Fox & Friends Unethically Pushes Dubious “Autism Cure”

Fox & Friends hosted Kenneth Bock, a doctor who purports to be able to treat autism through a change in dietary habits, and Michael Larsen, the owner of a product made from fermented coconut milk, which he claims improved his own daughter's autism-related disorder. But Fox & Friends never mentioned that Bock has promoted numerous dubious, and dangerous autism cures in the past, including the discredited link between autism and vaccines, or that Larsen stood to gain financially from the promotion of his “probiotic” drink.

Carlson Hosts Bock, Larsen To Push Dubious Treatment For Autism-Related Developmental Disorders

Carlson: “Some People Would Hear This And Say, A Miracle Cure.” On the March 1 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson hosted Bock and Larsen, along with Larsen's daughter, Tula. Larsen claimed Tula was cured of her autism-related developmental disorder through a change in diet. During the segment, Larsen promoted the “body ecology diet,” which “leans heavily on gluten-free, dairy-free foods and a lot of high probiotic foods,” and claimed his daughter saw improvement “almost immediately.” Bock promoted his theory that “the connection between the gut and the brain is very profound” and that a diet that promotes “good intestinal bacteria” could show improvement in “as many as 60 percent of autistic children,” in Carlson's words.

Fox Chyron, Larsen Promote CocoKefir, A Company Co-Founded By Larsen. During the segment, Larsen promoted CocoKefir, a fermented drink made from the milk of young coconuts, and suggested that it was used in the treatment of his daughter's disorder. During the segment, the following on-screen graphic aired:

At no point during the segment did Fox note that Larsen co-founded CocoKefir with his wife, Holly, and therefore stood to gain financially from the promotion of this product. [, accessed 3/2/11]

But These Dietary Changes Provide No Benefit To Autistic Children

University Of Rochester Study Shows No Benefit To Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet. A 2010 study conducted by the University of Rochester “found that eliminating gluten and casein from the diets of children with autism had no impact on their behavior, sleep or bowel patterns.” From the study:

Hyman's study enrolled 22 children between 2 ½- and 5 ½-years-old. Fourteen children completed the intervention, which was planned for 18 weeks for each family. The families had to strictly adhere to a gluten-free and casein-free diet and participate in early intensive behavioral intervention throughout the study. Children were screened for iron and vitamin D deficiency, milk and wheat allergies and celiac disease. One child was excluded because of a positive test for celiac disease and one was excluded for iron deficiency. Other volunteers who were excluded were unable to adhere to the study requirements. The children's diets were carefully monitored throughout the study to make sure they were getting enough vitamin D, iron, calcium, protein and other nutrients.

After at least four weeks on the strict diet, the children were challenged with either gluten, casein, both or placebo in randomized order. They were given a snack once weekly with either 20 grams of wheat flour, 23 grams of non-fat dried milk, both, or neither until every child received each snack three times. The type of snack was given in randomized order and presented so that no one observing - including the family, child, research staff and therapy team - knew what it contained. The snacks were carefully engineered to look, taste and feel the same, which was an exercise in innovative cooking. In addition, the nutrition staff worked closely with the families to make a snack that met their child's preferences. Casein was disguised in pudding, yogurt or smoothies and gluten in banana bread, brownies, or cookies depending on the child's food preferences.

Parents, teachers and a research assistant filled out standardized surveys about the child's behavior the day before they received the snack, at two and 24 hours after the snack. (If the child's behavior wasn't usual at the scheduled snack time, the snack would be postponed until the child was back to baseline.) In addition, the parents kept a standard diary of food intake, sleep and bowel habits. Social interaction and language were evaluated through videotaped scoring of a standardized play session with a research assistant.

