Sauerkraut Recipe

GFCF/SCD/GAPS/Paleo/LOD/BED/Keto Diet Compliance

Sauerkraut is wonderful for digestion and the immune system. It’s also beneficial for our mood. 

Sauerkraut is made with fermented or cultured cabbage and other vegetables. When they are made raw, the traditional way, they contain live bacteria that aid our digestive health, as well as our brain and immune system. Since sauerkraut is rich in probiotics, it supports a balanced, healthy microbiome and good health.

Sauerkraut is rich in probiotics, which supports a balanced healthy microbiome and good health. And it’s never too early to start. See my daughter below at 10 months old.

It’s easy to make and a really fun experiment with kids when you’re home with free time on your hands. All you need is a cabbage, some salt, and time.

Supplies

  • Ceramic crock and a plate or other jar that fits inside crock to hold the cabbage down
  • 1 quart or 2 liter jar filled with water (scrub the outside)
  • Cloth cover such as muslin or kitchen towel

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs/2 kilograms cabbage (Green or red/purple)
  • 3 tablespoons/45 milliliters sea salt

Instructions 

  1. Rinse cabbage.  Retain two outer cabbage leaves.  Grate cabbage by hand with mandolin or in food processor, finely or coarsely.  
  2. Place cabbage in bowl.  Sprinkle salt on cabbage as you go.  The salt pulls water out of cabbage and creates the brine so it can ferment and sour without rotting.  The salt also keeps the cabbage crunchy by inhibiting organisms and enzymes that soften it.
  3. You can add other vegetables such as carrots, ginger, radishes, onions, garlic, leafy greens, seaweed, beets, turnips and burdock roots.  Juniper berries are common. For consistent results, I typically use a majority (75%) cabbage with some of these other vegetables for flavor and variety.  You can try almost anything, but without a starter, vegetables containing natural lactobacillus are the best such as cabbage and root vegetables including beets, radishes, turnips, and carrots.
  4. Mix ingredients and pack into crock.  Pack a small amount into the crock a little at a time and tamp it down with your fist or a kitchen implement like a potato masher.  You can also massage cabbage with your hands, and then tamp down. The goal is to force water out of cabbage, pack the kraut tightly, and press out any air. If you’d like, you can place a cabbage heart (the center of the cabbage) in the center of the sauerkraut in the crock.  The center pickles and leaves you with very crispy, crunchy cabbage that you can eat with your fingers—this is often fun for children.
  5. Place cabbage leaves in crock on top of packed cabbage to keep any shredded cabbage from floating to the surface of the water.  Place the plate over the leaves to keep everything down. Add a weighted jar (filled with water works) to top to act as a weight.  The goal is to keep EVERYTHING (except the jar) under water. The water is formed by the liquid in the cabbage and the salt. Let it sit for 6 hours or so and see if the water line rises above the cabbage.  If there is not an inch and a half of water, add salt water in the ratio of 1 tablespoon salt to 1 cup of water. Salt inhibits mold growth, but too much salt slows good bacteria. As such, you want to be fairly accurate with your salt/cabbage and salt water proportions.
  6. Cover with fabric cloth and tie with a string or large rubber band. Make sure it goes all the way around so no bugs can get it.  
    1. If you use a Harsch crock, the process (in steps 5 and 6) is simple.  Instead of needing a plate and weight, specially made weights are included.  Place the plates on top of the cabbage making sure the water is over the top of the vegetables.  Place lid on top and fill rim with water to form water seal. No fabric is necessary.
  7. Ferment for 2-8 weeks or more.  Personally, I like long ferments of 8 weeks or more.  Because my home (in San Francisco) is very cool all year round (resembling a cellar), the kraut turns out great every time.  Always sour and crunchy. Never soft.

The types and amounts of bacteria differ in the raw sauerkraut as the fermentation changes over time.  For this reason, I like Sandor Katz’s suggestion of “eating it as you go.” Make a large batch. After two weeks, “harvest” one jar or one week’s worth.  Pack the sauerkraut back up and set aside to ferment. After that jar is finished, harvest another jar in the next week. Continue for eight to ten weeks or whenever it is done.  This ensures that you get the various bacteria types and counts over time.

