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 Natural Awakenings Lancaster-Berks

How Diet Can Help Resolve Symptoms of Autism

Jul 29, 2013 07:46AM ● By Annmarie Cantrell

Autism is a complex neurobehavioral disorder that is characterized by impairments in social interactions, communication and play. A March 2013 report by the Centers for Disease Control estimates that one in 50 children are now diagnosed with autism, up from its 2006 estimate of one in 166. This staggering statistic gives us good reason to question what we know about the disorder.

Historically, autism was thought to be a brain disorder, and treatment focused on retraining the brain and changing behaviors. However, thanks to the work of the Autism Research Institute, based in San Diego, California, and Dr. Martha Herbert, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, many professionals now see autism as a whole body disorder, in which the brain is affected by imbalanced biochemistry in the body.

According to Herbert, biochemistry and digestive health go hand-in-hand, and most children with autism have digestive problems that include leaky gut syndrome, a condition in which the intestinal lining becomes permeable, allowing undigested food particles, bacteria and toxins to pass from the intestine into the bloodstream. This can lead to food intolerances, allergies, behavioral problems and foggy thinking, symptoms that characterize autism.

Many wellness practitioners believe that in order to heal children with autism, the gut must be healed. Probiotics and digestive enzymes are often used to begin the healing. Parents can jumpstart the process by removing processed sugars and starches, food additives, genetically modified foods and chemicals from the diet—non-nutritive ingredients that put an extra burden on the body.

Next, parents can eliminate foods to which children may be sensitive, which most often include gluten (the protein found in grains like wheat and barley), casein (the protein found in dairy products), soy, corn and eggs. By removing these offenders, children that are sensitive to them are no longer bombarded by foods that cause their immune system to overreact. As a result, they begin to feel and focus better, think more clearly and often become more social.

To truly heal the gut, though, requires more work than simply remove the offending foods, explains Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride, medical doctor and author of Gut And Psychology Syndrome—Natural Treatment for Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Depression and Schizophrenia. Healing also involves adding superfoods that will fuel immunity and help repair the damaged gut. She recommends good-quality fats like coconut oil, palm oil, lard, tallow, olive oil and ghee (butter that has been clarified to remove the milk solids) to help repair the gut, enhance the absorption of minerals and provide the body with much-needed energy.

Another dietary aid to healing the gut is broth that is homemade from the bones of pastured and organically raised animals, according to Francis Pottenger, M.D. From the 1930s until his death in 1967, he tested and advocated the dietary principles of Weston Price, the dentist known primarily for researching and writing about the relationship between dental health, nutrition and physical health in the 1920s and 1930s. Pottenger pioneered the use of broth, promoting the idea that gelatin is a hydrophilic colloid that yields easily assimilated minerals, aids digestion and helps decrease gut inflammation by attracting and holding digestive juices to the food in the digestive tract.

Lacto-fermented foods and drinks such as sauerkraut, pickles, and kefir and yogurt made from young coconut contain beneficial bacteria that may help decrease inflammation when ingested. McBride explains that the beneficial micro-flora produce antibiotic, antifungal and anti-carcinogenic compounds, staving off parasites and viruses that can irritate the gut and cause inflammation.

It may take patience, perseverance and consistency on the part of the parents of children with autism to eat these foods, because these children are typically picky eaters and tend to crave the very foods, such as starches, sugars and dairy, that will continue to feed the pathogens in their gut. However, the amazing thing is that once the child’s body begins to heal, its chemistry also begins to change, freeing them from craving the foods that keep them sick. Instead, they begin to want the foods that support their health. The changes can range from fewer infections to eliminating the diagnosis of autism.

Annmarie Cantrell, MEd, is a chef and wellness educator who runs a program called FOOD for HOPE—Healthy Options for Picky Eaters, in which she helps families weave their way through the maze of dietary interventions for children with autism, ADHD and allergies. For more information, email [email protected] or visit

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