Portland Think Tank Introduces New Approach to Decrease Childhood Illness
A Portland-based think tank is hopeful that a focused approach on the health of a mother before and during pregnancy could be the revolutionary breakthrough that helps prevent everything from miscarriages to neurological disorders such as autism.
At an upcoming conference in Portland, The Forum, a research think tank that focuses on research and clinical practice on the health issues of pregnancy, infancy, and early childhood, plans to introduce a new protocol for preventing childhood illness called Preconception to Infancy, or P2i. The goal is to positively impact 1 million babies in five years to prevent everything from cancer to serious allergies and ADHD.
One in 68 children in the United States were believed to have autism or a related disorder in 2014, a 30 percent increase from the 2012 federal estimate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We don’t exactly know why,” said Robert L. Hendren, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of California in San Francisco. Hendren, who also leads the Dyslexia Center and the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University, among other roles, will be presenting at the conference, which will be held at the Doubletree Hotel from April 10-12. .
What researchers do know is that stress during conception and the first few months of life are associated with autism, Hendren said. “It’s led us to wonder whether there are things we can do to help improve the odds to make the mother as resilient and healthy as possible so she has the very best chance of not having an early birth or a miscarriage or a child with a neurodevelopmental disorder.”
One goal of the conference is to educate primary practitioners and parents about healthy steps mothers can take that might improve outcomes. The other goal is to get doctors to be part of a system where researchers can track the outcomes.
A panel of experts will present findings from studying the impact of taking Vitamin D or Omega 3s and their effect on neurodevelopment, then create a package of healthy habits to reduce toxins or address vitamin/mineral deficiencies in expecting or soon to be expecting women.
“That might be as simple as watching their diet,” Hendren said.
P2i in action
The conference will include two examples of practices where several families already had one child with autism (greatly increasing the risk of another child being born with neurological issues) who implemented these preventative steps. In one case, out of 294 general pediatric patients followed since 2005, there were zero new cases of autism, according to presentation materials for the conference.
“It’s kind of anecdotal,” Hendren acknowledged. “It’s not a good random study, but it’s the beginning of how we develop science.”
The hope is that physicians at the conference will get on board, opening the door for more tracking and research.
Doctors will get a P2i protocol package that includes a workbook and steps for following a plan to reduce toxins and improve nutrition during preconception.
“This is not necessarily a medical procedure. It is a good health procedure,” said John DeHoney, executive director of The Forum.
The goal is to raise the awareness and inform parents of their options for preventing childhood illness through proper nutrition and testing for toxins inside the body.
“The focus on prevention visibility is rising substantially,” DeHoney said. “This is a paradigm shift in thinking in the medical community.”
While the knowledge on prevention has been out there for a while, only a handful of doctors are practicing this type of prevention, such as warning mothers about environmental hazards and showing ways to reduce exposure.
The goal is to change the procedures of working with preconception and pregnant mothers toward a more preventative and proactive approach.
“We firmly believe that this type of thing has a tremendous effect on the health of the child as well as the health of the individual as he develops over the years,” DeHoney said.
Formerly The Autism Forum, The Forum has published two landmark studies related to autism:
“Gastrointestinal Disorders in Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders Report,” published as a supplement in the January 2010 American Academy of Pediatrics’ journal, “Pediatrics,” and “Early Identification, Screening, and Intervention in Autism: Attaining Best Outcomes Report, currently being reviewed by Pediatrics for publication as a supplement.
Shelby can be reached at [email protected]