Additional notes:

  • If you live in a warm climate, you will want to invest in a Harsch crock.  They help insulate the sauerkraut with its thick ceramic. The crock keeps the kraut from getting mushy in hot weather.  The weighted “plate” inside with an air tight water sealed lid keeps air out but allows gasses to escape.
  • You can make sauerkraut with whey but it is not necessary and I’ve never noticed any difference either way.  More importantly, whey is from yogurt and contains casein—something many people are trying to avoid with sauerkraut.  You can also use a cultured vegetable starter such as the one Donna Gates has on BodyEcology.com. I like to do things the “old fashioned way” without a starter—it feels empowering.  
  • There is another method seen in books and online. This method typically doesn’t weight the sauerkraut down, they use a starter, an airtight lid, and only ferment them 3-7 days.  Be aware not to use this method for long ferments; otherwise, you will blow the top of your ferment. 

Variation and note on salt: You can use half the salt by substituting seeds (an even mix of celery, caraway, and dill).  Although, the original recipe uses only salt, it is not “salty” in taste—especially the longer it ferments.

*I adapted this recipe from Sandor Katz’s sauerkraut recipe and his book, Wild Fermentation. This is one of my favorite books on fermenting everything.  And he has a new book, The Art of Fermentation.

Here’s a photo of my daughter at 10 months, eating cultured vegetables. And my “intention kraut” where I write my desired intention on the jar and I believe the good bacteria help me put the good energy in the sauerkraut. Here’s my batch of Love Kraut.

Share your experience, comments, and questions on sauerkraut with us. 

Using Rainbows to Teach Kids Good Nutrition

Have you been trying to get more nutrients (and vegetables) into your child?

As a nutritionist specializing in children with autism, ADHD, and related neurodevelopmental delays, I can share with you that most parents I work with are worried about their child’s nutrition.

But thankfully, with some understanding of good nutrition and a few creative ideas, they all became confident they could feed their child nutritiously, even those with picky eaters!

One great way to boost nutrients is to encourage kids to eat a rainbow of colored foods.

Firstly, kids love rainbows! And healthy veggies and fruits come in a rainbow of colors; in addition to vitamins and minerals, they contain phytonutrients derived from natural plant pigments that give them their bright colors! 

So eating brightly colored plant foods, a “rainbow” of them (not artificial dyes), provides a variety of nutritious phytonutrients for good health. 

Using a rainbow as your guide makes it easy for kids to understand and fun to pursue, and helps boost nutrients that parents are trying to get them.

Engaging children will improve your success. The more they are involved with their food choices, picking them out, preparing them, and maybe even growing them, the more they will enjoy and eat them. This also helps parents increase creativity with food choices. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut making the same one or two options everyday, invite fresh ideas and explore.

So a simple rule of thumb… remember to eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables each day. And teach your kids to do the same.

Colors and their Nutrient Benefit

Here are some corresponding colors and their nutrient counterpart:

Anthocyanins: Anthocyanins produce the blue, purple, red color found in berries and grapes. Anthocyanin foods contain antioxidants that support health.

Lycopene: Lycopene is a carotenoid found in tomatoes. Studies show lycopenes have a positive effect on heart health.

Beta-carotene: The orange/yellow color in many fruits and vegetables. Humans convert beta-carotene to vitamin A. Vitamin A assists with growth and development and vision. It is also very important for a healthy immune system: specifically for regulatory T cells, which help prevent an immune response against “self” (i.e. an autoimmune response).

Lutein: Green and yellow plants produce lutein. Lutein is concentrated in the macula of the retina in the eye of humans and plays an important role in vision and eye health.

Zeaxanthin: Zeaxanthin is a compound very similar to lutein, which gives red bell peppers their orange and red color. Being the same chemical structure (with a different double bond) as lutein, it has similar benefits for the eyes.

Red:
Red pepper, Swiss chard, radish, tomato, beets, red onion, watermelon, strawberries, raspberries, cherries (pitted), cherry tomatoes, red grapes

Orange:
Butternut squash, carrot, pumpkin, sungold cherry tomatoes, sweet potato, mango, cantaloupe, apricots, peach, nectarines, papaya, orange, grapefruit

Yellow:
Yellow bell pepper, summer squash, golden beets, corn, lemon, golden raspberry, pineapple, banana, yellow tomato, pear

Green:
Artichoke, asparagus, lettuce, brussels sprouts, collard greens, kale, zucchini, green grapes, kiwi, honeydew melon

Blue:
Blueberries
Blue corn
Blue potato

Purple:
Beets, Purple kale, purple broccoli, purple brussels sprouts, purple cabbage, purple cauliflower, purple asparagus, purple carrots, blackberries, concord grapes, plums, eggplant

Fruits and vegetables also contain many other vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, folate, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. One of the best nutrients fruits and vegetables contain is fiber. Fiber helps keep our good bacteria healthy and supports good digestion.

