Note: The Future of Nutrition, which took place a few weeks ago, was an online conference hosted by nutritional psychologist Marc David, MD, that connected nutrition with the inner-workings of our bodies and minds. It featured interviews with over 55 experts in the field. In this second installment, Casie Leigh Lukes shares her notes and top takeaways on the topic of Autism and Nutrition.
I first became interested in autism when I volunteered at arcBarks, an organization employing people with special needs. The employees make dog treats, and sell them in grocery stores like The Fresh Market.
In this Future of Nutrition session, Marc David interviewed Julie Matthews about “Autism, Nutrition and Hope” — it was a wake-up call for me to learn more about the various ways food heals and hurts us. It provided such insight, clarity, and hope. My top takeaways are below!
1. Underlying conditions that researchers have correlated with autism include the body’s detoxification ability, immune function, digestive capacity, and metabolism/cellular functions.
- Detoxification, immune function, digestive capacity, metabolism, and cellular function handle every interaction we have with food because our immune system decides with each item we consume whether it is a friend or foe, and if inflammation needs to be increased. This process happens in the gut, so we have the immune system and digestive system overlapping.
2. As we improve the health of the body, we improve the health of the brain. Strategies to do this:
- Remove artificial additives (dyes, MSG, flavorings) from food, and reduce sugar intake
- Individualized diet and supplement strategies — because no one diet fits all. An example of this is bioindividual nutrition, which is based on the unique needs of the individual.
- Going gluten-free and dairy-free are two ways to adjust the health of the brain. If you can’t break down the difficult-to-digest proteins (gluten and dairy), you can form opiates from them. Symptoms of not being able to break them down include feeling fuzzy, foggy, speaking incoherently, getting frustrated easily, and having a high pain tolerance. We also know that people with autism have higher levels of opiates in their urine than others. Those foods are also very inflammatory, affecting the gut and immune system.
- Eating grain-free diets. Grains can be very difficult on digestion. Children with autism don’t just have social and language challenges; they might have chronic constipation, diarrhea, or irritating skin rashes, too. Some have extreme inflammatory bowel issues. Sometimes a grain-free diet can really be a supportive step, along with seeing gastroenterologist. Having a team of people to help you is important.
- Eating diets that support healthy digestion, such as the Body Ecology diet, GAPS diet (Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride — on resetting your gut flora), Paleo diet.
3. We need to work on health from the inside out. There are a lot of common factors of autism and ADHD. When we see depression in women before they’re even pregnant, there’s an increased chance of autism in their future children.
4. Fussy eating can be caused by sensory issues (the food may be too slimy, for instance) and by having an addiction to sugar or other artificial additives. The additive MSG causes food to taste more exciting, leaving foods without it seem boring. If you’re creating opiates from wheat and dairy because your body is unable to break these down, you can become very addicted to those as well, causing a person to only want to eat foods that keep this cycle going, instead of eating healthier options.
5. We need to start seeing parents as equals with professionals in finding solutions. Researchers and clinicians are 40 to 50 years ahead in studying these topics from what’s happening in the practical and mainstream arenas.
6. The No. 1 misconception about autism is that it’s a permanent, lifelong condition that you can’t change and can’t recover from. Matthews says, however, that you can improve your situation — whether it’s a full recovery or feeling better — regaining some language skills, having healthier bowel movements, or simply enjoying your day.
This interview with Julie Matthews was one of the most encouraging and exciting sessions for me to listen to: The fact that research has begun pinpointing practical steps to help those with autism, specifically by adjusting the diet, is phenomenal. I also loved how Matthews acknowledged that each person is different, and that the same dietary adjustments that help people with autism can help all of us lead healthier lives.
For more information on Julie Matthews’s work, visit Nourishing Hope.
Casie Lukes is Experience Life’s digital content specialist.
Image via saaif.org.au.