Autism Awareness and Nutrition – An Introduction

Autism Awareness Month is upon us. Many chronic illnesses, including Autism, can drastically improve by adjusting your diet.  Sound too simplistic to be true? Bear with me as I connect the dots.

Research is finally coming to the forefront confirming how very important diet and nutrition are to your overall health. You ARE, in fact, what you eat. Hippocrates, the “Father of Modern Medicine, said it thousands of years ago “All disease begins in the gut”.  Let’s dive in shall we?

Your intestinal tract is filled with what we call your microbiome. Your microbiome consists of microscopic organisms like bacteria and yeast.  Probiotics are the good bacteria in your intestines that help your intestines do what they do.  We now know that different strains of these bacteria have different properties. Some synthesize vitamins, some help regulate your immune system, some help digest your food, some directly displace yeast off of the receptors on your intestinal cells, and some assist with speech and other cognitive functions and more!  How is this possible?!

For starters, the cells that line your intestines are identical to the cells that line your brain and they talk to each other! They are part of the endocannibinoid system.  In addition, there is a very large nerve, the Vagus nerve, that comes right off of your brainstem that innervates the first 2/3 of your intestines as a part of your autonomic or automatic nervous system. The kicker is that 75% of that nerve actually carries information FROM your intestinal tract BACK to your brain!  Furthermore, seronotinin, a mood modulating neurotransmitter, is produced by your intestinal cells.  That serotonin then goes to your brain to help regulate your mood.  It also goes to the pineal gland where it is converted to melatonin which tells our brain when it’s time to go to sleep. So if you are having mood or behavioral disorders and difficulty sleeping, it may be time to check your gut and change your diet!!

There are a few straight forward things that need to be done if you haven’t done so already. Although it may be easier said than done, it’s time to give it a go.  Firstly it’s time to do away with processed foods.  There is a laundry list of reasons why but for now let’s focus on what we SHOULD be doing. Let’s begin incorporating as many organic fruits and vegetables that are in season as possible. Fruits and Veggies are full of antioxidants which help reduce oxidative stress and generalized inflammation.  Organic because that removes pesticides and herbicides and their side effects from the picture as well as increases the likelihood that the produce is more nutrient rich – especially if you are buying fruit that is in season. When purchasing fresh fruit, know the advantages.  Because the fruit is in season, it will be in abundance and, therefore, cheaper.  It is more likely to be picked at it’s peak and packed with flavor and nutrition.  When you are eating strawberries in January, know that they were harvested half-way across the world – prematurely.  Then sprayed with chemicals to keep them from ripening during the long voyage to your local grocery store. If you MUST have things out of season, frozen is the next best thing.  Frozen produce is picked in season and flash frozen to preserve as much of the nutrition possible.

When it comes to food – the less you do to it, the better it is for you. So RAW organic fruits and veggies are best. Raw plants have live, active enzymes in them that help you process your food.  The raw nutrients (vitamins and minerals) are also great for all of those good bacteria that we’ve talked about that live in your gut. Eat the rainbow! Every different color of the various fruits and veggies indicates a different set of phytonutrients so be sure to get a variety in your diet. If you don’t think you will meet the mark of the recommended 5-9 servings of fruits and veggies each day, then consider adding fresh pressed juices to your routine or a whole food based fruit and veggie supplement.

With respect to processed foods anything that comes in a box or bottle should be identified as something that you should probably go without or substitute with something else.  The first ingredient in most processed foods will either be high fructose corn syrup (fake sugar) or soybean oil (mimics estrogen hormones) both of which are likely to be genetically modified (see here).  Now I get that there are a few condiments that are staple items in your pantry like ketchup.  I get it! But look for organic, non-GMO versions with ingredients on the label that you can read!  Ketchup should simply contain tomatoes, vinegar and some spices.  If you can’t read it, don’t eat it!  Pretty much anything that you should be eating is found around the perimeter of the grocery store – fruits, veggies, meat, eggs, and out! Real food rots! Anything that looks like it could survive a nuclear war probably shouldn’t be on your plate. Let’s not even start on the artificial colors and flavors that are known exitotoxins that will likely be lurking all throughout the aisles of your local grocery store.

