Dietary Intervention and Treatment for Autism
Autism is a condition that influences individuals’ interaction and how they perceive the world. It is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition that can be identified by the way one interacts with other people or the environment. This disorder is characterised by many conditions including challenges with social skills, speech, non-verbal communication and also certain strengths and weaknesses specific to different autistic people. There are therefore many types of autism caused by ones’ genetic and environmental influences. Effects of autism start to show between two to three years, but in some cases, it can be diagnosed at 18 months. Autism is more common than people think. According to Colvert, Tick et al., (2015), there are about 700,000 autistic people in UK and people from any nationality can be autistic. Autism can be identified and addressed earlier. So far, there is no identified cure for Autism, but the condition can be managed and controlled such that they are surpressed and do not bring adverse effects to the individuals. Diagnosis of autism differs from one person to another depending on the type of autism suffered by individuals.
There is no adequate treatment and guide for treatment of autism, but nutritional factors have been found to play a major role reducing their effects. Children with autism have been examined and discovered to have lower level of certain important nutrients in their blood including zinc, vitamin D, Omega 3 fatty acids and selenium. Treatment of autism usually comprises of therapy, educational intervention, behavioural treatment among others. Interestingly, parents and researches have reported diminishing symptoms of autism through dietary intervention. This is by eliminating or rotating certain foods from diets of autistic people as well as through the use of supplements.
There are certain food substances that can be problematic to children with autism and thus should be avoided. There also other foods with beneficial nutrients for healing autism if added to the diet. Autism diet, supplementation and nutrition have the ability to improve sleep, cognitive ability, relieve pain, improve digestion and improve various behaviours. A healthy diet and good digestion is important for people with autism. For many children, symptoms can stem from impaired digestion and Gut Inflammation health. Though there are many recommended diets for autism the most common and immediately helpful ones include Gluten –Free and Casein-Free Diet, Specific Carbohydrate Diet, Body Ecology Diet and Yeast free diet.
Gluten-Free and Casein-Free Diet (GFCF)
This diet works by eliminating all foods containing gluten and casein. Gluten is a protein found in various foods including wheat, bread, barley and any bakery item, while casein protein is found in dairy products. The theory behind casein free and gluten free diet is based on various observations. One of the observations is that Gluten and Casein can cause gut inflammation, pain and also a digestive problem. Most of the times, these proteins can be improperly broken as a result of poor digestion forming opioids which can be toxic to children with autism because of their abnormal gastrointestinal track (Matthews, 2013). It has also been observed that symptoms of autism can be caused by increased activities of opioid receptors found in the brain. Gluten and Casein breaks down into products called peptides which can react with these receptors to increase the autism behaviours. When Casein and gluten are eliminated in the diet, brain functions improve.
A study carried out by Whiteley, Shattock et al. (2011) showed that autistic traits decreased significantly among people that practised gluten-free and casein-free diet than those that were on a normal diet. GFCF diet should be practised carefully because there are some sneaky sources of the proteins that can be taken unknowingly. An example is potato fries which are often dusted with gluten during processing and never listed on the label. Malt is also another example as it is made from barley. GFCF diet is a good start when beginning dietary intervention for autism.
Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet is a scientific method discovered confirmed to be beneficial from biology, chemistry and clinical studies. This diet intervention was adopted from work of DR.Sydney Haas, a Celiac Management Pioneer who healed her daughter from Ulcerative Colitis using the diet. SCD is applied by taking natural foods like meat, fish, poultry products, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and milk incubated in yoghurt to denature casein and remove lactose (Gotschall, 2004). As the name goes, it only allows intake of specific carbohydrates by allowing only certain sugars and certain carbohydrates. The main purpose is to remove all starches, all grains and complex sugars except sugars found in honey and fruits. The explanation behind the diet is that starches feed microbes like yeast, fungi and bacteria. When microbes invade the intestinal track, they can cause illnesses like GI and autism. SCD works by starving these microbes and also eliminating them as the brain connection is repaired. SCD is gluten free and dairy products if any are virtually lactose-free and its casein denatured. Most people find it difficult beginning with this diet because it is restrictive and can be hard to figure it out. Although one can begin with SCD, it is much easier, to begin with, GFCF and then progress to SCD. Since SCD is not entirely casein free, it is recommendable to practise it casein free until one is sure casein is not a problem.
