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Why is ST so anti-biomedical treatment for autism?

August 22, 2008

Why is The Strait Times waging a vociferous campaign against alternative therapies for autism – and singling out biomedical treatment?

On its own, an ST article questioning alternative and complementary therapies is nothing unusual. But three articles within a space of 10 days does seem (to use a word from one of the articles) “bizarre”.

Moreover, two of those article were written by the same journalist, Radha Basu, and both articles essentially said the same things. Is the ST so short of articles that it needs to repeat itself so soon? Even after another senior writer, Dr Andy Ho, has already affirmed several of the points initially raised?

At the same time, at least two letters to ST Forum commenting on those articles – one by me and one by my friend John Yeo, who is a biomedical practitioner with an MSc in Exercise and Nutrition – have been rejected for publication. Because, you know, “The Straits Times receives an average of 70 letters a day….”

If healthcare professionals who have been aggressively attacked are not given the right to respond, and present their case, who will be?

This “right of reply” is something that the PAP government makes a big issue about whenever it gets criticised by the foreign media. Yet our own media does not grant similar right of reply to our own citizens.

Something strange – bizarre – is going on. Let’s take a closer look at those articles.

____________

On 11 August, Radha Basu wrote an article titled Autism ‘cures’: helpful or harmful?

The article is peppered with emotive words. She describes chelation therapy as “bewildering” and quotes a US report that calls it “voodoo”.

The article goes on to highlight “reports of at least one botched-up chelation-related death in the US.” All this makes it sound as if chelation is highly dangerous, when, in fact, the single case of death was not due to chelation. Rather, it was due to the procedure being “botched up”.

The pertinent background, omitted from the ST report, is that in this instance, the doctor had administered the drug via direct injection when it should have been given via a drip, slowly over two to three hours.

Moreover, the drug used in this case was EDTA, which is rarely used in biomedical treatment. The most commonly used drug is DMSA, which is an oral / transdermal drug approved by the US FDA for treating acute lead poisoning.

DMSA has also been found to be effective for treating mercury and other heavy metal poisoning. And since it has been scientifically proven that many autistic children have higher levels of mercury in the body, using DMSA to remove mercury from autistic children is not unjustified.

But by discussing DMSA and then mentioning a case of death (indirectly) involving EDTA, Ms Basu made it seem as if all chelation is dangerous. This is irresponsible reporting. It is fear-mongering.

Ms Basu further describes two other biomedical treatments – hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) and neurofeedback – as “bizarre”.

She fails to mention that HBOT has been medically used for decades and is offered by many hospitals around the world, including Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Singapore General Hospital. She also fails to mention that HBOT has been scientifically proven to be safe and effective for the treatment of various physical as well as neurological conditions.

Plus, she fails to mention that soft chamber HBOT (using mild pressure and without pure oxygen – the type used for autism treatment here) is approved by the FDA as a Class IIa medical device for home use in the US.

As for neurofeedback, it is but a modern, enhanced version of biofeedback. And biofeedback itself has been around since the 1950s and has also considerable scientific backing. In fact, biofeedback is endorsed by prestigious mainstream medical institutions including The Mayo Clinic.

It is indeed strange (bizarre) that Ms Basu should describe these two therapies as bizarre.

Throughout, Ms Basu asserts that the various alternative treatments for autism – including nutritional therapy, CFGF (casein free, gluten free) diet, HBOT, etc – are unscientific, ineffective and dangerous.

These assertions are simply NOT TRUE. A simple search on the medical database PubMed will throw up a good number of peer-reviewed and published scientific studies affirming both the safety and efficacy of the various treatments.

Ms Basu goes on to highlight the “high costs” of alternative treatment for autism, ignoring the fact that conventional autism therapy often costs even more money!

As for parents who said their children have benefited from alternative treatment, Ms Basu casts a strong doubt with her own comment, “For now, at least.”

Such a comment is utterly insensitive and offensive. If you were the mother interviewed, whose autistic child had shown improvements, how does it feel to have the journalist proclaim to over a million readers that the improvements are only “for now”?

