What is Autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is defined by the Autism Society Of America as a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of communication skills and social interaction. Both children and adults with autism typically show difficulties in non-verbal and verbal communication, social interactions, and play or leisure activities.
What are the symptoms?
Most signs or characteristics of autism are evident in the areas of speech or communication (verbal and non-verbal) and begin presenting themselves between two and six years of age.
Current research indicates the following symptoms are the most commonly found characteristics of autism:
- Age one, the child does not point or gesture and/or is unable to coo.
- By 16 months, the child does not say single words.
- By age two the child does not say two or more words.
- The child has lost some of social skills or language abilities previously attained.
What are the Causes of Autism?
Toxic Overload=Injured Gut
The group Defeat Autism Now (DAN), started by doctors whose own children suffer from the condition, has found a combination of conditions in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) children: systemic fungal and viral infections, mineral deficiencies, intestinal dysbiosis, abnormal serotonin levels and an abundance of toxic materials including mercury, pesticides and other heavy metals. According to Dr. Ben Lynch, “heavy metals play a huge factor in enzyme function – not just mutations. If an enzyme is in the presence of lead, mercury, cadmium, aluminum, arsenic or others – this enzyme may be significantly affected.”
For years, doctors have heard anecdotal reports that children with autism have frequent gastrointestinal problems, ranging from abdominal pain and bloating to diarrhea, constipation, and more. Some studies have found a higher incidence of gastrointestinal disturbances in children with autism. In 2005, Anne McCartney, a microbiologist and senior research fellow at the University of Reading in the U.K., found that children with autism have higher-than-normal concentrations of Clostridium bacteria, a microbial group that can produce neurotoxins. Other researchers have reported similar findings.1
A 2006 study revealed that 70 percent of children with autism suffer from gastrointestinal problems, compared with only 28 percent of typically developing children. 2 According to Elaine Gottschall, author of Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health through Diet, “In treating over 300 children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Pamela Farro, a registered nurse specializing in the treatment for children diagnosed with ASD, reports that at least 90% of these children presented severe gastrointestinal problems…clinical experience shows that many of the behavioral symptoms associated with autism can be traced to an injured intestine.” Recent research suggests that some aspects of the autism may indeed originate in the gut. A new study, published January 31, 2012, in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicates that gut microbes may direct brain development, ultimately shaping behavior. “It’s a big eye opener,” says lead investigator Sven Pettersson, professor of microbiology at Karolinska Institute in Sweden. “If you would have said 20 years ago that bacteria would have anything to do with brain function, people would have laughed at you.”
In the new study, researchers set out to determine whether gut microbes can shape brain development. They examined two sets of mice: one group has a normal array of gut microbes, whereas the other had sterile guts devoid of bacteria. Comparing the behavior of these two groups, the researchers found that the bacteria-free rodents are more hyperactive and more likely to take risks than those with microbes. The sterile mice also show abnormalities in the expression of dozens of genes and in the way they process several neurotransmitters — including seratonin, dopamine and noradrenaline.3
Other Potential Causes
Dr. Dietrick Klinghardt, MD, PhD., a pioneer in natural medicine, notes that one commonality among most people with autism is that their pathways of detoxification have become overwhelmed by both microbial and man-made toxins. One of the major problems, he says, is that the biotoxins produced by certain infections (such as Lyme Disease) compete for the same detoxification pathways as do other toxins, like mercury, pesticides and vaccines. Children with ASD often present with severe digestive issues, brought on by this inability to detoxify. Toxic overload creates neurological and immune system problems. Some possible causes of autism are below.
Children with autism tend to have more gene expressions that are inefficient for detoxification. These so-called “mutations” tend to be unpredictable, and every autistic child’s set is different. According to Dr. Ben Lynch, “countless children with autism have at least one bad allele of MTHFR- and many have two.
Chronic Infections (& Lyme Disease)
Chronic infections like Lyme disease are extremely common in autistic children, and may even be causing the gene mutations. Dr. Klinghardt has found that four out of five autistic children that come to his office test positive for Lyme disease. Typically, the child gets the disease not from a tick bite but from their mother, who may be a silent carrier of the illness.
Parents of autistic children, particularly mothers, tend to have a greater rate of autoimmune diseases, food allergies, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.
A series of vaccinations containing aluminum, mercury and other harmful substances add to the toxic metals already inherited from both parents. The nervous system and brain cease to function as optimally as they should. Children who function normally at birth but are already carrying a toxic load in their bodies may be at risk of overload after the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The measles virus mutates, the body’s undeveloped immune system has no resistance to this combination of three viruses and the gut lining becomes infected, an “invisible” condition that goes undetected. With severe inflammation of the gut, which starves the body of many valuable nutrients and can create neurological impairment, the descent into autism begins.
Autistic individuals very often have poorly functioning digestive systems. Leaky gut occurs when inflammation of the bowel wall creates permeability in the intestinal lining, allowing toxins to leak into the bloodstream. Autistic children, due to abnormalities in their gut flora, crave processed carbohydrates, the foods that actually cause their symptoms to worsen. As long as Candida, Clostridia and many other pathogens populate the gut, the inflammation will persist, alllowing hundreds of different undigested and toxic substances in the body. This inflammation creates and/or exacerbates many symptoms of autism such as stimming, tantrums, and inability to communicate. To improve autistic symptoms, one must shore up the gut wall so that the it does not let through the toxins. p. 72 Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD.
In our practice we focus on establishing the “good army” in the intestines, bolstering the gut and ousting candida or any other systemic infection, and addressing nutritional deficiencies brought on by poor absorption of vitamins and minerals. This approach can lead to an improvement or even a reversal of many symptoms associated with autism. It can be a challenge to change over a “carbohydrate addict” ASD child, so you may want to do it gradually.
