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

Busy Bodies and “A”mazing Kids

Struggling with ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia or Dyspraxia?! These are all nuerodevelopmental disorders that can be dramatically improved and corrected with the proper BIOMEDICAL intervention and therapy – NOT pills.
One struggle that I had in private practice was explaining to parents, patients, AND professionals that medication is NOT the treatment for these disorders. After a PROPER evaluation, if indicated, then a medication can be used to give you a window of opportunity to grasp your attention while utilizing other modalities that actually treat the PROBLEM – not just the symptoms. Especially now with data showing that there may be an increased risk of drug abuse in the future if you take these medications, it would behoove you to find a better way.
As a parent I’ve learned a lot more about even more modalities to treat these issues. Let’s Dive in…..
Firstly, you ARE what you eat! If your gut is inflamed and leaky due to poor dietary choices or food sensitivities (that you may not even realize that you have), it WILL affect your brain’s ability to function. Hippocrates said “All disease begins in the gut” THOUSANDS of years ago. There is plenty of evidence now proving that – all the way down to specific probiotics that affect certain brain functions like speech for instance. Also, for all of the naysayers – hold on to your hats – The Vagus nerve is a HUGE nerve that comes right off of the brain stem and controls automatic functions of the upper 2/3 of your intestinal tract. If what you eat and probiotics don’t matter, riddle me this… why then is 75% of the vagus nerve made up of Afferent nerves meaning that 75% of the vagus nerve takes information FROM the gut BACK up to the brain?! Think about that for a minute… I’ll wait…..

ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia help
There are also plenty of studies proving the additives and coloring of foods have an excitatory effect on your nervous system.

Eating clean, organic food that isn’t processed along with taking good quality probiotics is a great start. Removing some of the common offenders like gluten (wheat protein) and processed dairy and getting a PROPER food SENSITIVITY panel test (NOT simply a celiac disease test – big difference) can help immensely. Working closely with a highly trained developmental or biomed physician can help you wade through specific evaluations and nutritional supplements tailored to your needs would be very helpful support for this process.

In medical school we are taught about primitive or newborn reflexes. You know, make a loud noise around a new baby and their arms flail out to the sides as a startle reaction briefly then they calm down and that’s it, right?! Wrong! We are simply taught that you are born with a set of immature neurological reflexes that should extinguish by about 6 months of age and are only relevant again if there is a brain injury to determine the extent of the damage. You may have seen it in a movie or TV show – the Doctor swipes up the bottom of the comatose patient’s foot and if the big toe goes up? Uh oh!  Well, there is SO much more to it than that!!! If that startle or Moro reflex doesn’t extinguish or integrate properly, then your visual tracts won’t mature correctly and being able to track letters as you read across a page or switching back from reading the board at school and then back down to your paper to write will be VERY difficult to say the least.

Another key one is the spinal or galant reflex. If you turn a new baby face down on your palm and gently stroke down the side of their spine, their back/behind will curl over to that side and vice versa. If that doesn’t extinguish properly, then you expect a child to sit in a hard back chair all day at school, guess what?! That chair is constantly hitting their backs and causes a REFLEXIVE movement in their back – meaning they CAN’T control that wiggling!!  A pill WON’T fix that. Proper integration of the reflex will.

It’s just like when a Doctor taps your knee with a reflex hammer and your lower leg kicks out – you can’t control that either- its a reflex! There are a myriad of learning or developmental difficulties that can be attributed to poorly integrated reflexes – poor handwriting? emotional outbursts? social awkwardness? motion sickness? clumsy? bump into and/or drop things a lot? difficulty focusing and paying attention? poor/ slow speech development or pronunciation? reflux? the list goes on and on…

Your best bet is to find a qualified practitioner (likely a specially trained Occupational Therapist or perhaps a Pediatric Chiropractor) in your area that can specifically evaluate and treat retained primitive reflexes.  You have to specifically ask if reflex integration is what they do. One thing that I’ve learned is that all therapy isn’t equal. Some therapists go the extra mile and receive additional training in specific areas and techniques after they finish the standard education and training. ALL therapists aren’t even aware of this phenomenon, let alone know how to treat it. I’ve been fortunate enough to discover wonderful professionals that “get it” right in my own backyard! They are few and far between but they are out there!

These reflexes can be gently integrated by doing simple exercises daily under the guidance of a highly trained professional that specializes in this process and follows you closely and adjusts the exercises as needed.  I’ve listed a few books below that explain this more in-depth below to get you started. Feel free to comment or ask questions below…

Happy Healthy Living!

Until next time….

Questions? Comments? Let me know below. The Doctor is in!

Take Home Tidbits

  • Medication is NOT the TREATMENT for ADHD.
  • Medication can give you a window of opportunity to institute the correct therapies .
  • Primitive/Newborn Reflexes that do not integrate properly can cause a myriad of learning and behavioral difficulties.

Helpful Resources

The Symphony of Reflexes: Interventions for Human Development, Autism, ADHD, CP, and Other Neurological Disorders

Reflexes, Learning and Behavior: A Window Into A Child’s Mind: A Non-Invasive Approach To Solving Learning and Behavior Problems

Gut and Psychology Syndrome : Natural Treatment for Autism, Dyspraxia, ADD, Dyslexia, ADHD, Depression, and Schizophrenia

Cholesterol Does NOT Cause Heart Disease. INFLAMMATION Does….

