Autism and Lyme disease

Well, sometimes things come from odd places.

The spouse comes home and tells me about a friend, who’s kid has autism, who tests positive for lyme (as does the kid) who finds a site dedicated to the ‘connection’ between the two.

First thing you know, I’m recruited to do some R&D via the web…

OK, another flaky theory, thinks I… But, “for the spouse”…

First off, there is the “Lyme Induced Autism Association”. Seems like everything gets an association and a web page these days. It has the usual collection of “decent medical references” along with “wild and crazy ideas”. (One link claims to cure lyme with a tablespoon of salt and 3 grams of Vit C per day…) But some of it looks like decent science… or at least it has some M.D. names on it. Looks like early speculative practice / research to me, but hey, at least someone on the team has a degree in the area.

At their site is a link to a TV News Report that is the usual ‘tear jerker’ about the autistic kid with Lyme who gets somewhat better once it is treated (but just doesn’t manage to recover fully with the implication that it was just too late for her, but for others if only treated sooner… )

Is one testimonial proof of anything? Nope. But it’s likely an example of how some benefit can come from reduction of at least one of the agents of illness.

Then I find a Wiki, of sorts:

That, being a ‘wikia’, is a bit more like a ‘group blog’ than the official wiki…

It has a list of 8 line items, some of which have to do with Autism and Lyme. Each a link to what looked like a decent reference. One in particular caught my eye:

Med Hypotheses. 2008;70(5):967-74. Epub 2007 Nov 5.
The association between tick-borne infections, Lyme borreliosis and autism spectrum disorders.
Bransfield RC, Wulfman JS, Harvey WT, Usman AI.

Department of Psychiatry, Riverview Medical Center, 225 State Route 35, Red Bank, NJ, United States.

Chronic infectious diseases, including tick-borne infections such as Borrelia burgdorferi may have direct effects, promote other infections and create a weakened, sensitized and immunologically vulnerable state during fetal development and infancy leading to increased vulnerability for developing autism spectrum disorders. A dysfunctional synergism with other predisposing and contributing factors may contribute to autism spectrum disorders by provoking innate and adaptive immune reactions to cause and perpetuate effects in susceptible individuals that result in inflammation, molecular mimicry, kynurenine pathway changes, increased quinolinic acid and decreased serotonin, oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction and excitotoxicity that impair the development of the amygdala and other neural structures and neural networks resulting in a partial Klüver-Bucy Syndrome and other deficits resulting in autism spectrum disorders and/or exacerbating autism spectrum disorders from other causes throughout life. Support for this hypothesis includes multiple cases of mothers with Lyme disease and children with autism spectrum disorders; fetal neurological abnormalities associated with tick-borne diseases; similarities between tick-borne diseases and autism spectrum disorder regarding symptoms, pathophysiology, immune reactivity, temporal lobe pathology, and brain imaging data; positive reactivity in several studies with autistic spectrum disorder patients for Borrelia burgdorferi (22%, 26% and 20-30%) and 58% for mycoplasma; similar geographic distribution and improvement in autistic symptoms from antibiotic treatment. It is imperative to research these and all possible causes of autism spectrum disorders in order to prevent every preventable case and treat every treatable case until this disease has been eliminated from humanity.

Pretty good list of symptoms and correlations.

OK, which way does causalities arrow fly? Does the autism lead to more opportunities for illness that is not diagnosed and accumulates, or does the infection at an early and susceptible age lead to the autism result?

Nobody knows. However, in many cases the mother was found to be lyme positive and likely was at the time of pregnancy. Lyme is known to transmit across the placental barrier, so it’s possible that the kid gets the bugs early enough for them to be causal of the neurological effects (potentially also including the neuronal hypertrophy). OK, it’s a ‘possible’.

With positive titers of 22% to 30% for lyme, and 58% for mycoplasma, at the minimum a diagnosis of Autism ought to be followed by a prophylactic test for those two infections. Often the kid can’t tell you what hurts, so it’s up to us to find the “issues” that may be making them hurt.

It could also well be that the prevalence of autism among ‘geek couples’ has to do with their ‘back to the earth’ tendencies to wander out in the woods where the ticks live…

As autism is ‘multifactorial’, there is plenty of room for the ‘multi’ part. And the authors work at a medical center… ;-)

In Conclusion

There’s enough here to be worth taking a look at it, and folks look like they are. If I had a kid with autism, I’d get them tested for those two bugs (and maybe more). Though even that is a bit tricky as lyme can play hide and seek with various tests for it so both symptoms and tests must be combined to reach a diagnosis.

