Defeat Autism Now! (commonly referred to by its acronym - DAN!) is a project of the Autism Research Foundation (ARI) and has its roots in 1995 when the ARI began holding recurring meetings for doctors, researchers and scientists interested in autism and dedicated to finding effective treatments for the disorder.
The DAN! approach has become popular among parents and doctors of autistic children who feel that psychotropic drugs, and to some extent behavioural therapies, are not the most effective forms of treatment for autism. Instead the DAN! protocol offers biomedical interventions aimed at correcting the underlying causes of autism and associated medical conditions (e.g. digestive disorders, allergies/sensitivities).
According to ARI: "Autism is a complex disorder with many contributing factors. While there are many theories as to the cause of the increase, ARI believes environmental factors—including unprecedented exposure to toxic substances and over-vaccination of infants and young children—are the key factors triggering this devastating epidemic. Emerging research supports this fact, making it clear that autism is a whole-body illness triggering a biological brain disorder and ARI continues investigating various possible causal factors."
The DAN! protocol aims to correct biological abnormalities which research and clinical experience has shown may be involved in autism. These include gut issues such as lack of beneficial bacterial, increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and infection with bacteria and yeast (such as Candida), as well as low glutathione and sulphur (both important for detoxification), heavy metal toxicity (e.g. mercury), food sensitivities, and nutritional deficiencies.
According to an article entitled 'Summary of Biomedical Treatments for Autism' by James B. Adams, Ph.D., which is itself based largely on the book: 'Autism: Effective Biomedical Treatments' by Jon Pangborn, Ph.D., and Sidney Baker, MD,. published by the ARI, the following issues and treatment options make up the backbone of the DAN! approach:
- Improve Diet - to provide necessary nutrients for health. Reducing sugar intake appears to be beneficial.
- Food Allergies - many autistic children have food allergies due to digestive and immune problems. Allergic reactions cause further inflammation and symptoms.
- GFCF Diet - Gluten (from wheat and other grains) and casein (from dairy products) and proteins which are particularly troublesome. They commonly cause allergic reactions and one theory of autism suggests that due to digestive dysfunction partially digested forms of these proteins enter the brain and act as opiates (like morphine) leading to autistic behaviour. Small scale medical studies have shown the gluten-free, casein-free diet to be effective at reducing symptoms of autism.
- Vitamin/Mineral Supplements - Those with autism often deficient in various vitamins and minerals, often because of gut issues. A handful of studies show supplementation can improve symptoms including those relatd to the gut. Antioxidants may be particularly important as increased oxidative stress is a feature of autism.
- High-Dose Vitamin B6 and Magnesium - Vitamin B6 is required for over 100 enzymatic reactions, including the production of major neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, and others) and glutathione (needed for detoxification). Magnesium is used to prevent the possibility of hyperactivity, which can occur if the vitamin B6 is taken by itself. Vitamin B6 with magnesium is one of the best studied biomedical interventions for autistic children and adults. Twelve double-blind, placebo-controlled trials have found it beneficial in around half of patients.
- Essential Fatty Acids - Studies have shown children with autism have lower levels of the omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA than do healthy chidlren. These fatty acids are essential for brain health and function and also produce anti-inflammatory chemicals called prostaglandins (series 3) and modulate immune function. DHA is particularly important for early brain development and EPA is important for brain function later in life.
- Antifungals - Some evidence suggests children with autism have overgrowth of yeast such as Candida in their guts. These yeast produce a wide range of toxins such as ethanol and acetaldehyde which have a substantial negative effect on brain function. Treatment may involve an antifungal diet and antifungal medications.
- Probiotics - Beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species which help restore balance to the gut flora and prevent yeast and pathogenic bacteria becoming troublesome.
- Digestive Enzymes - Autistic children often have deficiencies which contribute to digestive dysfunction and food allergies/sensitivties.
- Amino Acids - Needed to produce proteins that form neurotransmitters, immunoglobulins, glutathione and many other important chemicals in the body.
- Melatonin - Many people with autism have problems sleeping so supplementing melatonin, the body's own sleep hormone, may help patient's get a good night's sleep. Healthy sleep is essential for health in general as many restorative processes occur only during deep sleep.
- Thyroid Supplements - Underactive thyroid function is thought by some to be more widespread than widely accepted. Hypothyrodism can have a huge impact on brain function. One study showed autistic children were low in iodine, a trace mineral required for the synthesis of thyroid hormones. Supplemention of iodine and tyrosine (also needed for thyroid hormone production) may be beneficial.
- Sulfation - Sulfate is used for many functions in the body, including detoxification, maintaining the lining of the gut, and hormone production. Some children with autism have a low level of sulfate in their bodies, due to a variety of factors including poor absorption in the gut, excess loss in the urine, poor recycling of sulfate by the kidney, or oxidative stress and inflammation which can shut down the enzymes which produce it. Environmental toxin exposure and molydenum deficiency can also result in sulfate deficiency. Treatments to restore sulfate levels include epsom salt baths and the sulfur-containing supplement MSM.
- Glutathione - Many children with autism have low glutathione levels. This antioxidant is vital for removing toxins and heavy metals from the body. Treatments to boost glutathione levels in the body include oral and /or IV glutathione, and supplements of vitamin C, folinic acid, trimethylglycine (TMG) along with subcutaneous injections of methyl-cobalamin (vitamin B12) - all of which are vital for glutathione production.
- Chelation - This is a treatment aimed at remving heavy metals such as mercury from the body. These heavy metals are neurotoxins and some evidence suggests they are implicated in autism. Glutathione is the body's primary means of removing these metals so given that glutathione is low in autism other means to remove them may be required. Chelation may involve oral supplements such as n-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and algae such as spirullina and chlorella or IV treatments with chemicals such as DMSA and DMPS which bind the heavy metals and remove them from the body.
- Immune System Regulation - Auto-immunity and a Th2 dominant immune system have been found in autism. Treatments to address this are not well studied but DAN! advocates suggest intravenous IgG and the drugs pioglitazone and low dose naltrexone as possibilities along with the interventions above which should enhance immunity.
Adams points out that the list respresents the order in which issues and treatments are typically addressed but that the DAN! approach is tailored to the individual patient.
It should be noted that the DAN! treatment protocol may also benefit sufferers of other conditions covered on this website such as chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) and Gulf War syndrome (GWS) as the underlying biological problems in these and autism overlap substantially according to a large number of research studies.