Fever Benefits for Autism in a Food

Fever Benefits for Autism in a Food
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Dramatic improvements in autistic children when they have a fever suggest that the disease may be reversible if one can replicate the phenomenon in other ways.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Autism currently affects about one of 68 kids in the United States, yet we don’t even have drugs to treat the core symptoms—forget the underlying disease itself. I mean, we can treat some symptoms, just not the core symptoms of the disorder. Sure, if you’re aggressive, we can give you antipsychotic drugs—stimulants like Ritalin for ADHD—or, we can knock you out to help you sleep. But, for “social and communication” improvements—”the main signs and symptoms” of autism—we have little to offer, and the disease appears to be on the rise. What can we do about it?

Well, decades ago, a clue was published that offered a ray of hope. When autistic kids get a fever, “they invariably display dramatically more normal [behavior], including a greater desire or ability to communicate.” They can become less withdrawn, more alert, more talkative, more communicative. All hospital staff members working with autistic children “noted [the] marked behavioral [improvements].” But, as soon as the fever stopped, they went back to their baseline. So, you think, wow, if we could figure out what’s going on, maybe we could develop some sort of treatment. Yeah, but wait a second. Let’s take a step back, and realize what this could mean. 

What makes this so groundbreaking, so earth-shattering, is that this challenges the whole presumption that autism is some kind of static, irreversible brain disease, where the brain is just inexorably damaged in some way, with no hope of recovery. But, the fever glimpses suggest no, it may be more of a dynamic brain disease, where the normal healthy circuits are in there somewhere, but being actively suppressed, and the fever somehow lifts that suppression, relieves the active disease process—suggesting if we could figure out what’s going on, we could theoretically relieve it not just for days, but for forever.

So, you’d think that would be what’s on every autism researcher’s mind. But unbelievably, “there is practically no mention of the high fever/improved behavior phenomenon in the entire autism [medical] literature,” even though nearly everybody “knowledgeable” about the disease—”both parent and professional” alike, who deals with it day to day—evidently knows about it. In fact, the first—and only—Nobel prize in medicine ever given to a psychiatrist for brain ailments went to the so-called “father of fever therapy,” where he would inject malaria into people, and some got better, if they didn’t die first from the malaria, that is. What is it about fever that can improve brain function? If we could figure that out, maybe there’s a way we can do it without killing people.

Okay, but first, let’s confirm the phenomenon is real. Yes, the rapid behavioral changes reported during fever in autism suggest that those neural networks in autism may still be intact, just dysfunctional, and “understanding the reasons for improvement during fever might provide insight” into what’s going on.

But, this whole fever effect in autism was “based on case reports and anecdotes,” until…this study. “Given the potential implications…for treatment opportunities, [they] undertook a formal study of [the reported phenomenon].” And indeed, autistic children got better when they got a fever, officially documenting the phenomenon as real. Okay, so, full-steam ahead; let’s figure it out.

Who cares how it works, though? I mean, I know you can’t give kids malaria, but why not just take them to a sauna or hot tub, or something? Because it doesn’t work. When you sit in a sauna or hot tub, your skin gets hotter, but your brain pretty much stays the same temperature. It’s got special cooling mechanisms. So, no matter what temperature it is outside, your brain stays pretty much the same temperature inside. That’s a good thing; that way, you can bite into a snow cone without literally getting brain freeze.  But, when you get a fever, your internal thermostat gets turned up to fight infection, and there is actually an increase in brain tissue temperature.

Now, your brain has to be careful not to cook itself to death; so, it releases heat shock proteins. As your brain turns up the heat to give you a fever, it releases heat shock proteins to prevent and repair protein damage. At higher temperatures, proteins can start unraveling—what’s called protein denaturing. That’s what happens when you cook egg whites; the proteins denature. That’s not what you want happening in your head. Okay, but what does this have to do with autism?

Well, one of the causes of autism “may be the dysregulation of…[synaptic] function”—meaning a “dysregulation of [the nerve-to-nerve] signalling pathways” in the brain may play a key role in the cause of autism spectrum disorders. Well, guess what those heat shock proteins do? They protect and sustain synaptic function. Okay. So now, the question becomes: is there any way to activate the heat shock response without having to get some high-fever infection?

Well, as you can imagine, “[t]here is now strong interest [among drug companies in] discovering and developing pharmacological agents capable of inducing the heat shock response.” But, broccoli beat them to it. Sulforaphane, the active ingredient in cruciferous vegetables—cabbage family vegetables like broccoli, kale, and collard greens—activates the heat shock response; no malaria necessary. So, in theory, giving those with autism sulforaphane in the form of broccoli, or broccoli sprouts, might reap the same kind of fever-related benefits in function.

At this point, you’d expect me to make some crack about Big Broccoli, and how such a study would never get funded, and you’d be right…until now. See, there are family foundations out there, non-profit foundations that just want to see people with autism get better, whether or not corporate stock prices get better, too. We’ll find out what happened, next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Icons created by Laymik, Juan Pablo Bravo, Roman, and Adrien Coquet from The Noun Project.

