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Too Much Manganese?

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For well over ten years, Shauna K. Young, Ph.D., CTN, has conducted specific studies on the negative effects of excess manganese on the human neurological and sensory input systems. The clinical research on the possible symptomatic connections to autism and other neurological, learning, and behavioral disorders is known as “Spectrum Balance Protocol.”

Dr. Young serves as the Chief Medical Advisor for the NoHarm Foundation (www.noharmfoundation. org), a not-for-profit organization formed with the primary goal of releasing this information. Hopefully, the published studies will trigger more research and eventually provide help for children and adults on the spectrum. The information in the book does not “erase” autism; however, it does explain what causes many ASDs, how to use the diet effectively, and the specific foods used in the diet itself.

The following excerpt is just one of the 26 true case studies included in Erasing Autism: The Spectrum Balance Protocol.

Ground Zero: Jay’s Story

June 15, 2005 was a Wednesday much like any other, or so I thought. That afternoon, a harassed mom brought in her three-year-old son with the ill-defined hope that I could do “something” to help him. Eight months earlier, he had received the diagnosis, or sentence as it felt to her, of “autism” and in keeping with the current paradigm of “no known cause, no known treatment, no known cure” had been given no hope of making any significant changes for him.

This was the first autistic child I had ever worked with, and it was certainly an experience I will never forget. Even with his mother constantly chasing after him he was still making a wreck of my office, charging around, touching and smelling everything, making odd screeching sounds, and even taking a bite out of one of my plants!

In the course of the assessment process, in which I used a non-invasive type of bio-resonant/ bio-feedback computer interfaced equipment, one word kept popping up repeatedly —manganese. I didn’t give it much thought the first few times it showed up, since mineral, enzyme and other nutrient names often cross the screen. After repeating itself several times however, I wrote it down with a question mark as a note on Jay’s test sheet.

Normally, manganese is one of those nutrients you don’t have to give a lot of thought to, as the body usually maintains it on its own. Generally, there will only be a mere 12-20 mg stored in the body at any given time. Manganese is a type of naturally occurring metal that is found in several different kinds of rocks. Referred to as the “brain mineral,” it is important to the utilization of all the mental capacities and functions, as well as in the formation of tendons and ligaments, and in maintaining the structural integrity of the lining of various organs. Obviously, the “brain mineral” idea caught my attention, but strangely, the signs of manganese deficiency, such as, carpal tunnel, deafness, tendon weakness and retarded growth rate did not seem to apply. Huh.

After the family left my office, the word “manganese” continued to distract me. Enough so that after office hours I pulled out Jay’s chart and went over it again and again. Something was bothering me; I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was. I looked for the small things in his chart that sometimes get overlooked in the hectic confines of a first appointment, especially with a kid charging around eating my plants.

When I asked if he had any allergies, his mother said that he did not, but noted that, “He throws up soy and blueberries.” Looking up soy and blueberries in a nutritional handbook, I found they are both excellent sources…of manganese. Further investigation revealed that manganese excess is known to inhibit iron absorption, and Jay had exhibited many low-iron symptoms. It was all starting to make sense. This wasn’t a manganese deficiency. This was a manganese surplus!

Armed with nutritional handbooks, I began searching for problems associated with manganese excess, but I found very little information. Next I turned to the Internet and after a few preliminary searches found something very interesting. There were several articles that addressed a condition called “Manganese Madness.” According to numerous studies I located, the primary site of collection for manganese toxicity, regardless of the source of exposure, is the basal ganglia; a mass of nervous tissue within the cerebral hemispheres. This cause-and-effect of excess manganese was first revealed by an English physician who noted in 1837 that some workers in a local manganese mine appeared “lethargic and their faces unexpressive.” Since neurological textbooks identify manganese as a neurotoxic metal, and as a result of his research, the disease of “Manganism” was coined by the turn of the 20th century.