__________

On August 16, ST followed up with a commentary by Dr Andy Ho, who is trained as a medical doctor, titled Autism: Desperately seeking a cure.

Except for calling alternative and biomedical practitioners “quacks”, Dr Ho was at least more factual and less emotive in his writing.

But he, too, resorts to scare mongering. For example, he cites the use of two drugs, Avandia and Actos, which he describes as “potentially deadly”. In reality, these drugs – in fact, drugs in general – are hardly ever used by alternative practitioners.

Dr Ho offers a simplistic – to the point of being unscientific – explanation as to why autistic kids sometimes get better after alternative treatment. He writes:

“Sometimes, fad therapies seem to work because autism, like many other disorders, displays a natural pattern: Symptoms get worse at times and diminish at others. When symptoms get really bad, parents hunt for magic cures; and when the symptoms abate naturally afterwards, the improvement is attributed to the new ‘cure’. Parents want to believe.”

Such an explanation totally ignores cases where symptoms had persisted for years and then subsided, or went away completely, following alternative treatment. It also ignores – and belittles – the scientific literature that support the effectiveness of such treatments.

Dr Ho’s comment is that parents “want to believe”.

My comment is that doctors and other sceptics like him “don’t want to believe”.

_______

Finally, on August 20, the ST published a second article by Radha Basu titled Saving people from peddlers of false hope. As mentioned earlier, the article essentially makes the same points as her earlier article, except that it no longer specifically mentions biomedical treatment.

She ends of by calling for penalties against alternative practitioners who make “false claims”.

What about journalists who make equally false claims about treatments being unscientific and ineffective, without checking out the research that is readily available?

Shouldn’t they, too, be penalised?

19 comments

  1. […] richart created an interesting post today on Why is ST so anti-alternative cures for autism?Here’s a short outline“Sometimes, fad therapies seem to work because autism, like many other disorders, displays a natural pattern: Symptoms get worse at times and diminish at others. When symptoms get really bad, parents hunt for magic cures; … […]


  2. One mother I spoke to this morning (22 Aug) told me that she was interviewed by Basu and had told Basu that CFGF made her daughter more focused after just a few weeks. Basu obviously did not think that this was important enough to print. She chose instead to print only the negative comments. This mum is crying foul and said she is willing to repeat her statement to any other reporter that CFGF diet had helped her child. Let me ask Basu: What is your agenda?


  3. ST has agendas in their reporting? Gee, what’s a surprise!!

    Remember, this is the only sanctioned print media in Singapore …


  4. Tell me something new. The ST is a long foregone media. 146th position for a developed nation and on par with third world reporting? Tell me something new.

    Kaffein


  5. Submit the above critique to The Online Citizen at: theonlinecitizen@gmail.com

    They would be more than happy to publish it.


  6. I’m not a fan of ST myself, but before you accuse them of scare-mongering and inaccurate reporting, please substantiate your own article.

    “And since it has been scientifically proven that many autistic children have higher levels of mercury in the body, using DMSA to remove mercury from autistic children is not unjustified.”
    Firstly, could you cite the source of your claim that austitic children have higher levels of mercury in their body? As far as I know, it has not been scientifically proven that mercury and autism are linked. If there is evidence that I have not come across, I would be very interested to see it.

    Next, HBOT is indeed medically used for treatments, but of diseases/injuries such as carbon-monoxide poisoning and skin grafts. It is however, not a proven cure for autism, and hence it is definitely ‘unscientific’ as a treatment for autism. Just because it is approved for home use does not make it a right treatment for autism. I do not think ST was wrong in saying this.

    Similarly, your argument for neurofeedback fails. Biofeedback has been shown to be useful for treating certain ailments like urinary incontinence, and has been approved for those. However, there is simply no link between neurofeedback and treating autism. Just because it may have been endorsed by Mayo Clinic as you claim doesn’t make it safe or right for autism until you show it. You make the same errors that you accuse ST of making, ie. linking two ideas together and making spurious claims about their correlation.


