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Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Vagus Nerve and Autism

It is good to know that there are some brilliant minds out there, willing to cross disciplines.  A case in point is Professor Stephen Porges, a neuroscientist with particular interests in understanding the neurobiology of social behavior.  He is a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the Director of the Brain-Body Center in the College of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  He has an equally clever wife who is a world leader in the role of neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin in social cognition.
You would want to think twice before inviting this couple round for dinner, unless you had spent the day before boning up on your science. 

Porges is best known for his Polyvagal Theory.  The Wikipedia article does not really do justice to the theory.  Here are two highly cited papers:-

He has only written one paper on autism, it is certainly not a light read but it shows a brilliant mind.

This paper is actually a chapter in a book and can be accessed via Google Books.

His paper explains odd autistic behaviours in terms of the functioning of the vagus nerve.  For example, the neural mechanism for making eye contact is shared with those needed to listen to the human voice.  So if you struggle to make eye contact, you will struggle to listen to what somebody is saying to you.  We can infer that if your ABA program trains you to make eye contact, you will likely become a better listener in the process.  Also, don’t talk to somebody unless you are facing them.
He comments on the regulation of the gut, the vagus and the immune system, vagal regulation of the HPA axis, all with reference to ASD.

Having read his paper you really will need no more convincing to go tune up your child’s vagus nerve. 

Tuning up the Vagus Nerve
Unlike Professor Porges, I like to simplify things so you do not read them more than once.  Clearly Kevin Tracey and Porges are the experts on the vagus nerve, but they do not go as far as telling you what you really want to know – how to improve its function using today's technology.  Fortunately, there is plenty of research on the Cholinergic System, of which the vagus nerve is part.  The following paper is a good example:-


You may recall from my earlier post Biomarkers in Autism: The Cholinergic system, that there are two types of cholinergeric receptors, nicotinic and muscarinic.  This paper is telling us how in autism these receptors are fewer in number than normal and the ones that are there, are not working (binding) as they should.
So this goes some way to perhaps explain why so many odd behaviours can be tracked back to the autistic vagus nerve; it is damaged.



In his paper, Porges is basically telling you to go try a vagus nerve stimulator, of the kind that already exists for epilepsy (see photo above) and Kevin Tracey is developing for arthritis (another inflammatory condition).  Right now this is not very feasible, but chemical stimulation of the vagus nerve does not look beyond the wit of man, using currently available technology.


 

18 comments:

  1. they don't work we would have been better off with the biscuit and spaghetti

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  2. I always like to know the "why" of it all, and thank you so much for this blog, but I fail to follow how stimulating a damaged nerve will help. Are you presuming new and healthy fibers would grow? Why would they be healthy, since they are from the same gene makeup as the originals?

    For most of us, eye contact and listening are mutually exclusive, and worse under stress. If I have to make eye contact, I won't hear a single word said. Could I practice to be able to it? Probably, but it would also probably be followed shortly by a meltdown, and I have no doubts that trying to do so for a lifetime would shorten that lifetime.

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    1. Autism is extremely complex and nobody fullhouse understanding it. Certain inflammatory conditions can be improvement by stimulating the vagus nerve. Nobody is saying the vagus nerve is damaged, but it is involved in many types of process. There are clinical trials showing how it can be used to reduce inflammatory signaling in arthritis, which you might think sounds strange. The same cytokines, such as IL-6, are elevated in both autism and arthritis. Reducing IL-6 levels seems to help both conditions. Drugs that do this are very expensive and will have side effects. Using a vagus nerve device to achieves the same result is very clever. It is not about regrowing the nerve, rather using the existing capacity. The paper just showed that if you cannot look at someone, you will struggle to listen to them. Probably if you practice this as a young child you might improvement listening skills. As an adult it would be much harder, just like learning anything else.