There wasn’t much information to be found, but according to what I could find on “Manganism,” this disease that struck manganese miners exposed to toxic dust appeared to cause symptoms of “emotional liability, irrationality, hallucinations and impulsivity.” Chronic exposure led to “muscular weakness, ataxia, tremor, immobile facial expressions, and extreme speech disturbances.” These symptoms, which sounded a lot like Parkinson’s in adults, sounded suspiciously like autism in a child to me. More digging revealed that other very common symptoms of manganese excess can be speech difficulties and extreme reactions to sensory input: light, touch, smell and sound. Aha! Now I was getting somewhere.

The more research I dug up, the more fascinating and clear it became to me: this was a manganese excess, not a lack, that might be behind Jay’s symptoms. Every report I could find described it perfectly! Something that might be encountered as “problems in speech” to an adult could well be perceived as an insurmountable obstacle to a child barely more than a year old. And his most important symptom, the overwhelming nature of his sensory input, was described in detail in each and every report. Limiting and annoying to an adult, I could see how terrifying it would be to such a little child.

The one thing my research did not reveal anything about was how to correct this excess. Could there be a way to somehow counter the manganese imbalance and thereby halt these disastrous effects? My hunting through medical research papers revealed no information on the topic. Given the complete lack of guidance or suggestions, I fell back on my number one tool—my common sense. If excess manganese can inhibit iron absorption, it made perfect sense to me that additional iron could possibly defeat and balance the excess manganese. It was worth a shot!

After running a quick check of the readily available foods that are highest in iron, I made the rash decision to call his mother. She was rather surprised to hear from me, especially since it was around 9:00 pm, and I desperately hoped she wasn’t going to think I was completely crazy for suggesting what I was about to tell her. I described the course I’d followed on this, and the results of the research I’d done. Then I told her my wild idea: maybe if we loaded Jay up with dietary iron it could possibly work to overload the manganese and possibly restore the balance, which hopefully could reduce some of the sensory overload symptoms. Things got pretty quiet for a moment while she considered what I was saying, and I held my breath hoping she’d agree to try it.

Her first question concerned how to get all the iron into him. Exhaling, I suggested a short list of high iron foods, and reminded her to load his diet as much as she could with good fats; especially olive oil and butter. Her worry, which I would begin hearing constantly from this point on, was whether he would willingly eat these foods I suggested. “Don’t all kids hate spinach?” We discussed a few food ideas and she assured me that she’d do her best, as by now she was growing a little excited by this crazy idea herself. I further suggested that she let him play with his food, eat with his hands, whatever it took. I concluded the call by asking that she keep me in the loop about his progress.

When I hung up the phone, I looked once more at what I had written in Jay’s chart. One little notation, “manganese,” followed by a question mark. I had no idea at the time that that one little word notation would change so many lives, including mine.

Ten days after his original appointment, nine days on the high-iron protocol, Jay’s mom called me to give me a progress report. To her surprise, he was absolutely loving the diet. She described him as “eating like a horse” and happily scarfing down all the veggies and iron-rich foods I had recommended. Once a picky eater, he was now looking forward to mealtimes. As I had suggested, she was letting him play with his food, eat with his hands, whatever, as long as he ate it. In something that seemed strange at that moment, that would actually come to be a norm in time, he was consuming raw spinach with gusto, even carrying the bag around and eating it with both hands “like potato chips.” I asked if anything in his behavior had changed, and she gave her report. Already, in only nine days, he was slightly less sensitive to light and touch, and had stopped smelling everything “like a puppy dog.”

Throughout our entire conversation, there was an undertone of … something. She sounded excited, which I could understand, but there was something else. Finally I asked, “Is there something else? Any other changes?”

This was the question she was waiting for and sprung her news on me. “Just one—he started to talk!”

As amazing as this was, it was only the beginning …


Shauna Young is the Medical Director of the Assertive Wellness Center of Durango, CO. She was awarded a Ph.D. in Natural Sciences from the University of Natural Medicine in Santa Fe, NM. Her research and doctoral thesis are dedicated to finding dietary connections in both the formation and reversal of autism spectrum disorders. Erasing Autism: The Spectrum Balance Protocol is her second book.

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