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Autism and Diets PDF Print E-mail

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Autism and Diets

Studies have shown that the inability to break down certain foods may affect neurological processes in children and result in the symptoms of autism. Specifically, certain children may have difficulty breaking down gluten and casein. Gluten is a form of proteins that are normally broken down into amino acids which are then digested into the intestines. If the digestion is incomplete they may continue to have active acids which could result in the symptoms of autism. Gluten is found mostly in wheat, rye, barley, and oat products. The extra amino acids cause the symptoms of autism because they will cross over into the cerebrospinal fluid (fluid that surrounds the spinal cord and brain) and result in an “opiate like” effect. Thus the children are “drugged” just as if they were on a morphine drip. The theory is that many autistic kids have a damaged intestine/gut which allows the proteins to pass into the bloodstream. Due to these proteins causing an opiate like effect, they are addicting. The damage to the intestines may be present at birth, or may be caused by an immunological injury. These compounds are being found in children because an enzyme in the small intestines that is normally responsible for breaking down morphine-related peptides is absent or is not breaking down the peptides. Casein is a form of milk protein. It has a molecular structure similar to gluten. It breaks down in the stomach to form a peptide known as casomorphine, which will also have opiate like effects if not broken down properly. Casein is found in milk and dairy products.

In order to evaluate whether or not a child is having a reaction to gluten or casein, a Urinary Peptide Test will be performed. This will detect high levels of peptides in the urine if they are not being broken down properly. 50% of people with autism appear to have elevated levels of substances with properties similar to opiate peptides in their urine. Thus, some professionals recommend placing a child who is exhibiting neurological deficits on a gluten/casein free diet. 

In order to properly implement the gluten/casein free diet one must omit all forms of dairy and many soups, sauces, candy, cereals, breads, pastas, cookies, etc. from their diet. It is recommended that the diet be implemented for at least 3 months. There may be a withdrawal reaction initially which may result in an increase in negative behaviors. Improvements that may be seen include: increased eye contact, improvements in behavior, and an improvement in speech and social skills.

   Many doctors and nutritionists in the “Defeat Autism Now” movement are also recommending enzyme supplements to help children digest foods that are difficult for them. They also recommend specific vitamins such as: B-6 and B-12, minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and zinc; amino acids such as taurine, carnitine, and glutamine; probiotics; and essentially fatty acids such as fish oils. 1 The most common vitamin used is the B complex. This helps the brain create enzymes that improve its ability to function. B-12 assists in maintaining the nervous system and results in improved eye contact, attention and behavior for some individuals with autism. Studies have also shown that Vitamin C plays a role in improving eye contact and behaviors.2 Vitamins A, C, and E have been shown to help improve the immune system. Vitamins C and E are powerful antioxidants which protect brain cells from oxidative stress.3 Professionals recommend adding one supplement at a time and taking detailed notes regarding the dates, dosages, and behavioral changes that occur.

            Treating autism using special diets and nutritional supplements has been a hot topic over the past few years. Research is currently being done all over the world on how diets could improve autism. It is important to note that not many professionals actually believe that this is a “cure” for autism, but it strictly will improve the overall symptoms that come with autism. This would include improving social skills, eye contact, speech and behavioral deficits. No harm is done by attempting the diet or the vitamin/enzyme supplements so it is worth an attempt if the possibility is there for symptoms to improve.

 

Written by Kaeti Smith, DPT

Physical Therapist

G&E Therapies

           

Resources used:

  1. http://www.autismweb.com/diet.htm
  2. http://www.mentalhelp.net
  3. http://www.autismchangingtomorrow.wordpress.com