Finally! Real Research On Curing Autism!
by Eric Hall
January 28, 2015
OK, not really. For those of us in the skeptic community, we understand Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a complex set of brain-based disorders that share some common traits but can vary greatly in severity. In many cases, autism isn't necessarily something that needs a cure, but instead just requires training for both the autistic person and the people interacting with the autistic person. These traits often convey benefits in their different way of thinking. Famous examples of the immense benefit of seeing the world differently, and consequently leading to major scientific contributions, include Temple Grandin and Albert Einstein. [Note: Yes, I know Einstein wasn't diagnosed, and it is just a hypothesis. I'm not arguing the details of that here.]
I also know many of us in the skeptic community are tired of having to repeat ourselves about the state of science regarding autism and vaccines, diets, contrails, detox, and just about every other nonsense "cure" that comes along every other week. So forgive me for needing to let off a little steam as I tackle yet another couple pieces of nonsense floating around social media.
I needed to write this because I'm pissed off. In fact, I need to write about my anger at some of these people peddling nonsense more often. So if my upcoming blogs take a tone you don't like—I apologize!
The first piece is by Billy DeMoss. (Warning: woo ahead!) DeMoss not only believes vaccines cause autism (they don't), but equates it with the attacks on 9/11, as both appear to him to be an inside job by the government. While nearly everything in his post is either conspiracy nonsense or a childish insult, I can't help but feel a little anger towards these type of people. They play on a person's guilt. They basically accuse parents of poisoning their kids by taking the advice of the medical community and science. It is sick, twisted, and wrong. And people who do this kind of thing need to be called out on not just their nonsense, but on their behavior as well.
The one that really set me off is one by Mindy Wender, fitness coach. I have many of my friends that are into the various nutrition shake fads currently available out there. While there is nothing wrong with including the shakes as part of a nutrition plan (other than being way overpriced), when the claims become excessive, I have a huge problem with it. Wender sells Shakeology as part of her fitness plans. However, she uses much more than weight loss to sell her product.
(Warning: woo!) Here is her claim, posted here in its entirety as she did say it was free to share and it keeps you from having to go look at her nonsense:
Lilly has given me a different appreciation for this little glass of goodness and I'll explain why....
Giving people false hope of some kind of cure is wrong. For those who deal with the most severe forms of autism, it is simply cruel to promise something which will just empty their wallet without results. For those who fall elsewhere on the spectrum, automatically categorizing things like social awkwardness and reduced coordination as being something which needs to be cured is insulting to them. Not everyone has equal talents, and autistic people often excel in areas such as math, art, or music.
Let me make sure to add the scientific caveat in here. It is possible better nutrition could benefit autistic people. People with ASD suffer from gastrointestinal issues at a higher rate than the general population. Anyone with GI issues often see improvement when they get to a more ideal weight, increase fluid intake, and eat a balanced diet. Certainly these nutritional shakes can provide help in achieving that goal, but they are not required to do so, and it is an expensive way to go.
I also should note: the idea that a three-hour seminar or spending several hours on the Internet somehow equates to "extensive research" is an insult to every research scientist.
The claim is "...every single ingredient is helping you from the inside out!" One of the ingredients in the standard shake flavors is fructose. FRUCTOSE! As in the fructose in HFCS! I heard that fructose feeds cancer! Sugar gives kids ADHD and autism! Yes, I am being facetious here. Fructose is fine. I just can't believe people who think this will cure them of everything are OK with fructose in this case. Well, they label it non-GMO, so that must make it OK.
It also contains Stevia. I guess sweetening your drink makes it super?
The vegan version she touts contains apple pectin. Here's a couple of problems with pectin:
It contains Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). MSM is known to cross the blood/brain barrier and is used as an industrial solvent. How could they feed a solvent to the kids?
Yes, I am again being hyperbolic about the pectin, stevia, and MSM. In the amounts in the shake, it is pretty unlikely they will cause any harm. But I am amazed how they can vilify ingredients in anything except for what's in their own product. And let's make that clear—they are selling a product. And doing so with false hope. It's sickening.
In her post, I commented that I thought making those claims was wrong, and it was insulting to people who have ASD. I didn't poke fun at the product. I didn't insult her personally. I simply said I think making the claim it cures children of ASD is wrong in the two ways I explained above. My comments were deleted and I was banned from future comments. This was her reply to my comment which is still there in a nested comment:
First, I expressed no hate in my comment. I was and I am angry about giving false hope and claiming everyone with ASD needs a cure and can buy it in the form of a pre-packaged shake. She also assumes I don't have an autistic child (hint: I do). And I have read plenty on the topic, since I do have an autistic child. I have two other children that could have either been autistic, or at least need to know about their brother so they understand why he sometimes needs time to himself. I do not do original research on autism, but I would say I am fairly knowledgeable on the topic. I also know science continues to build on that knowledge and the story is far from complete. I found what she said rather insulting.
I just want to poke fun at her a little more, since she found it OK to poke fun at me. A couple days before her post above, she wrote this little gem:
I am surprised her product didn't cure her in advance from the inside out. Isn't it supposed to do that? Every single ingredient?
The shakes also do carry the allergy warning that they are manufactured in a plant that processes nuts, soy, milk, etc. So one does need to be cautious if that's an issue for you. But if you are not allergic to any of the ingredients, and you get the OK from your doctor to start a diet, these can be a fine nutritional supplement, even if grossly overpriced. There isn't a large concern of harm, other than to your wallet. When the claims are not just misleading, but also insulting, it crosses a line. I wouldn't buy a product being sold by people willing to make such bogus claims. And neither should you.
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by Eric Hall
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