Martha Herbert

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Martha Reed Herbert
Alma materUniversity of California, Santa Cruz
Known forEnvironmental causes of autism
Scientific career
FieldsChild psychiatry
InstitutionsHarvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital
ThesisEvolution as a learning process in Marx, Piaget and Habermas (1981)

Martha Herbert is an American physician and assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School[1] and pediatric neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. Herbert is also director of the TRANSCEND program at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging.[2]


Herbert graduated, and received her medical degree, from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons after obtaining a doctoral degree at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She trained in evolutionary biology and the development of learning processes, and performed postdoctoral work in the philosophy and history of science.[3]


Herbert began seeing patients in a psychiatry clinic in 1996; these patients suffered from a variety of psychological disabilities, including headaches, seizures, behavioral-control problems, obsessions, and tics. However, as time went on she began seeing a higher proportion of autistic children. Around the same time, she was conducting a number of neuroimaging studies on differences in the brains of autistic children, and as a result of this research, she concluded that autism is a disorder that affects the entire body, not just the brain.[4]

Autism research[edit]

Herbert has claimed that many children with autism have biomedical problems, and that these problems exacerbate the symptoms of autism.[5] Her research focuses on attributing the development of autism to the existence of certain predisposing genes, with her coauthors on this topic including Peter Szatmari.[6] In addition, some of her research focuses on the possible existence of enlarged superficial white matter in the brains of people with autism, as well as developmental language disorder.[7][8][9][10]

Views on environmental autism causes[edit]

More recently, Herbert published an opinion paper in 2010 which argued, among other things, that "Systemic and central nervous system pathophysiology, including oxidative stress, neuroinflammation, and mitochondrial dysfunction can be consistent with a role for environmental influence,"[11] as well as a case report in the Journal of Child Neurology, which described a patient with autistic symptoms who improved markedly after she was placed on a gluten-free, casein-free diet.[12]

The Autism Revolution[edit]

Herbert is also the author of a book, The Autism Revolution: Whole-Body Strategies for Making Life All It Can Be, published in 2012 by Ballantine Books. In the book, she recounts stories of children with autism who followed recommendations to receive unconventional autism treatments, and whose conditions improved--"sometimes dramatically so", according to Herbert.[13] It was reviewed in the Washington Post,[13] the Journal of Hospital Librarianship,[14] and Kirkus Reviews.[15]


  1. ^ "CMA Staff List". Center for Morphometric Analysis. Harvard University. Retrieved April 18, 2017.
  2. ^ "TRANSCEND Research Laboratory". Massachusetts General Hospital, Research Centers. Retrieved 19 July 2014.
  3. ^ "Biography". Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  4. ^ Tommey, Polly. "The Autism Revolution: An Interview with Dr. Martha Herbert". Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  5. ^ Macneil, Robert (20 April 2011). "Autism Now: Dr. Martha Herbert Extended Interview". PBS. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  6. ^ Szatmari, Peter; Szatmari, Andrew D; Paterson, Lonnie; Zwaigenbaum, Wendy; Roberts, Jessica; Brian, Xiao-Qing; Liu, John B; Vincent, Jennifer L; Skaug, Ann P; Thompson, Lili; Senman, Lars; Feuk, Cheng; Qian, Susan E; Bryson, Marshall B; Jones, Christian R; Marshall, Stephen W; Scherer, Veronica J; Vieland, Christopher; Bartlett, La Vonne; Mangin, Rhinda; Goedken, Alberto; Segre, Margaret A; Pericak-Vance, Michael L; Cuccaro, John R; Gilbert, Harry H; Wright, Ruth K; Abramson, Catalina; Betancur, Thomas; Bourgeron, Christopher; Gillberg, Marion (2007). "Mapping autism risk loci using genetic linkage and chromosomal rearrangements". Nature Genetics. 39 (3): 319–28. doi:10.1038/ng1985. PMC 4867008. PMID 17322880.
  7. ^ Herbert, Martha R.; Ziegler, David A.; Makris, Nikos; Filipek, Pauline A.; Kemper, Thomas L.; Normandin, Joseph J.; Sanders, Heather A.; Kennedy, David N.; Caviness Jr, Verne S. (2004). "Localization of white matter volume increase in autism and developmental language disorder". Annals of Neurology. 55 (4): 530–40. doi:10.1002/ana.20032. PMID 15048892.
  8. ^ Herbert, M. R.; Ziegler, D. A.; Deutsch, C. K.; O'Brien, L. M.; Kennedy, D. N.; Filipek, P. A.; Bakardjiev, A. I.; Hodgson, J.; Takeoka, M.; Makris, N.; Caviness Jr, V. S. (2004). "Brain asymmetries in autism and developmental language disorder: A nested whole-brain analysis". Brain. 128 (Pt 1): 213–226. doi:10.1093/brain/awh330. PMID 15563515.
  9. ^ "2004 Grants Funded (CAN)". Autism Speaks. 2004. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
  10. ^ Blakeslee, Sandra (8 February 2005). "Focus Narrows in Search for Autism's Cause". New York Times. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
  11. ^ Herbert, MR (2010). "Contributions of the environment and environmentally vulnerable physiology to autism spectrum disorders". Current Opinion in Neurology. 23 (2): 103–10. doi:10.1097/WCO.0b013e328336a01f. PMID 20087183.
  12. ^ Herbert, M. R.; Buckley, J. A. (2013). "Autism and Dietary Therapy: Case Report and Review of the Literature". Journal of Child Neurology. 28 (8): 975–82. doi:10.1177/0883073813488668. PMID 23666039.
  13. ^ a b Fard, Maggie Fazeli (8 April 2013). "Autism book by Harvard researcher offers holistic strategies but no guarantees". Washington Post. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  14. ^ Michiya, Kelly (April 2013). "The Autism Revolution by Martha Herbert". Journal of Hospital Librarianship. 13 (2): 184–186. doi:10.1080/15323269.2013.772440.
  15. ^ "The Autism Revolution". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 27 November 2014.