Sept. 18--As a pediatrician specializing in holistic and integrative medicine,
Dr. Debby Hamilton's practice serves a large percentage of children diagnosed
with autism and their families.
She, like other holistic practitioners, treats problems that are common among
autistic children such as digestive issues and difficulties with detoxification.
The treatments, which include restricting the diet, eliminating environmental
toxins, detoxification and prescribing supplements, improve symptoms in some
children, Hamilton says.
"Kids with milder symptoms -- if they come in with a lot of medical problems --
really do get better," she says. Others, however, make much less progress.
One of the questions parents of autistic children, typically ask is how they can
prevent the development of autism in a second child. Studies show that having
one child with autism increases the likelihood of having a second autistic
The question is crucial as the incidence of autism continues to rise. In March,
the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Health Resources and
Services Administration released results from a parent survey on school-age
children that put the incidence of autism spectrum disorders at 1 in 50 or 2
percent. That number was greater than a CDC report in 2012 that estimated the
numbers at 1 in 88.
The question of prevention has no definitive, evidence-based answers, since the
cause of autism remains unknown. However, Hamilton believes women can reduce
risk factors by making changes in their own nutrition, digestion, immune
function, inflammation and detoxification. She has written and self-published a
book, "Preventing Autism & ADHD: Controlling Risk Factors Before, During and
The book looks at studies that show correlations between autism and conditions
such as digestive disorders or low levels of Omega 3 fatty acids. In her
practice, Hamilton treats such symptoms with special diets, removing
environmental toxins and supplementation. In her book, she recommends a similar
approach for a pre-pregnancy diet. She calls the approach the Triangle of
Prevention, with its three sides including healthy diet and nutrition, strong
digestion and detoxification. Her hypothesis is that reducing risk factors in
the mother before pregnancy occurs can prevent symptoms of autism from occurring
in their children. She admits that there are no studies to back up her
hypothesis. However, she points out that studying pregnant women by giving them
small amounts of toxic mercury to compare with a control group of non-mercury
consuming women would be unethical, since mercury is a known toxin. Likewise,
since Omega 3s are known to promote healthy neural development in fetuses,
denying them to a pregnant woman for the purposes of research would be
The approach Hamilton proposes is not radical. Many of the diet recommendation
are typical of other pre-pregnancy diets -- consuming plenty of fruits and
vegetables, for example. Hamilton does, however, stress that all food should be
free from pesticides. Because of mercury in low levels in almost all fish, she
advises not eating fish during pregnancy, with the woman, instead, getting Omega
3s through supplements.
Hamilton who has a master's degree in public health in addition to her medical
degree, also advises women who want to get pregnant to remove toxins from their
homes. That means switching to non-toxic cleaning products and not using
pesticides on lawns or to kill insects. Paints should be no VOC and upholstery
and carpets should not release chemical gases. Cosmetics should also get a close
look, since many harbor small amounts of heavy metals.
She also recommends testing stools for bacteria and yeast imbalances and
supplementing with probiotics for optimal digestive health.
To detoxify, Hamilton prescribes infrared saunas.
"It helps sweat out toxins. It's been done for centuries. It's very safe," she
Hamilton notes that it's important to detoxify before pregnancy, since it could
harm the fetus during pregnancy.
The most controversial part of Hamilton's book is her stance on vaccines, which
have not been shown to have a link to autism. Hamilton says she is not
anti-vaccine, but notes that many European countries recommend fewer vaccines
than doctors do in the United States. In addition, she says some of her patients
opt for alternative vaccine schedules in which vaccines are spaced out over a
period of time.
Katie Price, a former Boulder resident who now lives in Littleton, attended one
of Hamilton's workshops and followed the prepregnancy diet.
Price, who has been diagnosed with a mild form of multiple sclerosis, says she
was interested in a holistic approach when it came to pregnancy.
"(The workshop) helped explain the different vitamins and supplements that the
body needs," she says. "It was good to get some general health guidance
especially when thinking about the next step of getting pregnant."
She and her husband now have a 31/2-month-old boy. Price says she still uses her
prepregnancy supplements during nursing.
"He's a healthy little boy," she says of her son, William. After the workshop,
my husband and I ended up getting pregnant very quickly."
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