Ghosts of Autism Past

On this Halloween evening…I thought it appropriate to talk about something that’s haunted me for many years!


Way back in 1999, an MD named Mary Megson[i] was making the news in autism circles with an article that appeared in Medical  Hypothesis[ii]  in which she hypothesized that autism (in genetically at-risk children) is the result of essentially a blockage of the retinoid (vitamin A) receptors in the brain.  She did a study of 60 children whose family had a history of at least one parent with a particular protein defect that results in disorders like night-blindness, pseudohypoparathyroidsm or adenoma of the thyroid or pituitary gland.  Using a combination of vitamin A and a form of choline (urocholine), Dr. Megson had several children make tremendous strides – very compelling case studies.

I’m not sure why, but her work seems to have been lost in the shuffle.  (Perhaps because she suggests that vaccines may play a role in causing the blockage and that has become a highly controversial subject?  Or maybe it’s just that not enough kids improved.  Still, if yours is the one that does…and a single high dose of vitamin A is pretty darn safe…)  Like so many things in autism, giving high dose vitamin A was a short term fad and her line of research seems to have been dropped.  Still, it’s an idea I’ve never forgotten as I did see it work wonders on a child I was working with as a special education teacher.  He became noticeably more verbal and social.

(Then again, speaking of haunting:  the most miraculous recovery from autism I have ever seen was from a topical vitamin B1 cream called TTFD.  It took a non-verbal child I was working with off the autism spectrum in 5 days.  And no one cared about that either.  TTFD has become a thing of the past.)

So it struck me as interesting this morning when I read the headline, “Can Vitamin A Supplements Help Alleviate Autism Symptoms in Children?” in Medical News Bulletin.[iii]  “A number of studies have also reported a deficiency of vitamin A in children with autism spectrum disorders and vitamin A levels were found to be negatively correlated with autism scores. A new study attempted to delineate the link between vitamin A supplements for children, changes in the gut microbiota, and autism.”

Chinese researchers gave a single dose of vitamin at (200,000 IUs, which, by the way, is the dose we were all trying back in the late 1990’s) and analyzed stool samples of 20 of the children.  While no changes occurred in their autism symptoms, “Significant differences were also observed in the gut bacteria after vitamin A supplementation. Notably, the proportion of Bacteroidetes/Bacteroidales was significantly increased while the proportion of Bifidobacterium was significantly reduced after vitamin A supplementation.”  The study had many limitations including no controls, a small sample size for the evaluation of the gut microbiota, etc.

I am quite sure Dr. Megson was highly accurate in her description of what she witnessed with her protocol years ago, and as I mentioned, I myself witnessed something similar.  I wonder now all these years later if what we saw was, at least in part, a response to vitamin A’s ability to change the gut bacteria and improve intestinal immunity?



[ii] or



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