  7. For more detailed discussions on these important topics, see:
    Singapore Kopitiam
    http://forums.delphiforums.com/sunkopitiam/messages/


  8. Here are some research linking autism to mercury and the potential usefulness of HBOT and Neurofeedback / EEG biofeedback in autism treatment.

    Mercury and Autism
    Bradstreet et al (1998) administered oral DMSA to 221 autistic children with 18 typical children serving as controls. It was found that autistic excreted 3 times more mercury in the urine compared to controls.

    (See: Bradstreet J, Geier DA, Kartzinell JJ, Adams JB, Geier MR, 2003. A case-control study of mercury burden in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. J.Am. Phys. Surg 8(3): 76-79.)

    Holmes et al (2003) found that autistic children had significant less hair mercury as babies (12 to 24 months old) compared to controls. Further, the severity of autism was significantly and inversely correlated to the level of baby hair mercury. It was postulated that autistic children excreted mercury poorly resulting in mercury toxicity.

    See: Holmes AS, Blaxill MF, Haley BE, 2003. Reduced levels of mercury in first baby haircuts of autistic children. Int. J. Toxicology 22(4):277-285.)

    Adams (2004) compared baby teeth of 14 autistic children to 11 controls and found elevated levels of lead and mercury in the baby teeth of the autistic population.

    (Adams JB, 2004. A review of the autism-mercury connection. Conference proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Autism Society of America July 2004.)

    HBOT and Autism
    1)HBOT significantly reduced marker for inflammation (p<0.021)
    2)Significant improvement in motivation, speech and cognitive awareness (p<0.05)
    3)No major adverse reactions.

    (See: Rossignol DA, Rossignol LW, James SJ, Melnyk S, Mumper E., The effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy on oxidativestress, inflammation, and symptoms in children with autism: an open-label pilot study. BMC Pediatrics 2007 Nov 16;7:36.)

    Also please see a discuss of the medical hypothesis for the use of HBOT in autism at: Rossignol DA., Hyperbaric oxygen therapy might improve certain pathophysiological findings in autism. Med Hypotheses. 2007;68(6):1208-27. Epub 2006 Dec 4.

    To say that HBOT treats autism is not quite correct. Autism is a collection of various problems that includes inflammation, gut dysbiosis, oxidative stress, methylation dysfunction, mitochondria dysfunction, poor blood flow in regions of the brain etc. All these have been proven in various papers if one cares to search and HBOT has been shown to help reduce these problems and therefore could reduce autistic symptoms. Many parents have reported good results.

    Neurofeedback and Autism
    EEG Neurofeedback study (Jerusiewicz, 2002)
    • 20 children with ASD in experimental group.
    • 20 children with ASD in control group
    • Experimental group completed an average of 36 neurofeedback sessions
    • Pre- and post-treatment scores on the Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist (ATEC) were collected.
    Pilot study results: percentage of improvement on ATEC
    Neurofeedback group Control group
    Speech/Language 29% 0%
    Sociability 33% 7%
    Sensory/Cognitive 17% 0%
    Health/Physical/Behavior 26% 5%
    Total 26% 3%

    HEG Neurofeedback research (Limsila & Toomim, 2003)
    • Largest HEG study to date.
    • 180 autistic children in Thailand
    • After 40 sessions, the cohort’s mean HEG readings (prefrontal activation) increased 53%
    • Of the 81 subjects who were studying in public school, 86% increased their GPA by more than 0.5 (mean = 0.94) points on a 4-point scale
    • Only 4% decreased their GPA by more than 0.5 points (mean = 0.57)
    Limsila, P., Toomim, H., Kijvithee, J., Bunthong,W., Pookjinda, J., & Utairatanakit, D. (2004). Hemoencephalography (HEG): An additional treatment for autism. Retrieved from http://www.biocompresearch.org/Thai_autism_study.htm.

