Body and Mind:
Impact of Physiological Changes
on Brain and Behavior in ASD
Just as the brain regulates the body, the body speaks back to the brain. A motivation – thirst – results from water depletion. A mood change – tiredness – is produced by exercise. Peripheral pain results in irritability and inability to concentrate. Sickness and infection make us disinclined to activity, conserving energy for the immune system. The brain is at the mercy of the body.
These are adaptive responses, but brain effects are also seen in medical conditions. In one 6-year-old girl complaining of severe migraine, with headaches and vomiting, a constriction was found in the aorta – the artery carrying blood from the heart to the body. On balloon dilatation of the artery the excruciating headaches abated instantaneously.1
A child with intractable epilepsy was found to have gut problems; when these were treated the seizures could be controlled.2
A 5-year-old boy presented with fatigue and speech delay, hyperactivity, and growth retardation. Thyroid problems were diagnosed; he improved markedly once these were treated.3
In these examples we see that a physiological or biochemical problem in the body can have a major impact on the brain. Could the same be true of autism?
One young girl, 9 years of age, from time to time developed the signs of an autism disorder, with social withdrawal, speech impairment, disturbed sleep, and gut pains. The autistic features were a result of intermittent porphyria (excess porphyrins in the blood);4 when the porphyrins declined the autistic features vanished.