- FERMENTED/CULTURED FOODS. Eating and drink foods that are fermented or cultured every day helps strengthen the gut and allow for the absorption of healthy fats. Nourishing Traditions has a great recipe for Coconut Kefir. Other good sources are goat yogurt, goat kefir, sauerkraut and miso soup. Limit if there is a sensitivity to histamines and glutamate.
- GOOD FATS AND OILS such as extra virgin olive oil, virgin coconut oil (also an anti-fungal and anti-viral), and raw, casein-free ghee (available at bodyecology.com). These are all rich in the raw, saturated fatty acids that nourish the brain and intestinal lining. Chia seeds are another good source of essential fatty acids, and can be added to hot cereal or smoothies.
- GRASS-FED MEATS AND EGGS FROM PASTURED HENS. Important source of EFA’s, Vitamin A and choline.
- RAW ORGANIC FRUIT IN SMALL AMOUNTS- add in after a few weeks or more. Low glycemic fruits only, one piece per day:
- Fresh cherries
- BONE BROTHS. Use only ones made under 6 hours for low glutamate.Help heal gut lining. See recipes.
- WHEY PROTEIN SHAKES. Great source of glutathione.
- SOUPS. One of the best ways to sneak in a variety of nutrients in one sitting. Start with a chicken broth base and add a strip of kombu sea vegetable and whatever non-nightshade vegetables you fancy; either sautee them first in olive or coconut oil, or let them cook in the broth. Add organic chicken and seasoning. See recipes.
- VEGETABLE JUICING. An excellent way to get nutrients directly to the cells and bypass poor digestion. Use organic produce only. Example: juice together apples, romaine lettuce, parsley, celery and lemon for a nutrient-dense, tasty beverage. Also helps with sleep.
Foods to Avoid
Inflammatory foods must all go! Once gut health is established, certain foods might be tolerated. This is a highly individual process- allow at least three to six months before trying to add anything back in. If symptoms return, discontinue that food.
- Gluten, wheat, and grain products.
- Casein (milk) products.
- Sugar of all kinds. Later on, raw honey, maple syrup and unrefined sugar such as Rapadura can be added in small amounts.
- Nightshades: bell peppers, potatoes, eggplant, and tomatoes.
- Processed foods, transfats and MSG.
- Non-organic produce or animal products. You want to avoid pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics associated with these foods as much as possible.
Limit EMF Exposure
Children with autism not only have overwhelmed detoxification pathways and often heavy metal toxicity, but, according to Dr. Kllinghardt, they also have a silent, daily toxin production in their body caused by toxic microbes. Dr. Klinghardt believes that exposure toelectromagnetic radiation from cell phones is significantly adding to the problem. When toxic microbes in your body are exposed to electromagnetic fields, they think they are being attacked. They respond by producing even more biotoxins in an attempt to prolong their survival. To the best of your ability, limit exposure to cell phones, TVs and video games. Keep electronics out of the bedroom, or at the very least unplug them at night as they continue to transmit radiation even when not in use.
Limit Chemical Cleaners in the Home
ASD children and adults are often sensitive to commercial household cleansers, laundry detergent, etc. There are several cleaning lines which do not use harmful chemicals. White vinegar and water can replace many cleaning products and costs virtually nothing. Check your local natural foods store for environmentally friendly cleaning lines. Norwex, available online via distibutors, is a line of cleaning cloths, mops and more (interwoven with antimicrobial silver) that requires only water.
Supplement Recommendations for Autism
In a study from Epidemiology in 2011, mothers of children with autism were less likely than those of typically developing children to report having taken prenatal vitamins during the 3 months before pregnancy or the first month of pregnancy. The authors concluded that periconceptional use of prenatal vitamins may reduce the risk of having children with autism, especially for genetically susceptible mothers and children.
Nutritional deficiencies can cause neurological and immune system impairment. Supplementation with vitamins and minerals is an important part of maintaining proper function of these body systems. Jaquelyn McCandless, M.D., an expert in biomedical intervention for autism and author of “Children with Starving Brains”, notes that the vast majority of autistic children she treats show enormous benefit from vitamin and mineral supplementation – more eye contact, greater speech, and better sleeping and behavior patterns.
We highly recommend getting a genetic test done at Nutrition Genome to customize the supplementation based on different genetic variants and sensitivities. All children should be using a probiotic.Bio-Kult Advanced Probiotic Multi-Strain Formula Capsules
Probiotics repopulate the gut with good flora. This is the product Dr. Natasha Campbell recommends, the author of Gut and Psychology Syndrome:Natural Treatment for Autism, Dyspraxia, A.D.D., Dyslexia, A.D.H.D., Depression, Schizophrenia. According to Dr. Campbell “Observe the patient for any “die-off” symptoms (including, but not limited to fatigue, nausea, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, low grade fever, headache, and flu like symptoms). If there are none then, increase the dose slowly. When you see a reaction, let your patient settle on this dose until the “die-off” symptoms disappear. Then increase the dose again and let the patient settle on it. Keep increasing the dose until a therapeutic level is reached (p. 251-252 in GAPS book for therapeutic dosage based on age). This period of building up the dose can take from a few weeks to a few months in different patients.
Once the patient has reached the therapeutic dose level it should be maintained for approximately six months on average. It takes at least this length of time to remove the pathogenic flora and start re-establishing normal gut flora. Adhering to the diet is absolutely essential in this period. If you continue the feeding of your pathogens in the gut with sugar and processed carbohydrates then the probiotic will not have much chance of helping you. It is wise to add one supplement at a time in order to keep track of the child’s progress. Take daily notes of times, dosages, and behavioral changes. This supplement diary will offer encouragement as the child’s improvement is charted.”
4. p. 72 , Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD