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Autism Coach

Overview of the Biology of Autism, Nutrition and Special Diets


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Virtually everyone within the autism spectrum improves with a dietary protocol.  Some approaches work better for some individuals than others.  This article attempts to explain why the special diets are important and help so many individuals within the autism spectrum.

This article provides an overview of:

  • major biological aspects of autism and how special diets and nutritional suport can help
  • a table of popular special diets
  • foods that are often problematic
  • foods that are beneficial

Why is a Special Diet of Benefit to Individuals within the Autism Spectrum?

Almost everyone within the autism spectrum benefits from being on a special diet that eliminates foods that interfere with neurological development.  The gluten and casein proteins (found in specific grains and animal milk products) are frequently mal-digested, producing opiates that pass through the blood-brain barrier and interfere with neurlogical development.  The form of gliandin protein found in these grains also can cause inflammation in the brain that contributes to additional neurological damage. 

Over time, eating foods that flood the brain with opiates and create inflammation results in interference in neurological developmnent which manifests as symptomsof autism.  Symptom of autism include language delay, lack of eye contact, social skill issues, and behavioral issues. 

Bear in mind that mal-digestion is not the same thing as being allergic to a food, so even if you or your family member are not allergic to a food, it can still interfere with neurological development.  As it happens, many individuals on the spectrum are allergic to foods or eventually develop food alergies.  So even if your health care practitioner tells you there are no allergies, it's best to avoid commonly problematic foods.

Probably the most popular diet within the autism community is the Gluten Free/Casein Free (GFCF) Diet.  Some young children (3 1/2 and younger) have even lost all symptoms of autism by simply going on this diet. Statistics on it's effectiveness range from 65 to 90% - some of this depends on how strictly the parents are having their child adhere to the diet.  For kids who are hyper-sensitive to these foods, even consuming a crouton can send a kid into a tail-spin for several days.  

Individuals on the autism spectrum usually have chronic mal-digestion; they do not optimally digest their food and absorb nutrients.  Some researchers believe this is caused by chronic infection of the intestinal tract by colonies of bacteria, viruses and parasites.  These chronic infections leads to inflammation (the body's way of trying to get rid of invaders).  Allergies are also likely to result from a compromised intestinal tract because the intestinal tract has a layer of mucous, underneath which is a layer of immune system responders to protect the body from infection.  If the mucosal layer is eroded by infectious agents, foods come directly into contact with the underlying immune system layer of the digestive tract, which responds to the foods as foreign invaders.    This is what is known as a leaky gut. Inflammation of the gut.

leaky-gut.jpg

 The image above shows a compromised intestinal tract.  In most people there are links known as tight junctions that "glue" intestinal cells together.  In those with a leaky gut, the junctions come apart, allowing a large amount of food fragments, such as gluten, to seep into the underlying tissue and incite the immune system cells residing there.  Over-stimulating the immune system this way leads to allergies and inflammatory responses throughout the body.

When the mucosal layer is damaged, it also imairs the ability of the body to absorb nutrients.   Your small intestine is lined with tiny, fingerlike projections called “villi”, which stick out from the wall of the intestine and increase the surface area for absorption by up to 1000 times. The presence of these villi allows you to efficiently absorb significant quantities of nutrients from your food.  However, any substance like gliadin that irritates the lining of the small intestine can destroy the villi and significantly reduce the total area available for absorption. If you are sensitive to the form gliandin found in wheat, for example, which is particularly inflammatory, here is an inflammatory reaction in the gastrointestinal tract that involves heat, redness, swelling, and a change or interruption in the normal function of the small intestine.

villi.jpg

The image above shows the small intestinal lining of a healthy person and a person with a leaky gut.  When the intestinal villi are eroded in a leaky gut, fewer nutrients are absorbed.

As your body attempts to fight off a foreign, undigestible substance, blood vessels in the gut enlarge and become more permeable. This brings more white blood cells and other immune system cells to the site of injury to provide protection.

In addition, fluids exudates (leaks) from these blood vessels into surrounding tissues, brining more white blood cells into those tissues for enhanced immune protection. A thin filament called fibrin (the same substance used for blood clotting) also forms in the site to aid in the intestinal wall’s physical repair process. 

Within 12-15 hours after the gliadin-containing meal has hit the gut and the inflammatory response has occurred, the body’s reaction diminishes and the gut is able to slowly heal, assuming there is no further gluten exposure. But if you eat a gluten-containing food again, the entire inflammatory response and damage to the intestinal wall is repeated.

gluten-gliandin-inflammation.jpg

When there is damage to the intestinal tract, there is often also frequently an overgrowth of pathogens in the gut.  These pathogens, which include bacteria and parasites, can form colonies that protect themselves with a coating of slime, known as a biofilm, making them hard to eradicate. They also can secrete a substance, called nagalese that causes the immune system to not recognize them, so they are not attacked.  They also act in an intelligent fashion by triggering the person they infect to crave foods that feed them, like ordering up a meal of sugar and carbohydrates.  Often the foods individiuals on the spectrum crave are the very foods that are triggering their symptoms of autism.  The pathogenic bacteria compete with benefificial bacteria and so there tend to be lower levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut.  

There are biofilm protocols designed to strip away the biofilm and kill the pathogens underneath.  One product Autism Coach product that is designed to do this, is Immunocillin.

Beneficial bacteria produce many of the B-Vitamins and a healthy mucosal layer is needed to absorb them.  Also, surprisingly, the majority of neurotransmitters are produced in the gut, and so an impaired intestinal tract will lead to lower levels of neurotransmitters throughout the body, including the brain.  The intestinal tract is a second brain that automatically thinks and digests for the body, hence the intestinal tract's need for neuotransmitters. 

When there are overgrowths of pathogens in the gut, these pathogens produce toxins that also pass from the intestinal tract through the blood stream into the brain.  Virtually all individiuals on the autism spectrum have an overgrowth of yeast (Candida) which produces excessive levels of ammonia, a neurotoxin.  Excessive levels of these pathogens skew metabolic pathways and also lead to excessive levels in the brain of of ammonia, oxalic acid and proprionic acid.  Skewed metabolic pathways and these toxins also tend to lead to impaired delivery of oxygen to cells throughout the body and the brain, so the brain is in a chronic state of oxidative stress and mitochrondrial energy production in cells is impaired. Neurotpxins and low-oxygen levels also cause neurological damage.  Proprionic acid actually lowers cholesterol so if individual has low cholesterol this can be a symptom of excessive proprionic acid.  Other common infectious agents in autism can include pathogenic bacteria such as Clostridia and Klebsiella.  Researchers have found that there is a neurotoxin in the brains of individuals on the autism spectrum that is identical to that of the poison dart frogs found in the Amazon. 

It is important to supplement with probiotics to reduce populations of pathogens and increase populations of beneficial flora.  Beneficial flower both produce B Vitamins and help the body digest and absorb food.  Low levels of vitamins B6, B12, and folate are common, and are unfortunately critical for neurological development.  These vitamins are also frequently deficient in the elderly, and this deficiency can contribute to the development of dementia.  Most individuals on the autism spectrum are deficient in B12; B12 deficiency triggers borderline anemia.  Standard grocery store vitamins don't have the natural forms of these vitamins that most individual on the spectrum.  Autism Coach offers probiotics to help promote beneficial flora in the gut and  full line of the absorbable, active form of B vitamins.

With levels of toxins high, the liver is over-taxed, trying to remove excessive levels of toxins. The liver produces most of the body's glutathione, the most potent anti-oxidant in the body, the one responsible for removing heavy metals and man-made chemicals.  If the intestinal tract is chronically infected, most of the glutathoine goes to protect the digestive tract.  Unfortunately the brain also needs glutathone and if it is deficient in it and not enough is available to detoxify the brain. We offer supplements that provide glutathione directly or help the body to make more glutathione.

When heavy metals, ammonia and other toxins build up in the brain they skew the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, typically resulting in fewer calming neurotransmitters.  Heavy metals in the brain interfere with neuron to neuron communication.  If there are fewer calming neurotransmitters and something excites the neurons, they are not able to shut off after being stimulated and will become damaged and/or die.  So when a substance of like aspartame of MSG is introduced into the body, they typically have a burst of hyperactive reaction and activity, followed by spaciness - this is mechanism of autism damage in action - over-excitement and subsequent damage to neurons. That is one reason why it is important to avoid processed foods, which frequently contain excito-toxins and artificial food additives that frequently contain pesticide residues and heavy metals.  We offer supplements that help to protect the brain against neurotoxins and support the production of calming neurotransmitters.  