Children can choose their favorites 

As I mentioned, when kids are engaged, they eat more healthy food. 

One great way to do this is to let them choose what they want to eat or try for the first time.

You can make this a learning experience and get more nutrition into your child.

I created a handout for you that can help (download it here).

The handout includes a colorful chart for your refrigerator with a rainbow of fruits and vegetables for dozens of ideas, a 2020 Veggie Planner, and a coloring page to get your child involved in the fun!

Print out the chart and put it on your refrigerator. Show the chart to your child and discuss how different colors have different nutrients (and how cool it is!), and then let them choose which color category and/or food choices they’d like to try.

In addition to helping your child, the chart is a great tool to remind you of new vegetable and fruit options when you are shopping and cooking.

Even make it a game. Take on the challenge each week as a family of trying a new fruit or vegetable on this list. Sunday is often our day to cook something new and different together as a family. Make a side dish with a new vegetable, or even a gluten-free pie with a new fruit. If you do it week after week, you can sprinkle in some delicious desserts between your vegetable dishes to keep the game interesting and exciting.

Rainbow Meal Ideas

Here are some rainbow ideas kids love.

Fruit and Vegetable Kebabs

Fruit kebabs are a great way to get kids to try new fruits. They are easy to eat. Pretty and festive for a party. And loaded with nutrients. Use any fruits you like: such as watermelon, mango, berry, or melon. For those on a low salicylate diet, use complaint fruit (such as: pear, mango, golden delicious apples, or whatever works for your child).

Add Vegetables

For kids new to eating vegetables, the combination of foods they like (fruit) with unknown foods (vegetables) is a good way to encourage exploration of (and success in eating) vegetables.

Making them rainbow colored is so fun. People of all ages love them. And they are filled with nutrients.

One Sheet Pan Meal

One sheet pan meals are very popular these days because they are so easy to make and clean up. Place your meat and vegetables (as shown here as a rainbow of colors) on one sheet pan and cook until everything is done. Serve the meal on the table straight out of the oven, for a beautiful display of colorful vegetables.

Rainbow Salad

Another beautiful way to get a rainbow of colors is from a rainbow salad. When I’m trying to batch prepare meals for the week, I often prepare multiple salads in mason jars, so we can grab it and go. If you add salad dressing to the bottom it doesn’t make the salad mushy. You wait until you area ready to eat it, shake it to “toss” the salad with the dressing and you’re all set.

There are many ideas and possibilities. Make a smoothie and layer it in the blender in rainbow order, then blend to see what color it is. Make art; for example, your child can make a rainbow on a plate using fruits and vegetables. Then eat it. 

Share your favorite rainbow meals with us. 

Julie Matthews’ Email to Forbes Requesting Correction

I sent the following email to Forbes on December 5th in response to their inaccurate article on dietary intervention for autism.

Attention Forbes Media, 

I’m writing regarding an article published in Forbes online on November 11, 2019 by one of your contributors, Steven Salzber, entitled “New Autism Study: Gluten-free Diet Does Not Help Autistic Children.”

I believe your article to be inaccurate and I request that you publish corrections accordingly, including my expressed rebuttal.

You can read my response here: https://nourishinghope.com/forbes-article-ignores-abundant-science-on-gluten-free-for-autism/

In addition to the science explained, please note the dozens of comments from parents (and professionals) on how diet helped their children with autism.

As a professional Certified Nutrition Consultant working in this field for 17 years, I have written an award-winning book, published scientific research, and consulted and spoken with thousands of families, and I can say with certainty that your article is filled with misinformation. 

Your article is not only inaccurate, but it’s harmful to families who are looking for ways to help their children feel better. Your article spreads misinformation that discourages them from trying something that is shown to help, as there is plenty of scientific research supporting that diet improves autism symptoms and helps children.

