Over the last week, the vaccine-autism debate has raged in a way I haven’t seen since the days when HIV was going to be dropped as the true cause of AIDS.  And, just like those times, we are seeing both sides becoming more polarized and soon, I suspect, the professional attacks will become personal, the usual threats will be uttered and eventually, the media and the world will lose interest and turn to some other story.

I’ve mainly avoided getting involved in the debate although I did have my turn at the wheel when I discussed the benefits of the H1N1 vaccine and found myself on the wrong end of a plethora of negative comments and quite honestly, vitriolic rhetoric.  It was not fun and I would never suggest that anyone who would like to live a quiet life even dare enter the ring.

Over the last year, however, I’ve noticed something in the scientific literature that has spoken to me and given me a little more courage to perhaps make a scientific comment.

To begin with, autism and any other brain cognitive dysfunctions are scourges to any parent and I hope that no one feels under attack here.  I understand that many parents live with the fear that a jab in the arm may lead to a lifetime of burden.  I’m not out to change their minds.  Instead, I’m hoping to expand upon that awareness and bring about a more widened perspective that may help them to keep their child safe, with or without a shot.

I’ve always suspected that autism was a form of immunological dysfunction.  Now it seems that this may be the case.  The reality is that autism, like many other cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia may have a link to a dysfunctional immune system.  In addition, it seems that there are specific immunological chemicals that are involved in the development of autism.  One such chemical is called interleukin 6 (IL-6) which is involved in inflammation and may be critical to autism. Recent evidence suggests that IL-6 levels may be higher in the brain of those affected by autism.

IL-6 is that it’s a key interleukin in the response to any foreign substance, whether it be a chemical, a microbe or a bullet.  And while many may believe that this has a direct link to autism and vaccines, the reality is that IL-6 for the most part stays in the location of the foreign substance. Yes, there is a mild systemic rise but nothing that would preclude the kind of impact that would lead to cognitive disorders.  Moreover, IL-6 elevation does not necessarily lead to an overall systemic elevation of the immune response.  So, there is no chance for a vaccine, unless it is injected directly into the brain (or perhaps the heart), to cause the inflammation seen in autism.

There are chemicals, however, that do go systemic when ingested and may end up in the brain to cause inflammation.  And this is where we have to look at germs to get a better understanding of what is going on.

There are many viruses and bacteria that cause inflammation of the brain.  The most studied perhaps is HIV and the evidence is clear.  Infection in the brain leads to higher levels of IL-6 and cognitive dysfunction.  In addition, glutamate levels are significantly altered in these patients.  Thus, in HIV infection of the brain, IL-6 and glutamate levels are altered and the impacts are seen as inflammation and cognitive defects.

These same issues are seen in many children with autism.  The question then becomes, what is triggering the inflammation and the altered glutamate levels?  While there are no clear answers yet, there are a few possibilities, none of which have anything to do with vaccines.

Personally, I believe it may be a combination of factors.

The corporeal ecology of each individual is important but without understanding of our bodies, both on the biological (i.e. Fragile X) and the supplementation fronts (i.e. you are what you eat) then we will continue to be blind as we move forward.

While this is admittedly long shot, I’d like to take a look at the impact of one particular chemical which is common to all in developed nations and may have an impact on the development of autism. Monosodium glutamate (MSG).  There have been no studies that I could find on diet and autism in humans, yet there have been studies on rats.  One study showed that rats fed high levels of MSG displayed similar cognitive defects as those with autism.  Another study showed that feeding MSG to rats led to higher glutamate levels in the brain without being metabolized and that this was associated with cognitive dysfunction.

As I said at the onset, I’m not trying to change the attitudes of anyone involved in the debate.  However, what I am saying is that links to autism through vaccination are getting scarcer while the links to our everyday life activities are growing stronger.  And we should focus on better understanding of our corporeal ecology and how we can do our best to harmonize our genes and our environment so that we can prevent any kind of long term illness.

I’ll end this post with a rhetorical question.  If a widely used chemical such as MSG turns out to be a cause for autism, would we see a reduction in the attacks on vaccine use and instead see a rise in the number of parents, activists and celebrities wanting to end MSG use?

I would hope the answer would be yes.  But honestly, I just don’t know.