To the Editor:
The News and Views presentation, “Secretin: Cure or Snake Oil for Autism . . .” by Lightdale et al. (J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 1999;29:114–5) brought to mind a research project undertaken some years ago by my esteemed colleague, Richard A. Kunin, M.D., of San Francisco.
Dr. Kunin asked the veterinarian at the San Francisco Zoo to provide him with the remains of certain reptiles upon their demise. He sent these remains, along with a vial of a healing portion he purchased at a Chinese herb shop, to a laboratory for analysis. When the lab report arrived, confirming Dr. Kunin's suspicions, he wrote a letter about his findings to a prestigious medical journal. The journal promptly rejected his letter.
What he reported—or tried to report—was that the body fat from snakes was very rich in essential nutrients dreadfully lacking in the typical diet—the omega 3 fatty acids.
Perhaps the journal editor was offended by Dr. Kunin's comment that snake oil salesmen were apparently more sophisticated than we had thought.
The moral of this story? Take your pick:
- • Even snake oil salesmen may be right some of the time.
- • Even physicians may be wrong some of the time.
- • Secretin, like snake oil, may have more therapeutic value than we have been led to believe.
- • All of the above.
More seriously, I want to state that in my 40 years of study of autism, I have encountered no treatment as promising as secretin. Similar to the omega 3 fatty acids, secretin fills a void in our understanding of human physiology. Let us not again permit reflex skepticism to blind us to real therapeutic potential.