Autism, Vaccines, & Sleep Apnea: My Multi-Hit Theory

I remember during M&M (morbidity and mortality) rounds as a resident, our chairman felt strongly that an error never occurs in isolation. He insisted that a bad outcome happens from a series of mistakes, oversights and lack of communication. Even in engineering or aviation, whenever something goes wrong, there’s usually a series of events that led to the final adverse outcome. The same analogy also applies with cancer.

Although vaccines were essentially exonerated by recent large-scale studies (showing that the rate of autism was no different before and after Thimerisol was removed), there are still many proponents of the vaccine theory. I think that there’s some merit to this possible connection, but not for the reasons that you may think. Let me explain.

You may remember in one of my previous posts, I described reading about a theory that proposes that since the Back to Sleep campaign for infants in the early 90s, the incidence of autism went up significantly afterwards. This campaign led to a 40% reduction in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). However, one of the consequences of keeping infants on their backs is to keep them in a lighter state of sleep. This can prevent proper memory consolidation and brain development.

Although it sounds like a feasible explanation, it’s going to be difficult to prove. Medically and politically, doctors are not going to retract this recommendation, even if it is found to be plausible. However, if you add to this the fact that modern jaws are smaller due to a more bottle-feeding and poor nutrition, sleeping on your back can definitely lessen your deep sleep efficiency.

In another recent post, I alluded to allergy shots aggravating obstructive sleep apnea, by increasing nasal congestion. Anything that causes inflammation in the nose or throat, including allergies, colds, migraines, reflux or weather changes, can aggravate more frequent pauses in your breathing, especially when in deep sleep.

The human voice box is unique in that it’s located below the tongue. This migration downwards begins at birth and continues until your 60 or 70s. Around 4 to 6 months, a space is created between your soft palate and your voice box, called the oropharynx. Only humans have a true oropharynx. Descent of the larynx is needed for complex speech and language. But this also predisposes humans to breathing problems, especially when on our backs. This is when the tongue and voice box falls back the most, due to gravity. When you add muscle relaxation during deep sleep, you’re more likely to stop breathing and wake up.

Not breathing at night while sleeping, from a brief second to 30 seconds or more, can be detrimental to your brain. The end extreme of this spectrum is called obstructive sleep apnea, but even multiple short episodes of breathing pauses due to upper airway obstruction can lead to various pathways that can lead to significant neurological impairment.

If you put all these mechanisms together, then it creates a situation where you can suffer serious brain damage. In most cases, you won’t be able to see any anatomic changes using traditional imaging studies, such as with a CT scan or an MRI. These are sub-radiologic changes that occur within the brain tissues itself.

Vaccines and flu shots, just like anything else that creates a mild infection, can cause swelling and inflammation in your nose and throat. If your anatomy is already predisposed, and you add additional variables such as back sleeping and bottle-feeding, then even an allergy attack could in theory cause changes in your brain that can mimic autism. Given that the total number of child immunizations has increased tremendously only adds to my argument. Not too surprisingly, there are also known reports of children who develop autism after a simple cold or flu infection.

Ultimately, it may not be the specific type of vaccine or flu shot, or even the specific materials that they’re made with, but rather the general inflammation causing properties of these immunizations that may be the trigger that tips children over the edge to progress into any of the autism spectrum disorders. I may be going out on a limb here, but in the big scheme of things, autism may even be a childhood manifestation of the same process that causes Alzheimer’s.

What’s your opinion on my thought experiment? Will you agree with me that autism has multifactorial causes and not just one trigger?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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7 thoughts on “Autism, Vaccines, & Sleep Apnea: My Multi-Hit Theory

  1. Hi Dr. Park;
    I absolutely agree with you that autism has multifactorial etiology, and I think that is why we won’t ever find the smoking gun. the way modern science designs experiments, we don’t have the tools to elucidate the connections. because we have not yet learned to regularly take into account the genetic polymorphisms which make us different from each other and in my mind, invalidate many studies that have been done because of erroneous assumptions about uniformity of test and control groups.

    before I discovered that my sleep breathing disorder is primary to what has been wrong with me for so long, I was investigating my methylation mutations, which have been tied to autism. methylation mutations are probably a necessary but not sufficient cause; you need to add other things too. having methylation mutations as well as problems with glutathione transferase causes problems detoxifying heavy metals, such as the mercury in thimerosal and the aluminum which still exists in vaccines as an adjuvant. to me it is a reasonable hypothesis that children with these mutations are at higher risk for a problem with a vaccine. they may not have found anything statistically significant when they looked at all children across the board, but if they look just at those with methylation mutations, I wonder what they would find.

    and then add to that children who have at risk facial/jaw issues and were forced to sleep on their backs and had lots of ear infections…..
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16685178
    see this link; children with autism have higher rates of ear infections. so they spent more time congested and sleeping on their backs. as a pediatrician, I can’t say I saw kids getting congested regularly after their shots. maybe because they were in the pediatricians office and caught a cold at their well appointment. so I still think that there is a link with the vaccines related to the heavy metals, but something that is only a problem for a few kids, and then probably only if they were having a sleep breathing issue as well, related to sleep position and URI. the Aluminum is a stimulator of the immune system so perhaps this plays a role too. how can we design a study to tease out all the factors we think are involved in a multifactorial illness?