I respectfully request that you correct the misinformation, and publish my rebuttal. 

Furthermore, I’m willing to submit to Forbes a scientifically referenced article on this subject if you are interested to publish it. I’m also open to engage with Mr. Salzberg in a forum where we can actively discuss the science of this subject together. 

I look forward to your response.

Respectfully,

Julie Matthews

Forbes has not responded back. So I have sent them another email. If you want to write to Forbes yourselves and share your experience or request for correction, you can write to them at [email protected] or [email protected]

Avoiding Holiday Havoc: Healthy solutions to avoid meltdowns and keep the holidays happy

The holidays are a wonderful time for being together with family and celebrating. 

But there are also new holiday traditions that can cause children to have behavioral and emotional reactions. Holiday treats and decorations can cause biochemical overload and physiological reactions like hyperactivity, anger, aggression, crying spells, and anxiety. And the things we enjoy as adults, such as: music, lights, and new smells can be overwhelming for a child with sensory sensitivities. 

Fortunately understanding them ahead of time can help you plan and adjust as necessary.

Holiday Stressors That Can Cause Meltdowns

The following are some of the things that can cause real reactions in kids:

  • Christmas trees
  • Wreaths and pine branches
  • Potpourri
  • Scented candles
  • Perfume
  • Lights
  • Music
  • Strong smelling food
  • Food and food additives

Christmas trees and Wreaths Can Cause Severe Symptoms
 

Before you run out and buy a fresh, new Christmas tree or holiday wreath, you’ll want to read about my client’s Christmas tree experience.

Her son 10 year old son with autism severely regressed during the holidays. After the holidays we had an appointment where I learned about his regression and asked if they had a Christmas tree. Turns out they did and it was the cause of his misery.

Here’s her description:

“During the Holidays our son regressed severely.  He became anxious, aggressive, and self-abusive. He cried and had tantrums regularly throughout the day. He couldn’t sleep anymore and was up for hours at a time, night after night. He was hand-flapping like crazy.  We have a swing in the house for him and he now wanted to swing all day long, constantly, and do nothing else. He lost eye contact and he stopped responding to his name.”

 And it’s no doubt that the Christmas tree was the culprit, because once it was removed the improvements were dramatic.

“The decorations came off and the tree was put out that same night.  I didn’t tell anyone at home about our discussion. I wanted to see if they would comment on my son’s behavior after the tree was gone.   The next day, he was much calmer. He seemed to have “exhaled.” Within 48 hours, our son was completely back to normal. His improvement was blatantly obvious. And, everyone commented on it.”

Pine trees and phenols

Christmas trees are varieties of pine trees. The aromatic oils that give pine trees their great smell were the cause of his behavior, mood, and sleeping issues.

These strong smelling oils are phenols.  Phenolic compounds come in many forms including artificial petroleum-based food additives, and salicylates found in plants and foods like strawberries and spices, as well as pine trees.

When phenols are not able to be broken-down and detoxified (by a process called sulfation, which is low in many children with autism and ADHD), they can cause many symptoms including irritability, red cheeks and ears, hyperactivity, aggression toward self and others, “stimming,” sleeping challenges and many more.

If you know your child is sensitive to salicylates or other phenols (see my salicylate article), you’ll likely want to avoid a traditional Christmas tree.  If you are unsure about their sensitivity to salicylates: you might ask yourself if your child is often hyper, irritable, or has red cheeks, and other common salicylate symptoms, or whether they crave salicylate-rich foods such as berries, grapes, apples, and ketchup.  If so, explore salicylates further.

In fact, since so many children with autism and ADHD react to salicylates (in my nutrition practice I find an overwhelming majority react negatively), I’d suggest a cautious approach to holiday decorating for all families of a child with autism or ADHD. Simply avoid the pine Christmas tree. I’ll share some ideas below.

Sadly, there is nothing “fresh” about air fresheners. And while those scented candles and diffusers seem lovely, they also contain these chemicals. Our body needs to detoxify them, and when we can’t do so sufficiently they cause physical and behavioral reactions. 

This year skip the scented products. 