Following the gluten and casein snacks, study participants had no change in attention, activity, sleep or frequency or quality of bowel habits. Children demonstrated a small increase in social language and interest in interaction after the challenges with gluten or casein on the Ritvo Freeman Real Life Rating Scale; however, it did not reach statistical significance. That means because of the small difference and the small number of participants in the study, the finding may be due to chance alone. [University of Rochester, 5/19/10]

Pediatrician: Gluten, Casein-Free Diet Leads To “No Large Improvement” In Autism Symptoms. In a statement to Media Matters, pediatrician Dr. Anna Tran wrote:

I see many autistic spectrum children whose family has limited their diet of casein and gluten

no large improvement in their [symptoms]. I truly wish it was this simple for these families' flights were tragic enough without the misinformation and exploitation in our medical system. [Media Matters, 3/2/11]

Bock Has A History Of Promoting Dubious Cures, Theories For Autism, Including Fraudulent Link With Vaccines

Bock Previously Promoted Fraudulent Link Between Vaccines And Autism. Through his clinic, the Rhinebeck Health Center & The Center for Progressive Medicine, Bock previously advanced the theory that there is a link between vaccines and autism. Bock claimed: “There is something that can provide an overarching explanation for this phenomenon of pervasive dysfunction. That is a toxic substance that we are all aware of; the mercury containing preservative, thimerosal.” Thimerosal is a compound found in many vaccines and contains mercury. To forward his claim, Bock referenced the work of (former) Dr. Andrew Wakefield, whose study purporting to find a link between childhood vaccines and autism was recently found to be an “elaborate fraud.” [Bock, accessed 3/1/11; CNN, 1/5/11]

Tran: Autism Rates Continue To Increase, While Thimerosal Levels Have Decreased. In her statement to Media Matters, Tran wrote:

Most vaccines now contain none or very little amounts [of thimerosol] except for some flu vaccines. Most [pediatricians] give the thimerisol-free ones. Yet the incidence of autism spectrum diagnoses continues to increase as we've seen in a California study. The incidence did not decrease in Japan and Europe as the number of MMR vaccine given dropped significantly after the Wakefield study was published in the Lancet, (retracted later). The landmark study in the Scandinavian countries which evaluated thousands of children showed the incidence of vaccinated to unvaccinated children were equal. [Media Matters, 3/2/11]

Bock Promoted Dangerous, Ineffective Therapy To Treat Discredited Connection Between Vaccines And Autism

Bock Proposed Dangerous And Ineffective Chelation Therapy To Treat Autism. One of the therapies recommended by Bock to treat autism is chelation. Based on the discredited theory that mercury in vaccines is a cause of autism, chelation therapy involves isolating and removing heavy metals, such as mercury, from the blood. Bock called chelation one part of “a comprehensive treatment program” to “effectively overcome the inflammation, oxidative stress, nutritional defiencies, immune dysfunction, and the other disparate factors that often result in a diagnosis of one of the 4-A disorders.” [Bock, accessed 3/1/11]

Chelation Therapy Has Been Shown To Be Ineffective And Potentially Dangerous. Chelation therapy has been shown to be ineffective for treating autism. According to the Mayo Clinic's Dr. Jay Hoecker:

Chelation therapy is not an effective autism treatment, and it may be dangerous.

Some doctors and parents have considered chelation therapy as a potential autism treatment. Proponents believe that autism is caused by mercury exposure, such as from childhood vaccines. Chelation therapy supposedly removes mercury from the body, which chelation supporters say cures autism -- but there's no evidence of a link between mercury exposure and autism. In addition, chelation therapy can be associated with serious side effects, including potentially deadly liver and kidney damage.

There's no cure for autism. As a result, many unproven alternative therapies are often suggested. However, these alternative therapies are usually found to be ineffective and sometimes harmful. [Mayo Clinic, accessed 3/1/11]

Further, in her statement to Media Matters, Tran wrote that "[t]here are doctors ... who have also exploit[ed] these children's famil[es] for large profits," such as by recommending “chelation of heavy metals even in those who have had no thimersol vaccines. Many parents ask me to order level metal screens and all have come back without any abnormal levels.” [Media Matters, 3/2/11]

Chelation Has Also Been Shown To Be Fatal In Some Cases. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), chelation therapy was associated with at least three deaths between 2003 and 2005, including one 5-year-old boy who was being treated for autism. The CDC notes that the only drug recommended for chelation in children, CaEDTA, itself warns, “The use of this drug in any particular patient is recommended only when the severity of the clinical condition justifies the aggressive measures associated with this type of therapy.” [Centers for Disease Control, 3/3/06]