There are therapies to bind to toxins (chelate) and remove them from the body which can be effective.  The problem is if the liver is over-burdened and can't take the addition dumping of toxins, they may just spill back into the blood stream and be reabsorbed, causing more damage.  Those individuals who don't respond well to chelation therapies are typically extremely toxic and have over-burdened livers.  The liver needs to be supported first.  Also, chelation can also remove beneficial minerals which are critical for the transmission of electrical energy to the heart and other muscles (electrolytes), so it is very important during a chelation therapy to monitor levels of beneficial minerals to make sure they are not supplemented with so they are not depleted along with the heavy metals.  Autism Coach offers supplements to gently and safely detoxify that support the liver.

When the body is in a chronic state of infection, this is a form of stress.  Stress activates the adrenal system, which also reacts to physical stress and initiates the "flight or fight" mechanisms in the body.   Say in prehistoric times, a saber-tooth tiger was about to attack you, your adrenal system would prepare you for flight or fight by shunting magnesium and potassium from all the organs and systems in your body into the muscles and zinc to prime them to respond quickly and effectively.  Once the scare is over, these minerals leave the muscles and are excreted from the body instead of being reabsorbged.  With chronic stress, such as a chronic infection, this mechanism is still in place resulting in the body continually excreting magnesium, potassium and zinc, leaving the person in a chronic state of depletion of these nutrients, and basically in a chronic state of dehydration.  An over-stimulated/depleted adrenal system can contribute to symptoms of anxiety and disrupted sleep.  Being chronically dehydrated means there aren't enough electrolytes to properly operate muscles and neurons.  So people on the spectrum frequently benefit from supplementation with electolytes, zinc, magnesium, and potassium.  Autism Coach offers high quality electrolyte supplements such as Well Water and Elyte, minerals, and  supplements that help to balance the adrenal system.

Many of othe pathogens in the gut feed on carbohydrates, sugar, and iron. Some of the special diets that have helped many chldren, such as the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, remove the food supply for the pathogens and are low in or absent in carbohydrates and sugars that feed the pathogens. 

Pathogenic colonies of bacteria in the gut often form a protective covering calls a biofilm over them which makes it difficult to kill them off.  In order to kill the pathogens, you have to first degrade the biofilm and then kill the pathogens beneath it.

Methylation, transsulfration and sulfation are a set of biological pathways that do not function optimally for many individuals within the autiusm spectrum.  There is a lot of research concerning a specific gene, the MTHFR gene. Almost all individuals on the autism spectrum have one or more genetic SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) on this gene, which means that there is some variation from the normal version of this portion of the gene.  Genetic testing through a company such as 23andme.com can help identify some of these SNPs inexpensively (a spit test is $99) or you can go through a medical practitioner who specializes in nutrigenomics - using genetic information to determine nutritional protocols.

High levels of mercury and other heavy metals can greatly reduce and impair the action of enzymes that trigger metabolic activities throughout the body.  Some raw foods diets propose using more living raw foods which are typically better absorbed and can contribute their enzymes to metabolic function.  Heating a food kills the enzymes.  Of course, one also wants to make sure these foods are also safe to eat and not contaminated with bacteria.  Things like naturally fermented sauerkraut, fermented kosher dill pickles, kombucha tea (available at health food store) may be of benefit and provide beneficial probiotic,  electrolytes and enzymes to support digestion.

Here is a table of three popular diets, and symptoms related to who typtically benefits from the diet:

Diet Symptoms           Description
Gluten-Free Casein-Free Diet

Does the individual crave milk and/or wheat?


Are they hooked on eating wheat and dairy foods such as pizza, Chicken McNuggets?

Are they spacey after eating these foods?

This diet removes all foods containing gluten and casein including animal milk products (milk, cheese, yoghurt) and grains containing gluten (wheat, rye, barley).
Specific Carbohydrate Diet

Does the individual have chronic diarrhea?


Do they have an inflamed gut, maybe on steroids?