Do I think lyme is “it”? Nope. There is most likely a mix of causal agents. A bit of genetic predisposition. Some environmental trauma (that might include metals, vaccines, leaky gut issues). And maybe, in some cases, infections are part of the trauma. But yes, I think it is worth a look.

It is also very possible that lyme, known to cause neurological symptoms, is just an ‘add on’ to a base level of some other process that causes actual Autism; or in some cases is a misdiagnosis without the underlying Autism. When two things can have the same symptoms, it can be hard to keep them correctly diagnosed. Perhaps since it is a diagnosis based on the appearance, it doesn’t really matter. It still counts. Or perhaps we’ll figure out that Autism is like cancer, actually many different diseases but each with similarities to the other.

At any rate, it’s an interesting thing that’s being explored.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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10 Responses to Autism and Lyme disease

  1. Scarlet Pumpernickel says:

    Autism occurs in all countries. All countries don’t have Lymes ;)

  2. Scarlet Pumpernickel says:

  3. Pascvaks says:

    Not since Adam and Eve romped in the Garden of Eden and ate what they might –except the fruit of the you-know-what– have people consumed, breathed, drank, inhaled, touched, so many “unknowns”. The old saying ‘that we are what we eat’ pretty much says it all, as long as you include in the ‘eating’ all forms of ‘ingestion’ (ie: everything that gets into our body).

    Back in the “Good Old Days” there were a million and one rules to cover pretty much everything under the Sun, or so I’m told. I know when I was a kid that we were told “No!” more than “OK!” or “Yes”, so all the Big People back then must have known a hell of a lot more than we do today.

    The “connection” between autism and lyme may be thick or thin, but I have a feeling that we are “biting” into things we really don’t understand the effects of and we’re doing it faster than ever before. It really bothers me that the FDA and all the other “WatchDogs” we’re suppose to have are just like the USPO and as lax and bankrupt as well.

    Tried to remember and finally found two items that kind’a flesh out what I mean —

  4. E.M.Smith says:


    The thesis is NOT that 100% of Autism is caused by Lyme. The thesis is that many things cause Austism, and one of them may be Lyme. That the two are both rising in amount at the same time and in the same geographic pattern is highly suggestive of a connection.

    At least one of the referenced sites had the speculation that many ‘bugs’ can be causal (including mycoplasma) or contributory and that Lyme is but one of them. As Autistics are frequently found to have food intolerances, overly sensitive immune responses, leaky gut syndrome, and multiple infections; and often improve somewhat with antibiotics there is reasonable physical evidence for that hypothesis.

    So the syllogism that “Autism is in all countries, All countries don’t have Lyme, therefor Lyme does not cause autism.” fails due to the potential of multiple causality of which Lyme is only one.

    It’s like saying “Drunkenness is in all countries. All countries don’t have Kiwi Brandy, therefore Kiwi Brandy does not cause drunkenness.” It misses the Scotch, Rye, Gin, Beer etc common mode of action with Kiwi Brandy… Multifactorial causal agents are like that… (It would actually make a better example to use drug addiction and ONE drug, but it’s less effective as an obviously wrong conclusion as folks need familiarity with the ‘odd drug’ for the example to work…)

    At any rate, I saw the smiley and this is not a ‘dump’ on you. It is just clarification of the logic of the problem space for others who might find the simple (but wrong) syllogism seductive…

    FWIW, I’ve seen the medical establishment make exactly that wrong syllogism many times… I had one Dr. state “I can’t test for FOO so you don’t have hit.” (!) The lack of an off the shelf test does not preclude the existence of a disease… ( I later treated the lesions with the prescribed treatment for cattle and had them resolve… but the Dr. still says I can’t have had it… even though he could not find any other cause and I’d had exposure via livestock that were know to have it… Sigh… Broken logic can be a terrible master. Modern medicine is full of broken logic. Therefore modern medicine is a terrible master ;-)


    When I was a kid, I too got the “don’t eat” more than the OK. From castor flowers the neighbor had, to oleander bushes, to mushrooms in the lawn, to Jimson Weed, to the bile gland on animals being butchered out, to green potatoes and potato leaves, to… It’s a very toxic world out there…

