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

What’s in a Name?

So you want to eat and live healthier but it feels like you need a secret decoder ring to figure out what is actually healthy. Let me help. Firstly, labels on fresh fruits and vegetables are pretty simple, right? – either it’s organic, or not – or are they? What does organic really mean? and why is it that some items are grown in an organic manner but don’t have the label? Then there are foods and personal care and health and beauty items in pretty green bottles that say “natural” but I can’t pronounce half of the ingredients! What’s that all about? And don’t get me started on vegetarian fed, grass fed and all of those variations that sort of sound the same….
Let’s dive in shall we?….

What does organic mean? There are a strict set of regulations.  Organic produce must be:

Why may something be grown or raised organic but not bear the label? Organic regulations are quite strict and can be expensive. You have to be able to provide at least three years of proof that your products have been produced in an organic manner. Once the three years are completed, THEN you can apply for organic certification which can cost several hundred up to several thousand dollars. Then you must be re-certified every year. Quite frankly, some small farms just simply can’t afford it.  However, you can NOT assume that simply because something is “locally grown” or sold at your local Farmer’s Market that pesticides weren’t used or that it is any cleaner or healthier. You have to ask to be sure but at least at your local farmer’s market, you can look someone in the eye and find out.

Then there’s the whole “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” propaganda.  Please know that “clean” means it contains the LEAST amount of pesticides – not none. I appreciate the sentiment but you can’t rest on your laurels as the lists change as well.  Strawberries shot up to the top of the dirty list this year.

What is a GMO? “A GMO, or genetically modified organism, is a plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified using recombinant DNA methods (also called gene splicing), gene modification or transgenic technology. This relatively new science creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.” English? DNA form another thing (plant, animal, or bacteria even) is rammed into the DNA at the equivalent of several hundred miles per hour with the HOPE that it will demonstrate the desired effect. never mind the fact that where it lands is haphazard and the it could land right smack dab in the middle of another gene for say a nutrient that is now rendered defunct because it is now like a bad movie “DNA Interrupted”.

Unfortunately, pretty much anything in a box or a bottle (unless it is Non-GMO Certified) will contain (high fructose) corn syrup or soybean oil as its first ingredient.  Ingredients are listed in order according to volume so the first thing listed makes up the largest portion of the ingredients. 90% of all corn and soy in this country is genetically modified. Also, unless it says sugar cane, the “sugar” is genetically modified beet root. Oh! and did I mention that soy is a hormone modulator and can mimic estrogen in our bodies?  On that note I’ll choose (D) – none of the above…

Can GMO’s be used in organic products? “The use of genetic engineering, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is prohibited in organic products. This means an organic farmer can’t plant GMO seeds, an organic cow can’t eat GMO alfalfa or corn, and an organic soup producer can’t use any GMO ingredients.”

There are plenty of retailers that are certified and registered as Non-GMO.

What does “free range” mean? Not much….”Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.” Catch that? “allowed access to”. That literally could just mean there is a teeny tiny door on the side of a warehouse sized coop with a VERY small fenced in area that the chickens can enter – if they can physically find it and walk thru the door….


Your best bet is to look for “Pasture Raised” or “Pastured’ (not pasteurized) meats and eggs. When animals are truly allowed to roam free in a pasture, then they naturally eat a balanced diet that provides the proper nutrients that are then passed on to you. Prime example from my own kitchen:


Top right: Organic eggs from a popular specialty store

Bottom left: Farm fresh, pastured raised eggs.

You see the difference? All of that deep golden color means more nutrients for you….

The same thing applies to “grass fed” versus “vegetarian fed”.  Tell me that you didn’t think that those two things were the same.  The marketing machine is hoping that you did.

“Vegetarian fed” = grain (corn and soy – likely GMO).  Cows are NOT designed to eat and digest corn hence the E.Coli and other bacteria that can run rampant when they do.  Switching them back to eating grass can drop the amount of E. Coli in their systems by up to 80% in just five days – without giving them antibiotics! Also, grass fed beef naturally contains more Omega 3 which is a great anti-inflammatory and supports your brain and nervous tissue (and is less likely to contain pesticides if the cows are allowed to roam free in a pasture).

In addition, those yummy golden eggs? That extra color comes from chickens that roam free and get extra protein. That protein comes from eating bugs, etc. (I know, I know) that are supposed to be a natural part of their diets that’s lacking when they only eat grain. So be wary of the big colorful signs at the meat counter that simply say “vegetarian fed”…

Then there’s fish. Wild caught or farmed? Well, farmed fish are crammed in pens and fed pellets or feed that is laden with mercury, pesticides, and leftover fish bits. Then there’s the sea lice. Yes, lice. There are plenty of documentaries like this one here that describe the atrocities at length. When talking salmon, Sockeye or Alaskan are typically wild caught.   The rest are likely farm raised. Feel free to ask your fish monger at your local grocery store. Talk with them and get to know them.  They’ll probably tell you the real deal and they may even tell you what’s good on sale. Mine does.


Also, be aware that genetically modified “Frankenfish” will be coming to a store near you soon.  Fortunately Costco actually declared that they will NOT sell it.  Since Costco is one of the largest retailers around, that’s a really good thing!

How about “natural”?! Ummm yeah that means pretty much nothing… Anything even remotely “derived” from a “natural source” can be deemed natural.  Had a strawberry shake lately? or a red colored drink? Know where the “natural” red dye comes from? BUGS. Yum!

It’s a jungle out there people. Try not to get overwhelmed.  Start small. Do what you can when you can.  Don’t go spend a fortune revamping your whole pantry all at once.  As things run out or expire look for healthier options.  In time your fridge and pantry will have had a facelift for the better. Just put one foot in front of the other and before you know it you will be running with the best of them!

Happy Healthy Living

Until next time…

Take Home Tidbits

  • Organic includes non-GMO items.
  • 90% of corn and soy is genetically modified.
  • Soy mimics estrogen in our bodies.
  • “Natural” means pretty much nothing.

Helpful Resources 

USDA Organic Regulations

Seafood Watch Guide

Seafood Watch Guide by State

Questions and/or comments? Ask me below.

The Doctor is in!