Question: What Do Autism And Lyme Disease Have In Common?

The classic "bullseye rash" of Lyme Disease
The classic "bullseye rash" of Lyme Disease

Answer: Both disorders have inspired intense support from some doctors for treatments that the medical establishment considered unproven — to the point that those doctors formed alternative organizations to oppose the medical powers-that-be.

This round-up on Medpage Today strikes me as so carefully balanced that it was written with a Libra-type scale, though I suspect endorsers of the alternative treatments may disagree.

In journalism, three is a trend. The piece also discusses an alternative group that backs clinical uses for stem-cell treatments, most of which are considered highly premature by stem-cell scientists.

While I don't deny the trend, my takeaway from this valuable story is a bit different: Just because a treatment is backed by the imprimatur of an official-sounding group, that doesn't mean it has met the level of scientific proof normally required to be accepted in mainstream medicine. Check out the group. Maybe the treatment works. But the great self-correcting engine of peer review and scientific consensus has not signed off on it.

In Lyme Disease, the conflict centers over whether symptoms can persist for years, and long-term antibiotics can help. As a result of major efforts by the long-term-symptom camp, Medpage writes:

State legislatures in Connecticut and Massachusetts have passed laws protecting physicians who prescribe long-term antibiotics for their patients.

Chapter 112 of the Massachusetts General Laws now states: "A licensed physician may prescribe, administer or dispense long-term antibiotic therapy for a therapeutic purpose to eliminate infection or to control a patient's symptoms consistent with a clinical diagnosis of Lyme disease, if such clinical diagnosis and treatment are documented in the patient's medical record by the prescribing licensed physician."

On autism, the non-mainstream treatments include:

...restrictive diets such as the popular gluten/casein-free diet, vitamin supplementation, treatments to heal the gut, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, chelation therapy, and many more regimens designed to address the biological symptoms of autism... Organizations have formed to promote these treatments, perhaps most notably the Autism Research Institute (ARI) and its Defeat Autism Now! (DAN!) program.

This program aired on November 29, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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