Another truly key element in our diets is good, clean, healthy fats! Yes, I said FAT.  The cells of our brain and nervous system are coated with phosphoLIPIDS. Lipids = fat. These phospholipids that coat your nerve cells help them to conduct information faster and more efficiently. All that we are doing is to facilitate neuroplasticity.  Neuroplasticity is the phenomenon where we generate new brain and nerve cells and make new connections and pathways that operate more efficiently.  There was a time when we believed that once brain tissue was damaged that was it! We thought that there was nothing that could be done.  But now we are recognizing that isn’t true. Not only can nervous tissue regenerate or compensate for damage or improper connections, the concept that there is a time limit or age cap on when that can happen is also outdated. So since we are rebuilding brain cells, let’s make sure we have good quality building blocks in place. One easy tip is to add a spoonful of coconut or MCT oil to your drink once a day and/or take a spoonful of good old fashion cod liver oil which is chock full of natural vitamin A, D and Omega 3! All great support for your immune system and calming systemic inflammation  Stay away from “low fat” food items. Low fat items typically have added salt and sugar and other chemicals to make it taste better so you will come back for more.

The other major consideration is getting an allergy test to know if there are specific foods that should be eliminated from the diet as that will help reduce inflammation.  There is also the infamous Gluten Free Casein Free diet and others. Gluten is the protein found in wheat and Casein is the protein found in dairy products.  It would take an entire post to explain all of the ins and outs but here is a brief explanation about gluten and there are links to helpful books and websites below.  SERIOUSLY considering weaning wheat and dairy from the diet for a trial period and see what improvements you notice. Many kids improve greatly after these common offenders are removed. Although nothing beats removing troublesome foods from your diet, you can add digestive enzymes to your regimen before you eat to breakdown your foods for better absorption and to decrease the impact of some of these proteins.

This is just a cursory introduction to things that you can start today to improve your overall health and brain function.  There is so much more!  Take a look around our site and check out our Pinterest page on “A”mazing Kids for more tips and info, sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter as we post new, cutting edge medical research almost daily!

There are Doctors and laboratories that are specifically trained to help patients with Special Needs identify and treat the underlying medical issues so that all of the wonderful intervention therapies will get you farther, faster. We are here to help!

Dr. Maia on TV talking about nutrition and autism. Watch it here!

Happy Healthy Living!

Until next time…

Questions, Comments? Post them below.

The Doctor is in!

Take Home Tidbits

  • You ARE what you eat. “All disease begins in the gut”
  • The cells that line your brain are identical to the cells that line your intestines and they “talk” to each other.
  • Organic fruits and veggies and clean, healthy fats are good building blocks for our brain.

Helpful Resources

Indigestion?!

Did you know that drinking a lot of water before and during a meal actually dilutes the acid in your stomach that is needed to digest your food properly?

Drinking clean water is good for you but drink it 30-60 minutes before or after you eat.

If you have digestive issues (IBS, gas, constipation, bloating, diarrhea, ulcers or acid reflux) consider adding Betaine HCl (Pepsin and Hydrochloric acid) to your routine. Although it sounds counterintuitive, having the proper amount of acid and digestive enzymes available when you eat may alleviate some of your concerns -even ulcers and acid reflux. Decreasing caffeine and processed foods, of course, will also help…

Let me explain….
Proteins are broken down into smaller molecules in the stomach by Pepsin. Pepsinogen is secreted by your gastric (stomach) chief cells but requires a low (acidic) pH in order to be broken down into its active form, Pepsin.
In addition, pathogenic bacteria (the bad guys) thrive in the stomach when the pH isn’t low enough or acidic enough. One in particular, the infamous H. Pylori, we now know is directly responsible for causing stomach ulcers -NOT acid!! Yes! A bacteria is responsible for that gnawing, burning sensation in the pit of your stomach -literally. We must crowd those out by reestablishing the correct pH in our stomach and replenishing the good bacteria, probiotics, in order to crowd out our uninvited guests.

Pepsin and other digestive enzymes in the stomach require a pH of 1-3 (acidic) in order to activate and work properly or they will denature (fall apart) and be rendered ineffective. The digestion process continues in the small intestine once the stomach has completed its job. As the contents of the stomach are dumped into the duodenum (the entry way into your small intestine) the acid is neutralized by the bicarbonate secreted by your pancreas into your duodenum and the digestive process continues from there by the enzymes produced by your pancreas.canstockphoto18463211

Ensuring that this process occurs as designed helps to maintain a good balance of the beneficial bacteria in your intestines that influence about 70-80% of your immune system and actually produce necessary vitamins for your nutrition as well. (More on that another day). If you’re unable to take or tolerate capsules, chewable digestive enzymes may be helpful as well.

If you’re suffering from indigestion, upset stomach or just a blah feeling whenever you eat, consider adding Betaine HCl and/or digestive enzymes to get you back on the right track!

Happy Healthy Living!
Until next time…

Take Home Tidbits
Drinking a lot before you eat dilutes the stomach acid that you need to digest your food
Stomach ulcers (along with other digestive issues) are due to the presence of bad bacteria
Beneficial bacteria in your gut help digest your food and synthesize vitamins