Many of you (and/or your children) are on a restricted diet of some sort. In this article, we are going to give a brief summary of the diets that we are commonly asked about and the effects that they can have.
The Average Diet
The average diet which is eaten today is completely different to the average diet of 50 years ago - which was more like the primitive hunter/gatherer diet of our forebears.
"The huge increase in processed carbohydrates, sugars and trans-fatty acids as substitutes for simple fruits, vegetables, proteins and healthy fats in our children's diets is impacted in an epidemic of behavioural and learning disorders in the Western World."
L. Embersits - Mindd Foundation 2007
These poor quality diets lead to various digestive and nutritional deficiencies, along with a host of learning and behavioural disorders; caused by the lack of essential nutrients to the brain.
The use of antibiotics, drugs, dietary sugars, refined carbohydrates, bottle feeding and infection, all play a role in upsetting the balance and efficiency of the beneficial intestinal gut flora. This can then lead to mal-digestion and mal- or compromised absorption of essential nutrients that are required for brain and bodily functions.
Dietary intervention plays a vital role in the biomedical approach and has shown to significantly improve symptoms in children with ASD and other behavioural disorders.
The most common "offending foods" are gluten (a protein found in grains - wheat, barley, rye and oats) and casein (a milk protein). These proteins do not get digested properly in ASD patients and turn into substances that possess a similar chemical structure to opiates, (like morphine and heroin). These opiates are thought to cross through the blood-brain barrier and block certain areas of the brain, just like morphine or heroin would do. Eliminating them from the diet (i.e. a gluten and casein free diet) has helped many ASD children lead a happier life.
Studies & Other Recommended Diets
Several studies (conducted by Reichelt et al. 1981) have found abnormal peptides in the urine of people with autism and schizophrenia, and long-term treatment studies have found significant improvement from a gluten and casein free diet.
Some ASD patients also have specific food allergies and sensitivities, after wheat and dairy, other common offenders include soy, eggs, peanuts, strawberries, corn and chocolate. Unfortunately, simply removing "offending foods" alone will not give optimal results - a whole dietary change as a way of life is required.
Other diets that have shown to help support the sensitive or damaged gastrointestinal tracts of ASD patients include:
- The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) - this mimics the diet of early man; focusing on natural, whole, unprocessed and fermented foods. It includes meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, nuts, low-sugar fruits, and particular fermented dairy products. The SCD diet works by starving out harmful bacteria in the gut and restoring the balance of good bacteria.
- The Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet (GAPS) - this diet was developed by Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride (a neurologist, nutritionist and ASD mother), and is based on restoring digestive health for improved neurological function and development. The GAPS diet (read more on GAPS here) is similar to the SCD however it does not allow dairy products; because casein may trigger or inflame allergies and intolerances as well as affect brain function. The GAPS approach may be beneficial if the gluten / casein free (GF/CF) diet and SCD diet "do not resolve the digestive and neurological issues." This may occur because the GF/CF diet substitutes the gluten containing foods with other processed and refined carbohydrates that continue to feed gut pathogens (candida, bacteria, fungi, viruses) and the SCD allows casein which may perpetuate the inflamed gut and opioid effect on the brain.
- Diets eliminating salicylates, food dyes, yeast and simple sugars have also been reported to have beneficial effects.
It is best to consult a knowledgeable practitioner about the right diet.
Food Allergies and ASD Children
Food allergies are very commonly seen in ASD children, which may be due to abnormalities in their digestive and/or immune systems.
If food is not properly digested into its individual sugars, amino acids, etc., then this partly digested food may pass from the gastrointestinal tract into the bloodstream, especially if the child has a "leaky gut" due to inflammation. The immune system will then recognise those foods as foreign, and may launch an immune response to those foods, resulting in an allergic response.
The most therapeutic foods for ASD patients are "real foods," often raw and prepared as done over thousands of years (soaked, slow cooked broth and meat, no microwave, fermented grains and vegetables). Sugar-free yogurt, kefir and fermented foods (miso and vegetables) are especially recommended, as these therapeutic foods help to replace beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract that are usually low in numbers due to metabolic and digestive disorders (medications, antibiotics, toxic exposure and illness are all causes).
"Biomedical practitioners are finding that toxicity and inflammation are central in several other paediatric disorders that have risen sharply since the early 90's including: asthma, allergies, food sensitivities, chronic upper respiratory infections, chronic urinary tract infections, eczema, dyspraxia, dyslexia and other leaning and language delay. By improving the biochemistry and digestion of ASD patients, the immune system bounces back, inflammation reduces and many of the above listed symptoms lessen if not disappear."