  2. my brain doesn’t know today is Christmas…..
    related to above, we talked before about the studies found that suggest that OSA triggers the methylation genes to then lead to epigenetic changes that cause Alzheimer’s. maybe the same thing happens with autism, because of the known methylation problems in autism.

    but this morning I was actually thinking about how we see cases where a child was normal and then suddenly became autistic. I don’t know if the sleep position theory makes sense here because you would think it would be more of a gradual process from the beginning of life if it is related to sleep position. but then I thought, well what if the jaw is actually growing and developing differently because of sleep position? what if gravity is inhibiting the lower jaw from growing longer if a child is always sleeping on their back? then by the time they are a year old, perhaps the jaw is smaller than it would have been if they always slept (half of the life of a child is spent sleeping) prone? and it’s more than just gravity affecting the jaw, it is gravity affecting the position of the tongue in the mouth. if the tongue falls back in sleep, it cannot work on the palate to shape the palate normally. if a child sleeps prone the tongue can more easily sit on the palate and work on it at night. then once the jaw is at a critical smallness, the child gets a cold and the nasal congestion pushes them over the edge, and you see the sudden onset of “autism”. do you think this makes sense? or should I just stick to biochemistry? ;-)

  3. Dr. Deb,

    Regardless of how and why a child’s jaw doesn’t develop fully, it being smaller can prevent deep sleep. Forcing an infant to then sleep on his or her back only makes it worse. This could also lead to a lower threshold for acute events such as mini-stokes or even infections, usually caused by a simple cold or a vaccine. There are numerous reports of children suddenly becoming autistic just after a simple cold, where no vaccine was given. You can think of vaccines as being no different than a cold, in terms of how it worsens inflammation and swelling of the upper airway, leading to a sudden increase in breathing problems while sleeping, leading to all the physiologic and biochemical events that we’ve been talking about. Because there was some form of medical intervention, it may seem like a substance in the vaccine may the the cause, when in fact it’s generalized upper airway that’s can trigger the switch to cause a sudden brain malfunction that leads to autism.

    I don’t think we should suddenly recommend allowing infants to sleep on their stomach or sides again, but doctors have to re-examine this issue and possibly figure out a way to predict children who are anatomically more at risk for SIDS.

  4. Is their any studies that show that antibiotics may soothe the brain of an autistic person? I have a 25 year old son that has violent outbursts and when he is on antibiotics he is more responsive to others and smiles. He has been to several specialist and I know that antibiotic therapy continuos is not practicle but I would like input on this. Thank you!

  5. I’m not doctor but my doctor ,my daughter born healthy ,and was by far very normal and above average ,suffered nasal congestion and sinus infections from a very young age, around 2 I will say ,she was tested for allergies and has none , so as the years trickled by , I started to notice a difference in her behavior and extreme weight gain, although ahe didn’t over eat ,when she started to fall behind in kindergarten , I thought it was from her nasal passage being clogged, now in the 2nd grade I took her to a neurologist and physcologist , who said she has OSA, the doctor based on her MRI said from the neurons in her head showed she had Mercury , that it was more then likely she got it from a vaccine in perticuilar the flu shot ,and she was autistic and that her chin and jaw bone were deformed and that her adenoids and tonsils need to be removed that they are so big there cutting of the oxygen supply to her head creating carbon dioxide .. So everything u said Dr.Parker has been correct in what I’m witnessing in my child . It’s amazing that her own pediatrician will not test for heavy metal otherwise she would have to contact the CDC .. Idk what I can do , I’m not wanting to give her a controlled substance to fix this . Any suggestions would be helpful

  6. I tend to think this is too simplistic for three reasons: 1) There are many many studies that actually do link vaccines and autism, specifically focusing on vaccine ingredients such as aluminum and thimerisol. The power of these toxins to damage the brain is actually quite large. 2) This phenomenon would be seen with children who simply get a cold, and would have no connection to vaccines in particular. 3) The onset of autism is usually between 15 months and 30 months, but the back-to-sleep campaign only applies to tiny infants because once they start rolling over, you really can’t stop them. By the time you get to 6-8 months old, babies are going to sleep however they like, usually on their faces with their little butts sticking up!

  7. Nicole,

    I’m not diminishing the potentially damaging effects of vaccine ingredients. My main point is that given the right combination of conditions, adding one additional major trigger can make you much more susceptible to brain injury.

    Regarding your comment about colds and allergies, I did describe parents in my blog that report the onset of autism symptoms just after a common cold. Perhaps all the vaccines and the various other risk factors I describe was the setup for a simple cold to bring on the symptoms.

    Lastly, ages 15 to 30 months is also the time period when you begin to see large tonsils and adenoids, along with higher rates of obstructive sleep apnea. There have been papers suggesting that having acid reflux may predispose you to having larger tonsils. This goes along with my hypothesis that having smaller jaws and dental/airway crowding will precipitate more acid reflux, leading to larger tonsils and more obstructed breathing.

    Granted, older babies will sleep in whatever position they want, but some pediatricians are adamant that parents keep infants up to one year old on their backs. Some even recommend sleep positioners to prevent infants from rolling off their backs. I still see every few months a mother in tears after being chided by the pediatrician for letting her child tummy sleep. It’s the only way that their child will sleep. These mothers are massively stressed and sleep deprived due to having to stay up all night watching their children sleep, as well as the guilt that’s involved in raising your child’s risk of SIDS.

    We’re also seeing a significant increase in visits to pediatricians, neurologists and neurosurgeons for children with flat heads. As a result, there has been a significant rise in neurocognitive and developmental delays in toddlers since the Back to Sleep Campaign was started.

    Chronic sleep deprivation due to any cause (due to lack of quality or quantity of sleep) has been shown to lower your threshold for responding appropriately to injury, inflammation and stress. It can dramatically and negatively affect EVERY part of your body, including your gut, skin, brain, and heart.

    The cumulation of chronic sleep deprivation due to supine sleep, impaired brain development, environmental/food supply toxins, pharmaceutical toxins, smaller mouths, and obstructed breathing creates the “perfect storm. Any one of these conditions can be predisposing factors that stack on top of each other. All you need is one additional precipitating “trigger” to tip you over the edge.

    Looking forward to continuing the conversation online or offline.