There’s a lot of misinformation and misconceptions about cholesterol and its impact on our cardiovascular health. Eating good, clean fats in your diet is NOT bad for you. In fact, elevated cholesterol levels in elderly people actually INCREASES life span and DECREASES the risk of cognitive decline and dementia like Alzheimer’s Disease. Recent studies show that consuming 1 tablespoon of coconut oil daily can slow the progression of and even reverse the signs of Alzheimer’s. Think about it – cells of the brain are lined with phospholipids. Did you catch that? phospho-LIPIDS. Lipids=FAT. Phospholipids that coat all of your nerve cells help increase the conduction of nerve impulses down the nerve cells so that they can communicate with each other and your muscle cells more efficiently and more rapidly.  Side bar – cholesterol is also necessary to produce all of your sex hormones like testosterone. So if your loved one is suffering from “Low T” and taking supplements for it, you may want to revisit what your having for dinner tonight. ?

Now on to this inflammation. I hear you saying “but I don’t have any inflammation”. If you eat the typical American or western diet, NEWSFLASH – yes you do. We were taught for so long to eat “low fat” – translation high additive diets – and to eat fake chemical-laden margarine instead of real butter and to use vegetable oils to cook. ALL of those things contribute to inflammation.  Typically “low fat” food items have added salt, sugar and chemicals to enhance the taste so that you will eat it. These additives are huge part of what is causing our dramatic increase in health problems in our society today.

Recently the American Heart Association released that they were lowering the dietary sugar intake recommendations for kids because of the association with heart disease. THEN the American Medical Association published in their newsletter that back in the 1960s ‘scientists were paid to minimize the effect of sugar by the sugar industry on heart disease and to play up saturated fats and blaming fats for heart disease’. So the truth is that sugar is to blame and has been all along!!  I have known this for years and I’ve tried to explain this over and over again to close friends and family – some listened and some didn’t – that we’ve all been hoodwinked. I’m so glad that this information has finally come to light.

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Additionally if the label simply states sugar and not sugarcane then the source of the sugar is more likely genetically modified beet root than actual sugar. That doesn’t even consider the (genetically modified) high fructose corn syrup which is typically what is used as the main ingredient in most all processed foods these days. Too much to get into today but we will dive into that at another time as it’s very important to know what you’re eating and what it is really doing to you.  Also remember that simple carbs like bread convert rapidly into sugar once you eat it.  So remember that the next time you’re eating out and they bring you that infamous bread basket while you wait for your meal.

Of course, the best way to reduce inflammation, oxidation and free radicals is to eat a diet high in organic vegetables, fruits, clean fats, and protein – in that order. It’s best to stay away from  processed foods in general.  Anything in a box or bottle will likely have some of the common offenders present – even your salad dressing and sauces. So stay on your toes and stay on the perimeter of the grocery stores.  Pretty much everything that you need will be along the perimeter or outside walls of the grocery store – veggies, fruits, meats, eggs, dairy and out! Most of the stuff that is found on the aisles throughout the middle of the grocery store could possibly survive a nuclear war and has no business being eaten. canstockphoto11868540

By the way cooking with vegetable oils is actually a no-no for several reasons. I know, I know! That goes against everything we’ve been taught for the last few decades but hear me out! Remember what happened in the 1960s?! We have to renew our minds around that. Firstly, many vegetable oils are genetically modified. Find out why that matters here. Even that magical Olive Oil has likely been adulterated or mixed with other vegetable oils UNLESS the bottle clearly states otherwise. Secondly, vegetable oils oxidize when heated. It is this oxidation and the free radicals that it produces that causes microscopic damage to the lining of your blood vessels, joints, and other tissues.  That’s why there is all this hype now about eating, drinking, or taking anti-oxidants and their benefits. Anti-oxidants counteract oxidants or oxidation. The prefix anti- comes from the Latin word meaning “against” or “opposite of”. Anti-oxidants are great but if your consuming them on top of an inflammatory, oxidant filled diet, that’s like giving a whale a tic-tac! It won’t do as much as it would if you removed the culprit. 100% Olive oil is great on a cold salad where you would benefit from all of it’s wonderful properties but don’t heat it up! Other oils and fats that have higher smoke points (they can tolerate higher temperatures before oxidizing) are better to cook with like avocado, coconut, palm oil, or small amounts of grass fed butter or clarified ghee, organic tallow (beef fat), duck fat, nut based oils like peanut (if you’re not allergic), and others.

Other factors that you probably eat every day contribute to inflammation. Gluten. Yes, all of the hoopla is warranted. Let me briefly explain…. Even if you don’t have celiac disease or a documented gluten allergy, you could still be sensitive to the presence of gluten and its effects on your body as a whole. Here’s how. Normally the cells that line your intestines are tightly knitted together and there is a gate keeper, zonulin, that keeps those cells in line and close together.

Gluten (the protein found in wheat, flour, etc) acts directly on zonulin and forces the gap between your intestinal cells to widen.

f14-largeThis allows large, undigested molecules to slip straight into your blood stream unprocessed. These molecules aren’t supposed to be there so your body recognizes them as foreign invaders and deploys cells form your immune system to attack them.  The problem with that is that oftentimes these immune system cells fly around all willy nilly and cross react and attack your normal tissues and cause damage.  So if you’re suffering from allergies, auto-immune diseases (or they run in your family), or chronic aches and pains, you may SERIOUSLY want to consider removing gluten from your diet.  I will devote another post in the future with more detail about the hows and whys.

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In the meantime bring on the bacon!

(Organic, pasture raised, no nitrate added, no preservatives, uncured bacon in moderation?)

Happy Healthy Living!

Until next time….

Take Home Tidbits

Helpful Resources

Sugar is the real culprit in heart disease

Plant based anti-oxidants can help prevent and even reverse heart disease

Lowering sugar intake in kids can help prevent the development of heart disease in the future

 

Comments or questions? Feel free to post them below.

 

The Doctor is in…