Condition and Nutrient Report:
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism Spectrum Disorder (“ASD”) is a developmental brain disorder that usually begins within the first three years of after conception. Autism falls under the umbrella of “Pervasive Developmental Disorders” or PDD. The other four pervasive developmental conditions are:
- Asperger’s Disorder (“a touch of autism”)
- Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD)
- Rett Syndrome
- PDD-NOS (Not Otherwise Specified)
The rate of autism diagnoses has skyrocketed over the past decade. In 2002, 1 in 150 of children were diagnosed with a form of ASD and in 2010 that number jumped to 1 in 68. The condition is four times more prevalent in boys (1 in 54 boys vs. 1 in 252 girls) (TACA, 2012, 2014).
Characteristics of Autism:
- An abnormal absorption with the self
- Communication & social interaction impairment; lack of response to people
- Short attention span
- Restricted and repetitive behaviors
While the cause of autism remains undetermined, current studies show that genetics and environment play a role in the condition. There is no medical detection or known cure for autism, however, with early detection, there is a significant improvement rate amongst symptoms. By state analysis, autism prevalence in public schools for 8 year olds in 2009-2010 school year show Minnesota, Maine, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Connecticut as having the highest rates of this condition. The lowest rates of autism diagnoses occur in Colorado, New Mexico, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Iowa (TACA, 2012, 2014).
Autism vs. Asperger’s Disorder
Asperger’s Disorder (“AD”) is a type of pervasive developmental disorder that exhibits some of the same characteristics of autism. There are some important differences in the two conditions. Children with Asperger’s disorder are typically higher functioning than those children with autism. Also, children with AD generally have normal intelligence and near-normal language development (Weintraub, 2013). It is crucial to foster their language development, as they may develop communication problems, as they get older.
Characteristics of Asperger’s Disorder:
- Problems with social skills
- Eccentric or repetitive behaviors
- Unusual preoccupations or rituals
- Communication difficulties
- Limited range of interests
- Coordination problems
- Skilled or talented in a particular area
AP is four times more likely to occur in males than in females and is usually diagnosed in children between the ages of 2 and 6 years (Weintraub, 2013).
If not managed, AP and ASD can lead to other conditions, such as depression, ADHD, schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder. Keep in mind, there are treatment options for all of these conditions (Weintraub, 2013).
Treatments may include:
- Special education
- Behavior modification
- Speech, physical or occupational therapy
- Social skills therapies
- Modified diet
There is debate on whether autism and related PDDs can be cured, but for all pervasive developmental disorders, early detection and medical intervention is key in successful treatment and management of the conditions.
Diet can be a powerful tool in addressing symptoms of PDDs. The latest research shows that healing the gut is a crucial first step in addressing diet. The gut’s complex community of digestive bacteria known as the ‘microbiome’ plays an important role in addressing PDDs. If there are GI problems, this can intensify uncomfortable characteristics of these conditions. Common allergenic foods such as dairy, sugar, wheat and peanuts can damage the gut lining and bad microorganisms can enter and cause cellular damage. Probiotics are a powerful tool that can be used to repair the gut lining (Autism Speaks, 2014).
Changing the diet can have a profound impact on managing PDDs. A building diet direction is an appropriate starting point, as most children as rapidly growing and need the following macronutrient ratios: 30-45% carb, 25-30% protein and 30-40% fat. If diagnosed as an adult, a person with PDD may need to modify the diet direction to ‘balancing’ or ‘cleansing’, as necessary, where macronutrient ratios are adjusted.
Three Nutrients to Increase:
Dietary fiber plays a key role in digestion and satiety. Per the World Health Organization, fiber has a Recommended Daily Allowance of 20-40g/day. However, if the fiber intake has been low on a consistent basis, it is suggested to increase to the appropriate amount by adding 5g/day or bowel tolerance (Bauman, 2013). Additional fiber may also be needed for digestion and can be added at 5g increments per day.
Fiber – both soluble and insoluble – helps keep cholesterol and triglyceride levels optimal, aids in removal of toxins and toxic metals, supports bowel health and regularity, helps maintain steady blood sugar levels, and helps with healthy weight maintenance (Bauman, 2013). Examples of soluble fiber include: oatmeal, lentils, apples, oranges, pears, oat bran, strawberries, nuts, flaxseeds, beans, blueberries, psyllium, cucumbers, and celery. Examples of insoluble fiber include: whole grains, seeds, nuts, barley, couscous, bulgur, celery, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, green beans, dark leafy vegetables, and grapes (Zelman, 2010).
Soluble fiber may be easier to digest than insoluble fiber because it does not bulk the stools as much, stays in the stomach longer, and absorbs more slowly in the system. Overconsumption of insoluble fiber can be difficult for the body to process and may cause constipation. It is important to consume plenty of water with both types of fiber, so that the body can more easily move food along the digestive tract and out as waste product.