Image credit: Kristina DeMuth. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Autism currently affects about one of 68 kids in the United States, yet we don’t even have drugs to treat the core symptoms—forget the underlying disease itself. I mean, we can treat some symptoms, just not the core symptoms of the disorder. Sure, if you’re aggressive, we can give you antipsychotic drugs—stimulants like Ritalin for ADHD—or, we can knock you out to help you sleep. But, for “social and communication” improvements—”the main signs and symptoms” of autism—we have little to offer, and the disease appears to be on the rise. What can we do about it?

Well, decades ago, a clue was published that offered a ray of hope. When autistic kids get a fever, “they invariably display dramatically more normal [behavior], including a greater desire or ability to communicate.” They can become less withdrawn, more alert, more talkative, more communicative. All hospital staff members working with autistic children “noted [the] marked behavioral [improvements].” But, as soon as the fever stopped, they went back to their baseline. So, you think, wow, if we could figure out what’s going on, maybe we could develop some sort of treatment. Yeah, but wait a second. Let’s take a step back, and realize what this could mean. 

What makes this so groundbreaking, so earth-shattering, is that this challenges the whole presumption that autism is some kind of static, irreversible brain disease, where the brain is just inexorably damaged in some way, with no hope of recovery. But, the fever glimpses suggest no, it may be more of a dynamic brain disease, where the normal healthy circuits are in there somewhere, but being actively suppressed, and the fever somehow lifts that suppression, relieves the active disease process—suggesting if we could figure out what’s going on, we could theoretically relieve it not just for days, but for forever.

So, you’d think that would be what’s on every autism researcher’s mind. But unbelievably, “there is practically no mention of the high fever/improved behavior phenomenon in the entire autism [medical] literature,” even though nearly everybody “knowledgeable” about the disease—”both parent and professional” alike, who deals with it day to day—evidently knows about it. In fact, the first—and only—Nobel prize in medicine ever given to a psychiatrist for brain ailments went to the so-called “father of fever therapy,” where he would inject malaria into people, and some got better, if they didn’t die first from the malaria, that is. What is it about fever that can improve brain function? If we could figure that out, maybe there’s a way we can do it without killing people.

Okay, but first, let’s confirm the phenomenon is real. Yes, the rapid behavioral changes reported during fever in autism suggest that those neural networks in autism may still be intact, just dysfunctional, and “understanding the reasons for improvement during fever might provide insight” into what’s going on.

But, this whole fever effect in autism was “based on case reports and anecdotes,” until…this study. “Given the potential implications…for treatment opportunities, [they] undertook a formal study of [the reported phenomenon].” And indeed, autistic children got better when they got a fever, officially documenting the phenomenon as real. Okay, so, full-steam ahead; let’s figure it out.

Who cares how it works, though? I mean, I know you can’t give kids malaria, but why not just take them to a sauna or hot tub, or something? Because it doesn’t work. When you sit in a sauna or hot tub, your skin gets hotter, but your brain pretty much stays the same temperature. It’s got special cooling mechanisms. So, no matter what temperature it is outside, your brain stays pretty much the same temperature inside. That’s a good thing; that way, you can bite into a snow cone without literally getting brain freeze.  But, when you get a fever, your internal thermostat gets turned up to fight infection, and there is actually an increase in brain tissue temperature.

Now, your brain has to be careful not to cook itself to death; so, it releases heat shock proteins. As your brain turns up the heat to give you a fever, it releases heat shock proteins to prevent and repair protein damage. At higher temperatures, proteins can start unraveling—what’s called protein denaturing. That’s what happens when you cook egg whites; the proteins denature. That’s not what you want happening in your head. Okay, but what does this have to do with autism?

Well, one of the causes of autism “may be the dysregulation of…[synaptic] function”—meaning a “dysregulation of [the nerve-to-nerve] signalling pathways” in the brain may play a key role in the cause of autism spectrum disorders. Well, guess what those heat shock proteins do? They protect and sustain synaptic function. Okay. So now, the question becomes: is there any way to activate the heat shock response without having to get some high-fever infection?

Well, as you can imagine, “[t]here is now strong interest [among drug companies in] discovering and developing pharmacological agents capable of inducing the heat shock response.” But, broccoli beat them to it. Sulforaphane, the active ingredient in cruciferous vegetables—cabbage family vegetables like broccoli, kale, and collard greens—activates the heat shock response; no malaria necessary. So, in theory, giving those with autism sulforaphane in the form of broccoli, or broccoli sprouts, might reap the same kind of fever-related benefits in function.

At this point, you’d expect me to make some crack about Big Broccoli, and how such a study would never get funded, and you’d be right…until now. See, there are family foundations out there, non-profit foundations that just want to see people with autism get better, whether or not corporate stock prices get better, too. We’ll find out what happened, next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Icons created by Laymik, Juan Pablo Bravo, Roman, and Adrien Coquet from The Noun Project.

Image credit: Kristina DeMuth. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Doctor's Note

This is the first of a three-video series on autism and food. Stay tuned for Fighting Autism Brain Inflammation with Food and Best Foods for Autism.

Prior to this new series, I think the only other video in which I touched on autism was Cow’s Milk Casomorphin and Autism. But due to frequent requests for videos on the subject, I was happy to produce this series and more. Check out:

See all of the videos on autism here.

If there are any other topics—whether disease conditions, foods, or supplements—you’d like me to cover, please let us know!

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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