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    2. As an Occupational Therapist working with children on the Autism Spectrum, there is a difference between looking at someone and using your vision to gather information. For example, reading facial expressions and gestures. If I look at a clock, most people understand that I am thinking something about time. This is referred to as Theory of Mind. Theory of mind refers to the notion that many autistic individuals do not understand that other people have their own plans, thoughts, and points of view. So "how" we use our vision is more than just looking at someone. I also understand what Anonymous is saying when he says that if he has to make eye contact he can't listen well. This is fairly common. I have found that there are a lot of people that listen better if they are using their hands or moving. Of course there are others that would get lost in their own thought and be distracted. When I work with a student I evaluate them in the situation (classroom) to see if they are getting the information even though it looks like they are not paying attention. When I teach theory of mind, I let the student know what is expected from a social situation as it relates to eye contact. My hope is that will help them in social situations and in the work force.

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  3. Just in case your autistic kid has had a tight diaphragm affecting the vagus nerve, you can do a diaphragm release. you can look up the way it's done in Cranio-sacral Therapy. I like to do a quick 90 second "Positional Release" version. For a child who doesn't like to be touched, you could do it while he was sleeping. Basically you lightly compress the lower ribs front to back and hold for 90 seconds. This means one hand underneath and one on top. This is a very gentle technique. Normal respiration continues, but is somewhat restricted. The major fibers of the diaphragm are running front to back, so you have shortened them. In 90 seconds the muscle is filled with nice new blood. Tight restricted areas can relax. Sometimes if someone is very tight there, I will do it at the beginning and end of a massage, but I generally only need to do it once. Only a very few of my clients need this done, but where there has been emotional stress it is very helpful. Here's some background on the theory, esp the last section: http://matrixrepatterning.com/Pr_PRT

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  4. JUst curious in regards to your research on Vegus and Autism. As Jungbout showed us that poilo virus infiltrates the brain most expediently through the olefactory, and that goats level of ascorbate, stops the viral infection full stop,; and Dr Klenner that high dose C cures all viral infections - if the vagus nerve bad behavior seems to be involved in autism and a lot of other poorley understood maladies ( some researcher at Tuffs was all excited about this some time ago), does long term high dose C have an effect on autism ??

    I am sitting here in a Bean's Fisherman sweater over a t-shirt with no skin problems, am eating eggs (and bacon) after 30 years of perceived allergy and a life time of eczema - now gone......on month 30 of over 22 grams a day of vit C. If there was a kindney load along the way It was only the load of the cleansing....

    have never found any serious scientific work showing any problem with the VIt C - even long term - even on top of ANY other medical treatment - and it astounding that the public forget s so easily what Alan Smith showed us.....

    Do you have any thoughts on AUtism the Vegus Nerve, and cleaning it up with high dose VIt C---- for me it was after Robin Williams died, with Parkinson's being viral infiltration of the substantia negro --- it clicks. The de viral cleaning of the nerves for me still goes on, with ms like symptoms now pretty much confined to below knee/ ankle as other areas of my corps have gone through it already..... the eyes, a bit of pre altzheimer plaque. lingering jaw dental immune activety, and a bit of epididymus seem to be the final frontiers I have to conquer with a fortimfied immune system. Onward and upward.....

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    1. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, but above 2g a day some people get stomach problems. You are taking 11 times this amount.

      Vitamin E is another strong antioxidant.

      Any condition where oxidative stress is present should be helped by an antioxidant.

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  5. The 2 gram limit is complete BS..... I make pseudo hoe made Liposomal C with equal parts by weight soja lecithin....and keep a water bottle with me at all times with the mix in it...

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  6. What t kind of soya do you use?

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  7. what kind of soja, as in :
    http://www.bulkfoods.com/health-foods/4297-lecithin-granules.html

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  8. I believe that eye contact is important for neurotypical people when communicating, but forced eye contact or trained eye contact never led to my son being tuned in and invested in what was being said to him. My son's autism has a very strong emotional component. I strive for eye contact initiated by him. It doesn't happen all the time, but when it does, I know he is with me and purposely communicating with intent. I look for ways to lessen the electrical storm in his head so that he is able to tune in and make eye contact because he wants to, rather than because he is trained to.

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  9. Yes you should really focus on eye contact, its really important, it creates an connection and you can clearly see if the person is listening and is connected with you

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    1. To whom is eye contact important for connection, Gladys. For some it is actually painful. My son says when he has to make more than fleeting eye contact, he can't attend to what the person is saying......

