To close out April as Autism Awareness month, we are very excited to feature this article from Autism Naturopath Julie Damant! Her inspiring work is making a big difference for children facing an Autism diagnosis. To learn more about her moving story and mission, check out her website, Facebook, and YouTube.
Food & Nutrient Levels Have A Profound Impact in Autism
The rate of Autism has increased – drastically. Today 1 in every 45 children is diagnosed with Autism. (Autism Society of America, 2015) And despite millions of dollars being spent on research to identify the cause of Autism we are no more the wiser.
Studies are showing a complex interaction of a multitude of factors including:
- Changes in metabolism
- The neural connection between the gut, brain and immune system
- The effect food has on our metabolism as well as the gut, brain and immune system
Do food and nutrient levels have a role in Autism?
This has been a burning question for the last decade at least. A very recent study published in the journal Nutrients that looked at how diet and nutrition affected both kids and adults on the Autism spectrum. The results are astounding and show the importance of nutrition for individuals on the Autism spectrum. Here’s a summary:
- There were measured improvements for all ages, in both males and females.
- An increase in developmental age of 4.5 times compared to the group not receiving intervention
- An increase in IQ of 7 points compared to the group not receiving intervention
- Improvements in speech, communication, social interaction, behaviour, hyperactivity, sensory issues and general autism symptoms
- Improvements in gastrointestinal symptoms
The study demonstrates that food and nutrient levels have a profound impact on our mind and body as well as on the neurodevelopment of children.
The paper is “Comprehensive Nutritional and Dietary Intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder – A Randomized, Controlled 12-Month Trial” Click here to read the full paper.
Even though this study was done for Autism it has huge implications for our overall health and wellbeing – the study shows food and nutrients affect intellectual performance.
Organic Whole Foods
Organic whole foods are foods that have been processed as little as possible and are free from additives – including ‘natural’ additives. Organic means it’s been produced without chemicals, heavy metals or pesticides – it’s the cleanest food you can get. Organic whole foods are clean nutrient dense foods to fuel growing bodies and minds as well as being the foundation of lifelong optimal health.
Another factor that is so important to people nowadays is that the company making the products is ethical and are harvesting in a sustainable manner. Companies like Maple Valley Cooperative are leading the way in this important emerging area.
One of the very first things I ask parents to do is reduce sugar in their child’s diet (sugar feeds yeast and is inflammatory.) Organic maple syrup is a wonderful alternative for sugar – it’s also comparatively low in salicylates which are a problem for some kids. You’ll be replacing sugar with a food that’s full of nutrients. That doesn’t mean you can go overboard with it, use it in moderation as a sweetener in the diet.
Yes, I know many kids on the spectrum are picky eaters, craving sweet foods and carbohydrates. Low zinc levels affect taste and by increasing zinc in the body this can make a big difference to a child’s picky eating. There are many factors involved in picky eating, it’s best to contact a professional for individual help.
We need to be vigilant with what we put into our bodies, It’s important to have an understanding of processed food and the dangers it brings to the table. Here’s a short Q and A.
Q: What is processed food?
A: Any food that’s been changed from its natural state, usually to make it either ‘safe’ or more convenient. Examples are food that’s been boxed, bagged, canned, jarred and has a list of ingredients on its label. It’s these added ingredients that make it processed.
Q: What sort of things are added to processed food and what affects do they have?
A: There are around 6,000 chemicals used to process food! Some have connections to cancer, heart disease, obesity and more. The chemicals stimulate cravings for more of the food, as well as for sugar and salt. Other ingredients such as soy and high fructose corn syrup are added which have negative effects on the body. There are many studies published showing negative effects on children of many food additives.
Q: What are some common examples?
A: tinned food, breakfast cereals, bread, cakes, cookies, crackers, drinks, meat products – bacon, ham, salami, sausages – read the label and see what’s been added!!
Q: What about processed fat?
A: Unnatural fat is one of the most destructive ingredients in processed food. What I mean here is trans fatty acids which come from partially hydrogenated oils – ‘industrially damaged’ fat. Trans fats are deadly for your heart.
So how do we translate this knowledge into our daily lives?
Food either harms and alarms your body creating inflammation; or soothes, calms and heals, working to eliminate inflammation and restore balance to the body. Organic whole foods provide lots of vitamins and minerals as well as acting to soothe, calm and heal the body, reducing inflammation.
On the other hand, processed food is highly inflammatory putting stress on the immune system and the body. It’s like having a pot on the stove in a constant simmer.
Inflammation is a significant factor in many chronic health conditions like heart disease, autoimmune conditions. Inflammation is also a major issue in Autism with studies showing the brain of children on the spectrum being 5% larger than their neurotypical peers.
Sinus problems affect around 30 million people in America (CDC 2015) and are strongly related to inflammation. Histamines and leukotrienes are produced, the mucus membranes become sensitive, mucus is produced and the membranes swell. The result is a blocked nose, loads of excess mucus, nasal congestion and difficulty breathing.
To ease sinus congestion and begin to breathe easy look for a natural dietary supplement to reduce histamines and leukotrienes. There are natural herbs and nutrients that act as natural antihistamines – these are butterbur, quercetin, bioflavonoids, stinging nettle, bromelain, turmeric and boswellia.
Butterbur is particularly effective with a study showing it was as effective as over the counter antihistamine medication. SinuÇees is a dietary supplement with all these ingredients and is available on amazon – try it now, it’s on special until the end of April. Also minimizing processed food and maximizing organic whole foods can be very helpful in resolving sinus problems.
Remarkable benefits of maple syrup
- It’s low in salicylates which is perfect for children with Autism
- Contains antioxidants which help reduce inflammation
- Contains minerals – manganese, zinc, calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium
- It has a lower GI score compared to sugar
- It’s a healthier alternative to artificial sweeteners.
- Immune boosting
- Helps the skin when applied topically
- Improves blood sugar balance
- Improves the efficiency of antibiotics
In closing I do want to say that whilst maple syrup has definite benefits it is a sweetener and needs to be used in moderation and appropriately for the individual.
Julie Damant is the leading Autism Naturopath in Australia, specializing in Autism, ADHD, Aspergers, PDD, learning difficulties, allergies and children’s health. Julie is passionate about helping families make changes to their child’s health using dietary supplements, herbal medicine, nutrition and healthy food choices.
“I know improvement is possible, I have seen it, and will continue to see it as families make the changes that are required to help their child. Working together we can, and will make a difference.”