The Anti-Vax Movement Turns Anti-Bix: Weetabix and Autism


Jenny McCarthy is an idiot.  Even better than that, she’s an American idiot, being idiotic over there in that America place.  That’s not a good thing for America, fair enough – but at least it’s enough to give us that lovely sense of smug superiority that we English enjoy over our formerly-colonial brethren.  ‘Wheat and dairy make kids high,’ she says.  ‘Paediatricians know nothing‘.  And then there’s:

I do believe sadly it’s going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe. If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it’s their fucking fault that the diseases are coming back. They’re making a product that’s shit. If you give us a safe vaccine, we’ll use it. It shouldn’t be polio versus autism“. Source: Time magazine, April 2009.

She even released a video to tell us all about it, replete with demonic smile and crazy crazy eyes – originally hosted on www.generationrescue.org (I’m not hyperlinking to them – call me petty), after a wave of criticism/ridicule it was taken down.  Fortunately, this being the internet and all, nothing is ever lost – you can witness the McCarthy rant on youtube for yourself (part 1, part 2).  Go ahead, I urge you, it’s nothing short of astounding.  Oh that Miss McCarthy, she’s such a crazy yankie loon, we’d never get anything like that over here, not us smart and superior, many-sceptered-isle, green-and-pleasant-lands sorts.

So could somebody please tell that to the Daily Mail?  Because, frankly, they’re letting the side down, and showing us up.  ‘I helped my son cope better with autism by changing his diet,’ the headline claims.  The headline claims.  The article itself actually tells a different story. In fact the only thing diet-related in the whole story is really only this short section:

People don’t realise that a large proportion of autistic children have terrible gut problems, and for 18 months that was the case with Billy…
Billy stopped eating most things, and eventually all that was left in his diet was cow’s milk and Weetabix. He was so skinny his hair started falling out, and he had sores all over his lips and up his arms.
Then, one day, a leaflet dropped through my door explaining how a wheat and dairy-free diet could help autistic children. Jon was sceptical, but I thought it was worth a try.
I replaced cow’s milk with rice milk and began baking gluten-free biscuits, which I gave him instead of Weetabix. Billy starved himself for a few days then began eating the biscuits  –  and, amazingly, his gut problems started to get better.

“People don’t realise that a large proportion of autistic children have terrible gut problems, and for 18 months that was the case with Billy… Billy stopped eating most things, and eventually all that was left in his diet was cow’s milk and Weetabix. He was so skinny his hair started falling out, and he had sores all over his lips and up his arms.

Then, one day, a leaflet dropped through my door explaining how a wheat and dairy-free diet could help autistic children…  I replaced cow’s milk with rice milk and began baking gluten-free biscuits, which I gave him instead of Weetabix. Billy starved himself for a few days then began eating the biscuits  –  and, amazingly, his gut problems started to get better”

So cutting milk and wheat helped her son cope with digestive problems.  Digestive problems that were caused by autism.  Therefore diet change = helping cope with this one very specific and (amongst the myriad of symptoms and afflictions suffered by autism suffers) pretty small element of autism.  By the same logic, closing your eyes helps you cope when Jenny McCarthy is on TV.  I mean, she’s still talking, and still spreading misinformation, and still playing a role in the preventable illness and death of children, but at least you can’t see her…

Now, this Daily Mail article has been sat in my ‘to-do?’ pile for a little while now, and I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it.  Sure, the headline is sensationalist and misleading, but the rest of the story is pretty decent (barring a few hints that autism is caused by allergies and toxins – which pretty much is to anti-vaccination what intelligent design is to creationism).  Many of the stories told in the article are positive, most likely true and of great comfort to parents in similar positions, I can imagine.  So I thought I’d give this one a pass – I mean why focus on the misleading headline when the rest of the story is pretty positive?

And then I read the comments.

“God bless you, Polly, and thanks to the Daily Mail for printing this story. Autism is treatable!  My son was diagnosed as a high functioning autistic at 4 1/2 years of age this March… With nothing to lose, I researched on the internet and found the gluten-free, casein-free (dairy free) diet. Within days of starting he was alert and looked us in the eye when speaking”

And:

“Anybody interested in the dietary and biomedical treatment of autism should also be aware of the great work of Treating Autism. Complete recovery from autism is possible – but not through the NHS. Keep up the fantastic work Polly!”

And:

“I think the only people who deny the diet does not work, is maybe the people who have not tried it. People that do not realise that it is a gut issue and not a mental disorder. Treat the gut and you treat the autism. Its as simple as that. Thank god for people like Polly putting this into the public eye. We certainly don’t have any other helpers”

And more.  I can’t reprint them all.  Now, for those that aren’t sure, there is no cure for autism, at the moment.  That’s the sad but true fact.  Science is working on it, but science isn’t quite there yet.  Speculating as to potential causes from a position of no medical basis and training, or taking stories small lifestyle and health improvements out of context and sensationalising them into a cure does nothing to help anyone.  Fortunately in this case, there also comments from mothers of autistic children which berate the evangelical nature and proposed scope of the dietary cure – and it’s these parents I feel most for.

I can’t even begin to imagine how tough, scary and genuinely heart-breaking it must be to bring up an autistic child.  To be told there is no clear understanding of the causes, and no chance of a treatment or cure must be every parents’ worst nightmare.  So when a newspaper, actor or demon-faced stripper offers a potential cure, I can’t blame any parent for being seduced into wanting to give it a go.  I CAN blame the newspaper, actor or demon-faced stripper, however.  When newspapers and celebrities dabble in medical advice, hopes get raised and dashed, valuable medicine and scientific research gets trashed, and above all people get hurt.

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  1. #1 by parrent1 on July 7, 2009 - 06:42

    LOL
    thanks for huge chuckles this morning ,,seriosly better than barry and paul,,, this has to be my favourite “Science is working on it, but science isn’t quite there yet”
    well the best science mind in the UK Simon baron cohen still doesnt have a clue, he wavers from its purely genetic to brain wiring to genetic with an envronmental trigger. whilst his only interest is research supporting his assertive male mating theory. and hes the best in the UK.
    reseach £+$ are wasted on breast size studys in support of his theorys, good work if you can get it, like a proof reader for a porno mag

    creationism ,,, very funny ,, always a good one if you don’t have a clue about the subject…
    Guess what Diet is being studdied in the UK funded by Autism speaks and Even the NAS will give you advice on it, last week they told me , “it doesn’t work for everyone”. they helpfully sent me some leaflets

    so serously stay away from autism , you are just making your self look foolish,
    stick to debunking claims that high powered microwave devices won’t harm you if live right under one.

    http://www.viddler.com/explore/ziggy/videos/1/

  2. #2 by Colonel Molerat on July 7, 2009 - 11:24

    Parrent1 (Parent? Parrot?)…

    Are you saying that if the NHS simply told affected children not to eat wheat or dairy, then autism would vanish overnight?

    Admittedly, your post doesn’t seem that certain about it, but the benefits of a GFCF (gluten free casein free) diet are, at best, entirely speculative and anecdotal so far. The conclusion that the NSA present (Milward et al’s, 2008) is that ” a GFCF diet cannot be recommended as a standard treatment for autism due to the limited data available.”
    Autism Speaks also admit that “Neither the hypothesis nor the effectiveness of this dietary intervention has been demonstrated in scientific studies to date.”

    It is only right that this be studied further (as indeed it is being), but in the already volatile and medically inept climate surrounding autism, it is dangerous to propose unverified ‘cures’ .

    After all, vaccines have been blamed, thimerosal has been blamed, and many other harmless (even beneficial) factors are coming under fire. It is reckless to start pointing fingers without evidence. After all, a GFCF diet could be very dangerous if not followed correctly – as the NAS points out, “Hediger et al (2008) identified reduced bone cortical thickness for boys with autism but particularly for those on a casein-free diet.”

    Even if this diet were to be proved effective, it is obviously only effective in some cases – otherwise, even the small trials of 15 and 20 people would have had significant results. EVEN IF it worked, therefore, it would be no ‘wonder cure’, and would have to be controlled and adminstered much better than the generally ill-informed audience this article targets.

    When you make claim about ‘the best science mind in the UK’, bear in mind that science has many disciplines. I’m sure Stephen Hawking, to name only one, may rank higher in most people’s minds than Simon Baron Cohen.
    Also, claiming that ‘research [pounds and dollars] are wasted’ sets off alarm bells to ANY scientifically-minded person – even the most frivolous-seeming research can have massive benefits…
    I searched for SB Cohen (Google ‘Simon Baron Cohen mating) and found this:
    http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/baron-cohen05/baron-cohen05_index.html
    I’m not sure what you’ve heard, but he doesn’t mention breast-size there, instead examining behaviour and possible genetic links to autism. I don’t agree with his conclusions so far, but it doesn’t seem like money squandered. Furthermore, he admits that his work will be controversial, so you can hardly cite him as THE scientific authority on autism.

    I’m not sure where you heard that he studied breast size, but if you google ‘simon baron cohen breast size’, the first hit makes no mention of him doing that kind of work, and nor does the second hit (www.hollywoodbackwash.com/victoria-beckham-reduces-breast-size-to-34b). In fact, I can’t find ANY mention of it, although I await your correction.

    So, if you are giving tips on how to avoid looking foolish, then let me reciprocate:

    1. Parrent. Parrent!??!?!??!?!?!?!

    2. Don’t treat all of science as one field. One can’t really nominated a single ‘best science mind in the UK’, but if you’re going to, then make sure they’re someone REALLY groundbreaking, or are at least supported by the scientific consensus.

    3. Don’t ridicule legitimate, useful, research… And, perhaps even more importantly, don’t ridicule research that doesn’t seem to exist…

    – The Well-Vaccinated Colonel Molerat

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