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  10. Eye contact is the most obvious indicator of social engagement but absence of eye contact does not always mean disengagement as any shy neurotypical person will tell you. I personally feel overwhelmed and exposed while making direct eye contact with most people. Its also a cultural thing as direct eye gaze is considered outright rude and disrespectful in many asian communities, although with increasing westernization this is changing.
    I feel one should aim for awareness and receptiveness when dealing with kids, autistic or otherwise. Eye contact is very case specific and an involved parent or therapist knows when the child is with him. When my child makes an eye contct or demands one from me i know he is engaged but another child that i know, probably higher functioning then my child averts his gaze while communicating although he is equally engaged at that point of time. Ultimately we have to work for increasing functionality which includes understanding, learning and self regulation. So if my childs vagus nerve is damaged and he looks and listens through different neurological pathways, so be it. In autism, sensory processes do not work in the regular manner.
    By the way, my 4.5 year old son puts on his pants without looking..damage to which nerve is implied

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  11. Hello Peter Llyod-Thomas for this blog entry. Did you ever purchase the Vagal Nerve Stimulator, and if so, what results if any did you see? I started looking at the vagus today because another apraxia Mom mentioned that an under-active vagus could be involved in apraxia, which my daughter is diagnosed with. You mentioned that the vagus nerve may be damaged in autism, I agree with that, I also think it could be under-supplied with thiamine, and I think it could be in atrophy. The atrophy idea is a stretch but nerve atrophy has been found to be possible with the optic nerve, for example. Humming stimulates the vagus nerve so now I am wondering if that is why my daughter hums a lot. Also the vagus makes choline and I suspect my daughter is low in that, because the whites of her eyes, or the sclera, are often gray. When I give her thiamine, required by the vagus nerve and for choline production, the whites of her eyes are white again, usually within four hours, although lately even that isn't helping and I am trying to figure out why. I found this great link which shows what a properly functioning vagus nerve can do. So if you can read this within the context of autism and a possibly improperly functioning vagus nerve, the visual seems quite relevant. I am also wondering if you have any new thoughts on the vagus nerve and autism since this post four years ago. Thank you. (Please scroll down a bit, to the visual entitled, "How the Vagus Nerve Affects Organ Systems". Note references to gastric juices, gut motility, inflammation, swallowing, a problem in apraxia... not mentioned in the visual but damage to the vagus nerve affects speech. http://www.brainprotips.com/vagus-nerve-symptoms/

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    1. I did not buy a vagal nerve stimulator, but many people with autism and epilepsy do have them fitted. A nicotine patch looks like the simplest way to stimulate the vagus nerve, but it does have other effects as well. There are supplements sold by people who see vagus nerve as being involved in everything from mast cell activation to digestive problems. Many people use choline. In my son's case nicotine did nothing and choline made him aggressive.

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  12. I believe there is a lot of truth in a lot of things. This Vagus nerve involvement in autism and many other health issues is spot on. For me the Jungblut findigs with polio, Vit C, and viruses travelling and inhabiting the nervous system; the Fred Klemmer work with high dose Vit C (<=300 grams/day as per malady), and my own past 4 years on high dose Lipo C says, A) viral infestation of nerves can indeed be reversed with >20gms/day Vit C, and that is what adults should be taking FULL STOP. At 57 years of age now, 4 years of 22gms/day DIY Lipo C has still not completed the cleanse/reversal of a lifetime of accumulation, but all signs are indeed positive that this process is well on route.

    Yeah, the B's are vital for healing and repairing, but the 35 gms a day Vit C from Klemmers' MS Protocol is KEY and more important than the other supplements.

    All our nerves get contaminated with all kids of stuff, and the clouds of bio-film in the placenta water show exactly that we are born with parasite/viral contamination from our mother. Why all mamals make their own VIt C with the exception of primates, bats, guini pigs is quite a significant fact to just ignore. If a goat makes 17grams per day on a good day, and 5x that much when in need, then it is silly to ignore all the empirical data from the likes of Alan Smith /NZ in 2010, and the Fred Klemmer writings. Yes I believe Autism can be reversed.

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