Doctor claims to have 3 ways to lower the risk

11:51 PM, May 2, 2012   |    comments
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More children in the United States than ever before are being diagnosed with some form of autism.

Take a look at the skyrocketing numbers from the Centers for Disease Control:

  • 2000: 1 out of every 150 kids had autism
  • 2006: 1 out of every 110 kids had the disorder
  • 2008 (most recent numbers): 1 out of every 88 kids has autism. It's even higher for boys, 1 out of 54

While experts continue to research and debate the cause, many frustrated families are left wondering what they can do to lower their risk.

A board-certified Tampa pediatrician has created an experimental prevention program that includes three ways to increase your chances of having a healthy baby.

"I think every mother is concerned about how their child is going to turn out," says newly pregnant mother Orel Zwiebel.

Some parents in the Tampa Bay area, like Orel, are taking a proactive approach. They're looking for ways to prevent autism BEFORE pregnancy.

Even with one healthy child, Orel took extra steps the second time around. She turned to Tampa pediatrician Dr. David Berger from Wholistic Pediatrics for suggestions. He admits this is a controversial area. Dr. Berger specializes in kids with autism and, over the past decade, developed a pre-pregnancy testing program to check for vitamin deficiencies and toxins.

10 News Anchor Heather Van Nest recently interviewed the doctor to find out if his methods are effective.

Heather Van Nest: Can you REALLY prevent autism?

Dr. Berger: So far, we have had a tremendous amount of success. In over 10 years and hundreds of children born into our practice, we know of no children who have gone on to develop autism, even in families who have had one child already.

Those high risk families already have a one-in-seven chance of having another child with autism.

Heather: So how did you come up with these suggestions?

Dr. Berger: It was really out of necessity. Families who had a child with autism, who started nutritional and toxin testing, we found these things in the child, so the family started asking, "Is it possible that the mom could have these types of findings?"

Heather: There are a lot of doctors out there who would say this is controversial. "How can he say autism can be prevented?" What do you say to them?

Dr. Berger: I would say yes, we need more research, but the experience we've had a lot of success with, the types of things that we're talking about are nutritional things that are well known and should be done to support pregnancy in the first place. However, it's not common for doctors to proactively check for these things ahead of time.

Here are three things Dr. Berger checks and corrects BEFORE pregnancy:


Including Iron, B-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D levels.

Dr. Berger says low levels of vitamin D in the mother have been linked to delayed language development and weaker immune systems.


Untreated Hypothyroidism is a known cause of developmental delays in children.


Including pesticides, lead, and mercury, which have been linked to learning disorders.

For moms like Orel, the early testing motivated her to make changes. "Mentally, it gives me peace of mind and physically my pregnancy is a lot easier. I don't feel drained or tired and I feel like I have good energy, and that's an important factor," she says.

Dr. Berger wrote an article that includes all of his nutritional and environmental strategies to lower the risk of autism in Autism Science Digest. Click here to read.

Many researchers suspect autism may have genetic and environmental triggers.

The Children's Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine created a research-based list of the "Top 10 Toxic Chemicals suspected of causing autism and other learning disabilities." Click here to read.

In response to some viewer comments, we have included this editorial from Dr. Berger: 

As a person with both ADHD and sensory integration issues, I have had life experiences similar to some people who are on the Autism Spectrum.  In no way am I attempting to extinguish autistic existence.  If anyone took that as my message - then I truly am sorry.  I embrace the individuality of all.  My approach towards people with autism is to help them obtain their maximum potential, not eliminate them.

Families seek out my assistance and I try to provide whatever help they need.  When a child with autism cannot communicate his/her needs or  explain what is bothering them, or  is irritable much of the day, or who sleeps poorly,  it is difficult for  parents to care for all of their family's needs.  Usually when these symptoms are improved, I often get the opportunity to see a beautiful mind grow.  I fully agree that the road to improving the life of a child on the spectrum is through education and traditional therapies, but often we can remove roadblocks that permit the child to flourish at a faster pace.   I often ask families if they are content with how their child is doing. If a family is comfortable with where the child is at, then we try to back off the various biomedical therapies and see how things progress.  I am also a strong supporter of the emotional well being of families that have children with special needs.  I encourage families to find ways to gain acceptance of their life events .

 I know there are many doubters of the biomedical approach, mostly because of the lack of good research that supports its use. But with each child having his/her own combination of genes and exposures, it is very difficult to study these kids. However, I have seen countless children have a quick, remarkable decrease in their hyperactivity, irritability, or abdominal symptoms when they respond to an antifungal therapy, a dietary change, or an amino acid. It is my experience that there is no single biomedical therapy that a majority of children respond to - but a strong majority will respond to something.   

Early on in my career, parents of children on the autism spectrum asked me if there were things that they could consider to decrease the likelihood of having another child with challenges. The issues that I bring up in the Autism Science Digest article are real concerns that many have reported on and researched. This is a review article that raises many questions and contains my personal observations.  There is no family who has made every change that is discussed in this article.    

There seems to be significance to the approach we are taking in that it has helped to keep children born into our practice healthy and well-developing.   And I am not talking just about neurodevelopmental issues. I rarely see these children have an ear infection. I cannot recall the last time a child developed asthma. These kids have not developed colitis, diabetes, cancer, or significant immune problems either.     

 If a family wishes to make one or more changes in their lifestyle, or try to correct an imbalance, in an attempt to improve their child's future health - shouldn't we support them in their decision? It is my goal to address these needs.  I hope that over the next decade, we can conduct good research to see which, if any of these strategies, can result in better outcomes. 

In Good Health,


David Berger, MD, FAAP













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