For an overview of my Autism views and approach, please go back and read this post.
Children and adults on the autism spectrum can benefit greatly from a balanced diet that includes certain therapeutic foods and supplements. In particular, foods and supplements that:
- Reduce inflammation
- Restore the intestinal barrier
- Improve the balance of gut microbiology (“ healthy bacteria”)
- Boost immunity
- Are a good source of antioxidants
- Speed detoxification
THERE IS NO ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL SOLUTION
Each person is unique in their needs and sensitivities. For instance, one person may benefit greatly from eating garlic to clean up the digestive tract while another may not be able to digest it properly. Fermented foods may be very therapeutic for some while others may have an intolerance to the histamine found naturally in these foods and will have to wait to introduce them when the gut is stronger.
Priorities vary from patient to patient. One person may be dealing with persistent viral and bacterial infections while another may be desperately low on vitamin B stores. The needs and priorities overlap and change so each patient’s plan is highly customized and frequently revisited and revised.
Then there is the issue of picky eating. This is common in those with Autism because they may be (understandably) avoiding foods that cause them stomach pain or they might be avert to certain textures or unwilling to step out of their “comfort zone” and try something new. It takes time. Here are some helpful tips set forth by Autism Speaks.
8 Foods and Supplements to Consider
1. COCONUT OIL
- In general, healthy natural fats such as and avocado, olive & coconut oils and ghee (clarified butter) are nourishing on the digestive tract and necessary for the absorption of vitamins A, D, E & K.
- Coconut oil has been shown to improve antioxidant activity1 which is important for those with autism who are generally prone to oxidative damage (i.e., “rusting” of the cells) due to inadequate antioxidant protection2, 3.
- This healthy saturated fat is a superb immune booster, being antiviral, antimicrobial and antifungal. Studies show that it is remarkably effective at controlling the overgrowth of Candida (pathogenic yeast), common in autism4,5.
2. OMEGA 3 SUPPLEMENTATION
- Patients with autism are often deficient in Omega 3’s, particularly DHA (the building block of gray matter –or “thinking part” – of the brain) and EPA. These are found in various amounts in seafood and sea algae.
- Many of my patients notice improvement when supplementing with a quality, mercury-free fish or algae oil.
Those with autism need to seek out good sources of antioxidants such as anthocyanin-rich blueberries and astaxanthin-rich pink seafood (wild salmon and well-sourced shrimp). These particular antioxidants are unique because they cross the blood brain barrier and combat oxidative stress in the brain cells.
- Probiotics are healthy bacteria that improve the balance of gut microbiology.
- Probiotics also boost immunity, improve nutrient absorption and repair damage in the intestinal wall.
- I often recommend that my patients seek out probiotic-rich foods (e.g., sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, kefir – made from coconut water if dairy isn’t tolerated, raw apple cider vinegar) and take a probiotic supplement. It’s wise to introduce these foods slowly, monitor the person’s reaction and not to overdo it.
Prebiotics play a crucial role in gut health by feeding the healthy bacteria that already exists in the digestive tract.
- Garlic offers powerful immune support and studies show that it can control yeast overgrowth.7
- Garlic can stimulate the body’s production of glutathione8 – a critical and often-lacking antioxidant in those with autism. Glutathione is important for proper gut function9 and detoxification.
7. DIGESTIVE ENZYMES
- Those with autism can have trouble breaking down protein into the amino acids they need, a process that can be supported by supplementing with digestive enzymes.
- Digestive enzymes can also help to minimize the effect of hidden sources of gluten and casein, to which many patients are allergic or intolerant.
8. PRENATALS AND BREAST MILK
- Many women don’t begin taking a prenatal vitamin until they find out that they are pregnant (usually at least one month into the pregnancy). But there is evidence that taking a prenatal 3 months before and one month after conception can reduce the risk of the child later developing autism10. It’s important to select a prenatal that contains DHA.
- Breast milk creates a more favorable balance of gut flora than does formula11.
Important note: Transitioning to new foods slowly will allow the body time to adjust and temper the healing crisis (ill effects associated with rapid detoxification). Speak with your physician before making any dietary changes.