    HEG Neurofeedback Research (Coben 2006)
    • 28 subjects with autism
    • 20 nir or pir HEG sessions
    • Wait list control group (n=12) matched for gender, age, race, handedness, IQ & treatment
    • All subjects had previously completed 20 sessions of EEG neurofeedback
    • All subjects had identified frontal system dysfunction based on neurobehavioral testing, neuropsychological testing, infrared imaging, and QEEG data
    • 90% success rate
    • 42% reduction in autistic symptoms on ATEC
    • 43% reduction in social interaction deficits
    • 47% reduction in communication deficits
    • 44% reduction in sensory/cognitive deficits
    • 39% reduction in behavior deficits
    • Statistically significant (p < .05) improvements in neurobehavioral and neuropsychological functioning
    Coben, R. (2006). Hemoencephalography for autistic spectrum disorder. Presented at the14th Annual Conference of the International Society for Neuronal Regulation, Atlanta, Georgia.

    Discussion
    I am happy to be able to present these as the newspapar media won’t give me the space. Biological / Neurological research in Autism is just beginning. If we keep shouting it down, then such research may not get the funding support. Also parents cannot wait too long for controlled trial research as their kids stand a better chance when treated young.

    Richard’s article basically tried to point out the fact that it is wrong to describe HBOT and neurofeedback as bizzarre and bewildering when these are researched and respectable therapies.


  9. Thanks John.

    I asked John, who is a lot more familiar with the subject, to respond to the comment by Sgizh. This is on the assumption that Sgizh is truly interested to know more.

    As readers can see, the research is available. But it takes time and effort to search and list them out.

    As a responsible writer, I do not make false and unfounded claims, At the same time, I write this as a blog, not as a research / academic paper and there is no real need for me to include a long list of references just to back up my statements.

    John has kindly taken time to list out the references for the benefit of those who are genuinely keen to find out more.

    However, neither he nor I would do it just to satisfy those who question / debate merely for the sake of argument.


  10. Thanks. I will look into these references.=)


  11. […] Healthcare – The Alternative ‘HPB’: Why is ST so anti-biomedical treatment for autism? […]


  12. […] ST article questioning alternative and complementary therapies is nothing unusual. But three articlehttps://healthpromotionblog.wordpress.com/2008/08/22/why-is-st-so-anti-alternative-cures-for-autism/Read “RE: DF: Myths about Pressure Points” at CMA From Around the Web Forum… on the body that also […]


  13. […] ST article questioning alternative and complementary therapies is nothing unusual. But three articlehttps://healthpromotionblog.wordpress.com/2008/08/22/why-is-st-so-anti-alternative-cures-for-autism/ACTOS’including ACTOS, cause or exacerbate congestive heart. failure in some patients see WARNINGS. […]


  14. JVC
    I think few people agree with you, but I am among them.
    ksoleifdjj388


  15. THANKS 🙂 JVC for your support.


  16. My son is recovered from Autism thanks to Bio Med. For every child the road is different. No his symptoms were not just taking a natural evloution. He did trans dermal DMSA and after one week had eye contact. His autistic sypmtoms,those that make him detatched from the world nvere returned,he has only gotten better. oh and the diet is GFCF not CFGF. Please contact for more info


  17. Hi writers,

    I have 6 years old autistic son. I can’t express happy enough on his improvement on GFCF diet, on Zeolite (more words coming out, obedient) and so on… I would like to thank Dr. Yeo and Richard on your explainations and articles to let those people out there who sceptical about alternative treatment(Bio-Medical Intervention)for autism know, that there is some HOPE for autism in Singapore, especially Government-Body….

    regards,
    Mely


  18. I stumbled upon your blog when scouring the net for healthy food options. I am so glad to have found this post. Though the issue-Radha Basu’s article in ST is two years old, its not something one can forget easily.My child has autism and as you have so rightly pointed out the article was malicious and misleading. If anything was ‘Bizzare’ it was definately her vindictive remarks and insensitive attitude towards the autism community. The article seemed motivated by spite rather than a desire to educate


  19. My 8 yr old son is improving from oral DMSA and weekly colonics as he hasn’t had a BM on his own in 5 yrs now.



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