Has the GFCF Diet not worked?


Have they tested positive for pathogenes in the gut (yeast or bacteria)?

This diet involves the removal of complex sugars; everything except honey and fruit sugar.  It removes maple syrup, cane sugar, agave nectar, brown rice syrup and more.  I also removes all starches and all grains, including potatoes and sweet potatoes.  It allows meat fish, eggs, nuts, and seeds, certain beans, all non-starchy vegetables, and fruit.  It is not a low-carbohydrate diet but a specific carbohydrate diet.  It appears to be helpful for those who have inflammatory bowel conditoins and chronic diarrhea, but can also help with constipation.  It aims to reduce gut inflammation by starving out bad gut bugs and avoiding foods requiring carbohydrate digesting enzymes that are often in short supply.  If the gut bugs don't receive nutrition, they die out.
Body Ecology Diet

Does the individual have a persistant yeast infection (Candida)
Do they have harmful bacteria in the gut?


Do they have bad smelling stools or gas?


Do they sometimes act drunk, spacey or have a crazy laugh?


Do they seem itchy or yeasty in any moist areas of the body like elbows, knees or groin?

The Body Ecology Diet is an anti-candida diet intended to clear up yeast and overgrowth of bacterial pathogens.  It involves combining foods in acid/alkaline balance with low-acid forming foods, low or now sugars and limited carbohydrates, and easily digestible foods, fermented foods.  It includes fermented foods such as non-dairy yogurt, sauerkraut, and other naturally fermented vegetables.  It only allows a few grains such as quinoia, millet, buckwheat and amaranth.  It is also rice free, corn free and soy free.  It allows casein, but I would recommend going casein-free as well. 

Here is a of foods and other substances commonly problematic for individuals  within the autism spectrum:

  • Gluten containing foods found in grains such as wheat, rye, oats, and barley.
  • Casein containing foods found in animal milk products including milk, cheese, and yogurt.
  • Phenols and salicylates -  found in apples, tomatoes, grapes, berries, almonds, lapricots, berries, cucumber, curry spices and most spices, grapes, raisins, oranges, peppers, and tomatoes.
  • Oxalates - found in spinach and rhubarb.  Individuals on the spectrum often have high levels of oxalates which can act as a neurotoxin.
  • MSG - an excito-toxin; it can damage and kill neurons and contribute to hyperactive behavior.  Hidden in "natural flavors" in processed foods.
  • Artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and fats - they often contain residues of neurotoxic pesticides and heavy metals.  They can also act as excito-tosins.  Margarine is hydrogenated (thickened) with nickel, a heavy metal.  High fructose corn syrup in independent testing has been found to have high levels of mercury in up to half of samples tested.
  • Chlorine, bromine, fluoride - interfere with uptake of iodine that is essential for regulation of the body's endocrine system.  Studies indicate that fluoridated water lowers IQ.  It's best to drink and shower with non-fluoridated water.
  • Rice - if grown in the U.S., it has high levels of arsenic.
  • GMO crops - genetically modified food often has traces of Roundup (glyphosphate) and neurotoxic pesticides.  Roundup is an endocrine system disruptor that interferes with neurological development at levels of parts per billion.  Most soy and corn grown in the U.S. are GMO crops.

Here is a list of foods that are unsually beneficial:

  • Cruciferous vegetables - brocolli, cabbage, kale - high in sulfur, provide Vitamin K that heals the digestive tract
  • Parsley and corriander - help to remove heavy metals
  • Romaine and leaf lettuce - help to remove heavy metals
  • Garlic - high in sulfur, kills many pathogens including Candida, and antibiotic resistant Staph
  • Onions and shallots - high in sulfur
  • Spices - ginger, tumeric - anti-bacterial, anti-viral, neuroprotective
  • Cranberries - high in sulfur - anti-yeast, anti-bacteria, lowers cortisol levels
  • Coconut oil and milk - high in monolaurin which kills yeast and medium chain triglyceride fats that build the brain
  • Zucchini - chelates out heavy metals
  • Pumpkin seeds - (not the ones coated with flour) - high in zinc

Sometimes a child won't eat these above foods but you can juice them and hide them in smoothies and other foods.  I have even juiced lettuce.