Autism-Specific Bowel Disease May Not Exist
Twelve years after the publication of a now discredited study that first linked autism and vaccines, a new paper is casting doubt on another of the study’s claims — the suggestion that those with autism have a unique type of bowel disease.
The study conducted by Dr. Andrew Wakefield and 12 colleagues grabbed headlines when it was published by the journal The Lancet in 1998 because of its suggestion that autism was related to the measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccine. That claim was later discredited and the journal retracted the study earlier this year.
Now a paper published in the British Medical Journal this week written by Brian Deer, a journalist for London’s Sunday Times newspaper, is calling into question the study’s other major finding. In the study, Wakefield said he may have discovered a new type of gastrointestinal disease specific to those with autism, which he called “autistic enterocolitis.” Eleven of the 12 children who were studied had the new syndrome, the study findings said.
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However, medical records suggest that might not have been the case. In fact, Deer found that hospital reports from repeated pathology testing suggested that just one of the children had signs of bowel disease.
Meanwhile, Deer says that prior to conducting the study, Wakefield was contracted by a lawyer to uncover a new bowel disease so that a lawsuit against vaccine companies could be pursued.
Despite the questions raised by Deer’s reporting, an editorial accompanying his report in the British Medical Journal warns caution. Though it remains unclear if a unique disease exists, the editorial notes more recent studies showing a high rate of stomach problems in those with autism. “In view of the lack of data and the entrenched position of many of the protagonists and antagonists, any firm conclusion would be inadvisable,” the editorial reads. “Time is, perhaps, the wisest counsellor of all.”
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