Body Ecology Diet (BED)
BED was developed by Donna Gates who succeeded in fighting massive candida infection. Donna Gates developed a theory that most chronic diseases are caused by a sequence of illnesses starting from a fungal infection in the gut and the invasion continuous affecting the whole body (Gates and Schatz, 2011).Final result is an infected gut, and for autism, an infected brain. BED is focused on treating the gut by clearing bad bugs like yeast and dysbiosis. BED follows seven principles. First is the principle of uniqueness which considers individual to have unique needs and hence need to choose foods that fit their needs and blood types. Secondly is the principal of expansion and contraction which requires one to avoid foods that are too contracting like eggs and salt and those that are too expansive like sugar. Other principles are keeping blood to be slightly alkaline, continuously cleansing the body to remove toxins, proper food combining, eating until you are 80% full and leave 20% for digestion and finally practising the intervention step by step until you are familiar and comfortable with it. For a person suffering from candida, this diet is very beneficial. BED, however, conflicts with SCD because as SCD requires removal of certain sugars and all starches, BED requires one to avoid all sugars and eliminate certain starches. However, if one chooses to use a different diet, certain BED principles can be incorporated like keeping blood slightly alkaline and taking non-starchy foods.
Yeast Free Diet
Excessive yeast and especially Candida yeast in the intestines is believed to cause yeast syndrome. The effects of yeast syndrome are fatigue, mood swings, depression, poor memory, sinus congestion among others (Kałużna, Żurawicz, 2014). When yeast is in excess, it penetrates through the intestines causing it be absorbed in the body. This can be prevented or managed by eating yeast free foods which not only helps in avoiding yeast but also eliminating the yeast organism from the body. People with candida yeast are recommended to avoid foods with yeast and incorporate the practise by limiting carbohydrate intake because yeast growth can be activated by simple sugars and carbohydrate. This intervention can be combined with any other diet intervention without difficulties.
Autism is a condition that can be managed and its extreme symptoms prevented by taking proper diet. The diet intervention methods discussed has been tried and tested, and the result from most studies agrees they are helpful and should be applied to people with autism for good recovery. It is important to be disciplined in practising any method to get good results. From a brief analysis of the dietary intervention methods, starch, sugars and dietary products are common substances required to be avoided and considering most foods contain these substances the intervention can be difficult to apply. However, the most important dietary principle that should be applied into dietary intervention diet is starting. It may sound simple but starting somewhere is the key.
Colvert, E., Tick, B., McEwen, F., Stewart, C., Curran, S. R., Woodhouse, E., … & Ronald, A. (2015). Heritability of Autism Spectrum Disorder in a UK Population-Based Twin Sample. JAMA Psychiatry, 72(5), 415-423.
Gates, D., & Schatz, L. (2011). The Body Ecology Diet: Recovering Your Health and Rebuilding Your Immunity. Hay House, Inc.
Gotschall, E. (2004). Digestion-Gut-Autism Connection: The Specific Carbohydrate Diet. Medical Veritas, 1(2), 261-71.
Kałużna-Czaplińska, J., Żurawicz, E., Struck, W., & Markuszewski, M. (2014). Identification of Organic Acids as Potential Biomarkers in the Urine of Autistic Children Using Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry. Journal of Chromatography B, 966, 70-76.
Matthews, J. (2013). Autism Diets: The First Step to Biomedical Intervention and Autism Recovery.
Whiteley, P., Shattock, P., Knivsberg, A. M., Seim, A., Reichelt, K. L., Todd, L., … & Hooper, M. (2011). Gluten-and casein-free dietary intervention for autism spectrum conditions.