Are there any treatments that can help improve the cognitive function of people with autism?
I've also heard about Miracle Mineral Supplement (MMS) being a cure for autism. Does this claim have any truth to it?
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This is really interesting, and really difficult.
First, let's get Miracle Mineral Supplement out of the way. There is a lengthy article on this up on the blog "Science-based Medicine" called Bleaching away what ails you. That article is quite good, but uses strong language, so it isn't for everyone. It describes the rhetoric around MMS, especially in regards to how it's used on autistic children.
First of all, what is MMS? It's diluted sodium chlorite, a bleach. And the person who sells it claims it basically cures anything.
Well, it overcomes colds in an hour or so, overcomes flu in less than 12 hours, overcomes pneumonia in less than 12 hours, cures more cancer than any other treatment by hundreds of times, cures hepatitis A, B, and C. It cures appendicitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and a hundred other diseases.
That alone should be enough to make anyone skeptical. The flu is a viral infectious disease of the respiratory tract. Rheumatoid arthritis is an incurable autoimmune disease. Appendicitis is an inflammation of the bowel. These are wildly different things, and that's not counting the "hundred other diseases". The two probably most potent medicines we have, antibiotics and steroids, don't even claim to be effective for all of these.
As a bleach, MMS can cause serious complications. The Food and Drug Administration in the United States strongly warns people not to use it
FDA warned consumers not to consume or use Miracle Mineral Solution, an oral liquid solution also known as "Miracle Mineral Supplement" or "MMS." The product, when used as directed, produces an industrial bleach that can cause serious harm to health. The product instructs consumers to mix the 28 percent sodium chlorite solution with an acid such as citrus juice. This mixture produces chlorine dioxide, a potent bleach used for stripping textiles and industrial water treatment. High oral doses of this bleach, such as those recommended in the labeling, can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and symptoms of severe dehydration
The government agency "Health Canada" has seized MMS from a supplied selling it
MMS and autism
Does MMS cure autism? Science doesn't usually say "we are 100 percent sure this doesn't happen". But in this case, it's probably pretty close.
All that the belief is based on are anecdotes, there are no scientific studies on this at all. There is also no proposed - MMS is a disinfectant, but autism isn't caused by an infection.
Autism doesn't stay constant. For example, there is a question here on Health.SE about autism and fever - autism symptoms improve when patients have a fever.
Treatment of autism
Autism spectrum disorder is a wide field of syndromes. From high-functioning individuals to people who need constant caregiving. There are no cures.
Currently, there is no medication that can cure ASD or all of its symptoms. But in many cases, medication can help treat some of the symptoms associated with ASD, especially certain behaviors.
These behavioral issues are, for example, anxiety, repetitive behavior, hyperactivity and loss of focus, seizures (which one third of people with autism have), etc.
There are studies being done on more treatment options, for example on whether oxytocin could help.
Behavioral therapy is a big focus in the treatment of autism. Much of this is focused on children. I'm just going to link to and summarize a few of the resources on this.
A notable treatment approach for people with an ASD is called applied behavior analysis (ABA). ABA has become widely accepted among health care professionals and used in many schools and treatment clinics. ABA encourages positive behaviors and discourages negative behaviors in order to improve a variety of skills. The child’s progress is tracked and measured.
Scientific studies have demonstrated that early intensive behavioral intervention improves learning, communication and social skills in young children with autism. While the outcomes of early intervention vary, all children benefit. Researchers have developed a number of effective early intervention models.
Two other often mentioned treatments for ASD are dietary changes, especially a gluten free diet, and chelation.
A Cochrane review titled Chelation for autism spectre disorder summarizes:
no clinical trial evidence was found to suggest that pharmaceutical chelation is an effective intervention for ASD. Given prior reports of serious adverse events, such as hypocalcaemia, renal impairment and reported death, the risks of using chelation for ASD currently outweigh proven benefits
As such, chelation shouldn't be used.
Another, titled Gluten- and casein-free diets for autistic spectrum disorder summarizes the research on the most popular dietary restriction:
Research has shown of high rates of use of complementary and alternative therapies (CAM) for children with autism including gluten and/or casein exclusion diets. Current evidence for efficacy of these diets is poor. Large scale, good quality randomised controlled trials are needed.
I wrote before that autism can't be cured. However,
Growing evidence suggests that a small minority of persons with autism progress to the point where they no longer meet the criteria for a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Since the diagnosis of autism isn't based on the presence of a virus or something, therapy and treatment can actually mean a person progresses to the point of no longer meeting all diagnostic criteria.
The closest thing I'm aware of as a cure for autism is Early Intensive Behavioural Therapy. The idea behind it is to train the autistic child in basic social behaviours within the timeframe that they would normally be acquiring them, from 0-5 years.
As far as I'm aware it's ineffective after the age of 5 because the parts of the brain that it's meant to train will have been pruned by the normal synaptic pruning mechanism, making it much harder for the child to develop the social skills as there's no longer a part of the brain that's 'primed' to handle that task.
Autism has multiple causes. One major cause (covering ~75% of patients) is a person making folate receptor alpha antibodies (FRAA). They can suffer from cerebral folate deficiency(CFD) and autism.
A milk-free diet is known to help in this case by reducing FRAA antibody levels.
Cerebral folate receptor autoantibodies in autism spectrum disorder https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3578948/
A milk-free diet downregulates folate receptor autoimmunity in cerebral folate deficiency syndrome https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2715943/
Another treatment is the use of folinic acid (not to be confused with folic acid) to restore folate levels in the brain.
Folinic acid improves verbal communication in children with autism and language impairment: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial https://www.nature.com/articles/mp2016168