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Supporting the Immune System for the Care and Prevention of Autoimmunity

Written by Andrew Keech, PhD   
Sunday, 01 March 2009 00:00
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Autism is an early-onset biological disorder that causes severe deficits of higher mental functions, as well as behavioral manifestations. There is no single, clear-cut cause. Causally speaking, immune factors, neurochemical factors, antibiotics, genetic susceptibility factors, and environmental factors (including microbial infections and chemical toxicity) have been implicated. Autism is a very complex, multifactorial disorder that may include autoimmunity.

Combating the potential for autoimmunity begins in pregnancy by reducing the mother’s physical, emotional, and chemical stress overload. Her own immune system function is directly related to her developing baby’s immune health potential. Intake of supportive foods, avoidance of toxic chemicals, and understanding the enhancement of her immune system function cannot be underestimated.

Birth outcome and choices made immediately following birth have significant impact on the future immune system function of the child as well. For example, babies born vaginally have a higher exposure to the mother’s friendly bacteria than those born via C-section. Direct exposure from the mother of these helpful bacteria to the baby initiates production of the baby’s own gut bacteria, an essential part of the developing immune system. Breastfeeding offers numerous benefits for immune system enhancement as well. The first milk produced by the mother is called colostrum. Colostrum is nature’s perfect first food. It is the pre-milk substance produced from the mother’s breasts during the first 24 hours of lactation. From 24–48 hours this is called transitional milk. After 48 hours, milk is defined.

Colostrum supplies immune and growth factors and a perfect combination of vitamins and minerals to ensure the health, vitality, and growth of the newborn. It is estimated that colostrum triggers at least 50 processes in the newborn, including transferring all the immune factors and the entire memory from the mother’s own immune system to her baby.

Colostrum contains large quantities of an antibody called secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA), a new substance to the newborn that assists the newborn’s adaptation to the outside womb environment. A newborn’s intestines are very permeable. Colostrum protects the intestinal walls from penetration by foreign substances in foods that the mother has eaten. Protecting the infant’s gut from these potentially sensitizing substances is significant for the prevention of autoimmune system dysfunction later in life. The colostrum gradually changes to milk within the first couple of weeks of life. Continued breastfeeding will promote further healthy immune system development because of its unreplicated nutritional and nurturing benefits.

Adverse effects to the infant’s immune system include toxins the child is exposed to. Environmental toxins (fluoride, mercury, preservatives), medical toxins (vaccines, antibiotics, anti-fever and cold medications), and food toxins (in the mother’s diet or infant formula) are all factors that further tax immune system strength. It is essential for us to be informed and savvy of the numerous toxicities our infants can be exposed to in-utero and in their early years. It is the experience of most parents today to follow the prescribed course of allopathic treatment in pregnancy and for their newborns. In the allopathic model there are minimal, if any, advanced warnings in avoiding toxins and enhancing immune system function. Obstetricians and pediatricians are not trained in nutrition or immunity and so their practice does not include valuable information for parents to make educated choices. Future impaired nerve and immune system function often result.

When parents must deal with an autoimmune system dysfunction, like autism, they become acutely aware of important immunity enhancers. They learn about the significance of changing their child’s diet, means of detoxifyng their child’s system, and enhancing nerve and immune system function. Other articles in this issue of Pathways address information on nutrition, detoxification, and nerve system activity for children with autism. Since autoimmune bioprocesses quite often are triggered in the body by an imbalance in particular cytokines in the body, immune therapies such as proline-rich polypeptides (PRP) and colostrums have shown promise. Colostrum peptides re-balance this cytokine response, particularly Th1 and Th2, by creating homeostasis in the body where the body should no longer attack itself.