consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables, for example. Hamilton does, however, stress that all food should be free from pesticides. Because of mercury in low levels in almost all fish, she advises not eating fish during pregnancy, with the woman, instead, getting Omega 3s through supplements.
Hamilton who has a master's degree in public health in addition to her medical degree, also advises women who want to get pregnant to remove toxins from their homes. That means switching to non-toxic cleaning products and not using pesticides on lawns or to kill insects. Paints should be no VOC and upholstery and carpets should not release chemical gases. Cosmetics should also get a close look, since many harbor small amounts of heavy metals.
She also recommends testing stools for bacteria and yeast imbalances and supplementing with probiotics for optimal digestive health.
To detoxify, Hamilton prescribes infrared saunas.
"It helps sweat out toxins. It's been done for centuries. It's very safe," she says.
Hamilton notes that it's important to detoxify before pregnancy, since it could harm the fetus during pregnancy.
The most controversial part of Hamilton's book is her stance on vaccines, which have not been shown to have a link to autism. Hamilton says she is not anti-vaccine, but notes that many European countries recommend fewer vaccines than doctors do in the United States. In addition, she says some of her patients opt for alternative vaccine schedules in which vaccines are spaced out over a period of time.
Katie Price, a former Boulder resident who now lives in Littleton, attended one of Hamilton's workshops and followed the prepregnancy diet.
Price, who has been diagnosed with a mild form of multiple sclerosis, says she was interested in a holistic approach when it came to pregnancy.
"(The workshop) helped explain the different vitamins and supplements that the body needs," she says. "It was good to get some general health guidance especially when thinking about the next step of getting pregnant."
She and her husband now have a 31/2-month-old boy. Price says she still uses her prepregnancy supplements during nursing.
"He's a healthy little boy," she says of her son, William. After the workshop, my husband and I ended up getting pregnant very quickly."
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