Nicky Seabrook is a qualified Nutritional Therapist with previous experience of working as a Dietician in General Practice. Nicky offers nutritional therapy to clients with a variety of conditions and needs, but is particularly interested in supporting children’s health and well-being, people with mental health issues, and those seeking to improve overall emotional resilience, vitality and well-being. In this article, Nicky explores the potential links between autism in children and diet.
Autism In Children: How Nutrition Can Help – By Nutritional Therapist Nicky Seabrook, Based in Suffolk
The prevalence of Autism has risen dramatically since it was first recognised by psychologist, Leo Kanner 70 years ago. Today, the incidence in children is estimated to be one in a hundred and sadly there still seems to be a lack of consensus amongst doctors as to what might be causing it and perhaps most importantly, how to treat it.
While it is recognised that genetic predisposition plays a part, it is increasingly thought that environmental factors must also exert a role. In 2010 Dr Landrigan wrote in a paediatric journal that early exposure to environmental toxins during pregnancy or early infant life could pose a threat to infant development and lead to autism.
Link with gut health
Although the primary symptoms of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are behavioural in nature and doctors have traditionally focused on the neurological health of children, gut health is frequently poor in many of the children. Abnormalities include inflammation, low levels of digestive enzymes, bacterial and yeast overgrowth and poor levels of detoxification.
As a consequence, many health practitioners today are concentrating on improving the gut health of ASD patients and finding that this in turn can result in improvements in behaviour. This may involve identifying foods that a child is allergic to, having a stool test carried out to identify pathogens, prescribing specific probiotics and digestive enzymes or advising on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.
Gluten and casein free diets have been popular choices for autistic children since the 1990’s, largely because Paul Shattock and his team at Newcastle University identified undigested peptides from milk and wheat in the urine of autistic children. This led him to speculate that these peptides were acting like opiates within the brain causing children to behave in a similar way to drug addicts.
Some parents have found that when they remove wheat and milk from their child’s diet they can see a real improvement in behaviour and this observation has since been confirmed by the ScanBrit study who found that concluded that core autistic behavioural traits improved in children following a gluten and casein free diet compared to those on the control diet. (1)
Cleaning up and healing the gut
Not all children, however, respond well to avoiding casein and gluten and Dr Campbell –McBride has written about an alternative treatment which she believes to be more effective in her book – Gut and Psychology Syndrome. Her treatment plan is based upon the theory that the gut has become a major source of toxicity to children on the autistic spectrum and that by cleaning up and healing the gut it can start to become a source of nourishment again leading to improved communication skills and behaviour.
Certainly there is increasing evidence that the type of microflora present in the gut may play a role in the development of ASD; and scientists are now suggesting that by lowering levels of pathogenic bacteria and raising levels of beneficial bacteria in these children their symptoms can be helped. (2)
In summary, seeking nutritional advice is well worth investigating for any child on the autistic spectrum. A nutritional therapist will be able to give you advice on diet, appropriate supplements to try and tests that might be useful to assess your child’s nutritional status.
Nicky Seabrook BSc.Dip.IONmBANT
- Whiteley et al. (2010) The ScanBrit randomised, controlled, single-blind study of a gluten- and casein-free dietary intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders Journal of Nutritional Neuroscience. Vol.13 No.2
- Parracho et al. (2005) Differences between the gut microflora of children with autistic spectrum disorders and that of healthy children J of Medical Mycology vol.54 No.10