    Now we have folks running all over putting strange things in the GLOBAL food supply and conducting experiments on all of us without our permission (not to mention a hundred and one vaccines before age 4…) Far more variety of insult to the body way earlier in life. (I have had measles, mumps, the flu in many varieties, and more. I think the vaccines are a godsend and I’m glad MY kids took the vaccines and skipped the diseases. However, that does not reduce the ‘insult’ it delivered nor that some folks might react badly to it…)

    I can only wonder what doctoring most of the world chocolate bars with castor oil derived fats will do. Or what GMO plants in every form of animal feed will do (the genes have been shown to be picked up by gut bacteria – they are very sloppy about what genes are ‘theirs’…) and I’m pretty sure that dumping a thousand and one strange additives into foods “has risks” (vis the psudo-estrogens that have been found in the plastics lining food cans…) And I’m not alone in that. Just look at the growth of Whole Foods and the Health Food Industry and you can see there’s a lot of folks worried about what is in their food. (I’m not paranoid about it and, for example, still eat canned ravioli and frozen TV dinners some times… I just usually eat things with a single name – like ‘chicken’ or ‘rice’ – cooked at home.)

    Does all the ‘crap’ in the food chain and environment matter? I suspect it does, but not to a great deal and not to all people. So you get a few folks with messed up kids and a small reduction in sperm counts and the world goes on… (Cats in the wild in particular are having plunging sperm counts, while humans have a drop but not so strongly. I suspect there is some environment factor that is concentrated up the food chain, so meat eaters get the worst of it. Perhaps one of those psuedo-estrogens… but nobody knows…) Since it’s multifactorial and dose proportional, you get lots of evidence for “we found it in FOO but they were not sick” and things get dismissed that ought not be dismissed. And some life goes on…

    So are any of those insults and any of those effects part of the “Autism Epidemic”? Nobody knows. But I think it’s worth a look (and a non-dismissive one too…)

    But to your point: Yup, we’ve put more crap into the biosphere and our bodies in less time than any other point in evolutionary history. Someday we will find out what it all does to us too… Right now it’s Darwin’s turn to serve…

  5. Pingback: Autism and Lyme disease « Musings from the Chiefio | My Autism Site | All About Autism

  6. Scarlet Pumpernickel says:

    Yeah not sure whats causing autism, the Mercury in vaccines are often blamed.

    But I think it’s probably mostly Low Vitamin D?

  7. tckev says:

    One of the most ubiquitous infection that cause changes in thinking is Toxoplasma gondii. A couple of years ago I became aware of this infection and wondered if it has any links to difficult behavior in children or even Autism. I have never found any links to these ideas or seen any research on it. However good information of this is strange infection is at
    and as they says “capable of infecting a wide variety of mammals and birds. This single-celled protozoan organism might cause a disease known as toxoplasmosis and is arguably the most successful protozoan parasite on Earth. Between 15 and 85% of the world adult human population is chronically infected with Toxoplasma gondii depending on geographical location.”
    This infection is caught through the rat-cat-human link which is just about worldwide, and can alter the infected host’s basic thinking – usually making them more reckless and impulsive.
    The alarming part is “There is no available drug that can reach the parasite encysted in the brain tissue.”

  8. tckev says:

    A correction –
    “I have never found any links to these ideas or seen any research on it.”

    I have seen a lot of papers giving the hypothesis about this infection but VERY little active research into to infection or proof of a link to autism.

  9. DocMartyn says:

    Look up Simon Baron-Cohen and the fetal testosterone hypothesis.
    My work, in final draft, shows a high fraction of ASD’s have mitochondrial problems, making them venerable to a wide range of insults.

  10. E.M.Smith says:

    Interesting point. I can tell I’m going to spend a few hours on that path too ;-)

    A general mitochondria problem ought to show up as matrilineal inheritance, no? Ought to be easy to show a statistical marker of that… The whole connection to testosterone is interesting too, as it has an immunity link, and it looks like immunity in autistics is screwed up. (Aspergers not so much…)

    I’d also postulate a possible hypothalmus involvement (as it’s development is testosterone modified). An undersized hypothalmus could cause all kinds of problems…

    In the end, I think we’ll find that there are many Autisms and that Aspergers is a competely different thing with different causes that only looks like it belongs on a ‘spectrum’ based on a few similarities. This will likely come out of work that shows things like the areas of the brain that don’t work well in autism often work better than normal in Aspergers. Language skill, for example.

    Bit it will take a long time, and finding actual causal agents for one or the other, before folks will make that leap…

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