Autism and Asperger syndrome still remain relatively unknown disabilities among the general population. Yet it is estimated that autism spectrum disorders touch the lives of over 40 000 people and their families throughout New Zealand.
Guest Blogger Gina Wilson sheds some light on signs and symptoms and how to manage ASD.
HI, I'm Gina Wilson, Naturopath and Nutrition consultant, and passionate about working with people with Autism. Autism is an immune related condition that affects people in different ways but many have common difficulties with socialisation, communication and attention. I have never met anyone with autism that doesn't also have problems with their bowels, sleep, mood, concentration, and food cravings. They may have one of these issues or in many cases, all of them!
Many people do not know that the gut is the second brain. In autism the food people eat can greatly affect their mood and focus. This appears to be caused by improper digestion, leaky gut and poor gut flora. Leaky gut is a condition where the cells of the intestines have gaps between them and incompletely digested food stuffs slips through into the blood stream, and can create an unnecessary immune reaction. Autism can also be complicated by glitches in certain processes in the body such as methylation and detoxification in general – both of which mostly work normally in the livers of people without Autism.
I work with many people with Autism, mainly focusing on tailoring a diet to suit them. Many clinical studies point us in the direction of particular foods being commonly problematic for people with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). Gluten and dairy being very common, also soy, sugar and poor fats and naturally occurring chemicals like phenols.
We know that:
- Many people with ASD have problems with certain foods that contribute to their behavioural, cognitive, and physical symptoms
- Gut problems and insufficient digestive enzyme production and function are common in people with autism
- Nutrient deficiencies are common with ASD
- Yeast overgrowth is common and overgrowth of pathogens such as Streptococcus are being seen more widely
- Dietary intervention can positively influence these disordered systems seen in autism
Foods and nutrients can definitely influence the health and behaviour of a person with Autism. When implementing a diet I encourage clients and families of clients to keep a positive attitude, to learn all they can about why a specifically tailored diet can help and to take small simple steps towards full implementation of my recommendation.
I start off with basic good nutrition, practical help in finding brands, offering recipes and then work with them to shape the diet to be specific for that person.
The points I start with are:
- Remove all artificial colours
- Remove artificial flavours eg Vanillin, strawberry (high phenols)
- Remove all preservatives including sodium nitrate, BHT
- Remove monosodium glutamate: MSG (number 621), hydrolyzed vegetable protein, yeast extract
- Remove artificial sweeteners including aspartame
- Limit sugar and avoid high fructose corn syrup use. Instead use pureed vegetables, fruit, manuka honey, coconut sugar, stevia, xylitol to sweeten foods (although not all of these are appropriate for all people)
- Give filtered water to drink and no juice unless it's organic or homemade veggie juice
- Avoid poor quality fats such as partially hydrogenated oil found in many commercial products such as mayonnaise, margarine, junk foods, fried food, and baked goods
- Use organic fruits and vegetables, avoid pesticides and chemicals
- Use organic or grass-fed meats where possible, avoid hormones and antibiotics
- Add in highly nutritious foods like broth, green smoothies, fermented foods, sprouts, raw foods, good fats
Parents of children with autism, and adults with autism, report positive changes to health and behaviour when using “autism diets.” These diets involve removing offending foods and adding nutrient rich foods.
The Autism Research Institute (ARI) surveyed thousands of parents and found that 69% of those applying the gluten-free casein-free diet saw improvement and 71% saw improvement implementing the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). Clinically I have observed around 80-90% improvement in some element of health when a diet is properly adhered too. Improvements are often seen in sleep, bowel motions, reduced anxiety, increased focus, wider scope of foods being eaten, increase in weight, and improved skin texture.
Alongside a tailored diet it is important to ensure that people with ASD have the nutrients they need over and above what they can get from their diet. Initially the gut of a person with ASD may be inflamed, digestive power may be reduced and nutrient absorption impaired. Nutrients commonly found to be low in people with ASD include:
- Vitamin D
- B Vitamins
- They often have a high need for Antioxidants and also really benefit from probiotics.
Gina Wilson is a Naturopath working on improving the health of people with Autism and other related disorders via nutrition tailored to meet that person's specific symptoms. Please contact her on email@example.com www.ginawilson.co.nz or come and say hi at the Gluten Free Food and Allergy show Saturday, June 9 at 10:00am - Sunday, June 10 at 5:00pm
BHSc (Comp Med), B'Ed Tchg, ND, DipHerb Med
Naturopath and Medical Herbalist: 0211326561