Essential Fatty Acids
Increasing a better omega-3 to omega-6 ratio through eating more sources of omega-3 fatty acids and reducing omega-6 fatty acids is a good start to restoring immune balance. The ideal ratio is 3:1 or 4:1 omega-6 to omega-3. (Bauman, 2013) Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish (salmon), shellfish and flaxseeds. Foods with the highest percent of calories from omega-6 fatty acids and which may want to be limited/avoided are grapeseed oil, corn oil, walnuts, sesame oil, peanut butter and pistachios. Foods lower in omega-6 fatty acids include coconut oil, (raw) milk, (organic, grass-fed) meat, macadamia nuts, rice, cream, carrots, olives and avocado (Wentz, 2013).
Healthy Probiotics (Non-dairy)
Probiotics play a big role in our digestive tract. The benefits of these healthy bacteria in the gut are far stretching throughout the whole body. This area of study is a very relevant and a hot topic amongst researchers today.
The benefits of probiotics, also known as “GI Microorganisms”, include digestion support (the breakdown of peptides in brush border), the synthesizing of B complex vitamins, nutrient conversion from inactive to active forms, regulation of pathogen growth, GI immunity support, production of short chain fatty acids, and hormone detox support (Bauman, 2013).
Whole food sources of probiotics include: cultured foods such as yogurt, kefir, raw sauerkraut, beet kvass, miso, and kombucha tea. Intake of these foods will vary amongst within the individual.
A probiotic drink as included in Day One of my meal plan. Because the sugar content may be high in the flavored drinks, a piece of whole fruit was added to include fiber. This can help to offset the potential sugar spike. A non-dairy organic kefir was added to supply additional probiotics. Non-dairy sources of probiotics are emphasized in this meal plan because dairy is considered an allergenic food that people with a PDD may be more sensitive to than a person without a PDD.
Other synergistic foods and nutrients to help manage Autism:
L-glutamine is essential to proper function of the immune system and protein synthesis. It protects the gut and when the body is deficient of glutamine, there is higher chance of infection and disease. Food sources of L-Glutamine include: barley, grass-fed beef, cottage cheese, whole milk, pork, raw parsley, raw spinach, soy and yogurt. A supplement may also be taken, but caution is suggested when used with certain medications, including chemotherapy drugs and anti-seizure medications (Wong, 2014).
Critical to immune system functioning, Zinc is an important mineral that if insufficient may weaken the intestinal lining, allowing for harmful microorganisms to pass through into the bloodstream.
Zinc is found in more than two hundred enzymes in the body, facilitating many essential processes. It helps promote mental alertness, regulates blood sugar, builds immune strength, prevents birth defects, enhances sensory perception, and accelerates healing within the body. It can be found in many whole food sources such as: oysters, ginger root, pecans, split peas, almonds, walnuts, turkey, chicken, buckwheat, haddock, shrimp, black pepper, dry mustard, chili powder, thyme and cinnamon (Bauman, 2013).
The Recommended Daily Allowance for Zinc ranges from 2-12mg, depending on age, gender and if pregnant/lactating. In Day One of my meal plan, I included approximately 10 mg of Zinc. A 4oz. portion of turkey (3 mg) is the top source of Zinc included and can easily be increased to 6-7oz. if the needs for Zinc are greater in a certain individual.
Conclusion: Making dietary and lifestyle changes can drastically improve the outcome for a person diagnosed with a PDD. Allopathic treatment may be necessary so it is important to consult with a qualified medical professional. An autistic person can lead a life of happiness and dignity, with the proper support system and treatment.
Resources and Recommended Reading
Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin
Breaking the Vicious Cycle by Elaine Gottschall
Gut & Psychology Syndrome by Natasha Campbell-McBride
Nourishing Hope by Julie Matthews
The Fabric of Autism & The Churkendoose Anthology by Judith Bluestone
Autism Speaks Invests $2.3 Million in Research on Gut-Brain Connection. (2014) Retrieved from:
Bauman, E., Friedlander, J. (2013). Foundations of Nutrition. Penngrove, CA: Bauman College.
Bauman, E., Friedlander, J. (2013). Therapeutic Nutrition. Penngrove, CA: Bauman College.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2012). Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). Data and
Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/NCBDDD/autism/data.html
Sousa, G.T.D., Lira, F.S., Rosa, J.C., de Oliveira, E.P., Oyama, L.M., Santos, R.V., & Pimentel, G.D. (2012). Dietary whey protein lessens several risk factors for metabolic diseases.
Talk About Curing Autism (TACA). (2012, Apr 17, updated March 2014). Latest Autism Statistics. Retrieved from: http://www.tacanow.org/family-resources/latest-autism-statistics-2/
Weintraub, MD. (2013). Asperger’s Syndrome. Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/mental-health-aspergers-syndrome
Wentz, Isabella, PharmD, FASCP. (2013). Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: Lifestyle Interventions for Finding and Treating the Root Cause.
Wong, C. ND. (2014). L-Glutamine: Health Benefits, Uses, Side Effects & More. Retrieved from: http://altmedicine.about.com/od/herbsupplementguide/a/L-Glutamine.htm
Zelman, K. M., MPH, RD, LD. (2010). Dietary Fiber: Insoluble vs. Soluble. Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/diet/fiber-health-benefits-11/insoluble-soluble-fiber