Even essential oils, which I love, can cause reactions because of the phenols I’ve described above. Some of the essential oils with the highest sources of phenols include:

  • Balsam fir oil
  • Clove oil
  • Cinnamon oil
  • Citrus oil
  • Eucalyptus oil 
  • Lavender oil
  • Oregano oil
  • Pennyroyal oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Sweet birch oil
  • Tea tree oil
  • Thyme oil
  • Wintergreen oil

Essential oils are certainly better than artificial fragrances. But be sure to use them sparingly and avoid the highest phenolic ones if you suspect a phenol issue.

Scents: Potpourri, Scented candles, perfume

Most scented items for the holidays are made with synthetic fragrance. Not only do these fragrances contain toxins like phthalates, parabens, and styrene, but they also contain phenolic compounds (like the pine tree mentioned above). 

So these scented items can cause headaches, nausea, and behavioral reactions in children and guests. 

  • Potpourri
  • Scented candles
  • Stick/reed diffusers
  • Air fresheners
  • Perfume and cologne
  • Fabric softener
  • Scented Hand soap

Lights, music, and smells

Many children with neurodevelopmental delays, have sensory sensitivity. This means they are more likely to react to the holiday lights, blinking lights, strobing lights, music playing in the background, and new smells like food and others mentioned above. 

Not only are their physiological reactions that can happen, they can also create overwhelm. Sensory input, even when pleasant, are stressors to our nervous system. 

Try keeping sensory stimulation to a minimum. 

Having a quiet space for them to take a break can be very helpful. A small tent like this one can be an excellent option as a ‘sensory break’ spot!

Food and food additives

Gluten, Dairy and Food Allergens

Gluten, dairy, soy, and other allergens such as corn and eggs can cause behavioral and emotional reactions including anxiety, hyperactivity, irritability, and add to sensory overload.

There are many ways gluten and dairy can cause these reactions. If you are eating these foods and your body is creating opiates, opiates themselves can cause mood changes. Additionally, opiates peak and drop, these “withdrawals” from these opiate-compounds can cause irritability and aggression. Also, these foods can cause inflammation and pain causing physical and emotional symptoms. 

A gluten-free and casein-free (dairy-free) diet is often a great place to start with dietary changes, as there are so many ways these foods can negatively affect children. 

If your child is on a special diet, the holidays are an important time to STICK WITH IT! Infractions are not worth it. 

It’s easy to make gluten-free stuffing and gravy.

Artificial Food Dyes and Salicylates

I have mentioned phenols in the form of fragrances, but phenols are also in the form of foods and food additives. 

In my one-on-one nutrition practice, I’ve found that phenols are (by far) the greatest instigators of aggressive behavior, as well as other emotional and behavioral symptoms like hyperactivity and those I mentioned above with Christmas trees.

Artificial additives like artificial colors and flavors are phenols, and are compounds that can trigger irritability, sleeping problems, ADHD, hyperactivity and aggression.  

In addition to “artificial phenols” there are “natural phenols” in the form called salicylates.  Salicylates have a phenolic structure, or aromatic chemical ring, that occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs and spices, and other plant foods.  These foods are rich in wonderful nutrients, but if your body has trouble “detoxifying” the salicylates, they can be a big problem for a child causing significant symptoms.

Salicylates are high in foods, such as: apples, oranges, berries, almonds, honey, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mint, and other common holiday spices. 

Avoid anything artificial like Santa lollipops and candy with red and/or green dye, as well as peppermints with mint and artificial colors and titanium dioxide (white coloring). Stick with natural flavored and colored candy and treats. 

Amines and Glutamates

Amines are a different natural food compound, similar to salicylates, that is processed by the same detoxification pathway, and therefore, often create similar reactions. People with salicylate sensitivity are more likely to have amine or glutamate intolerance.  Amines and glutamates are found in fermented foods including sauerkraut, salami, smoked meats and fish, bacon, and broths. Amines are high in broths, turkey skin, and pan drippings, which means amines will be high in your holiday gravy and stuffing.  

Glutamate, also comes in the additive-form of MSG (monosodium glutamate) found in store bought broths and bouillon so be careful to read labels. 

Holiday Solutions

  • Non-pine decorations
  • Non-living fake Christmas tree
  • Wreath made of dried hydrangea flowers or other materials
  • Unscented candles
  • Wrapped gifts
  • Ornaments
  • Stockings
  • Dropped and dried tree branches
  • Noise cancelling headphones
  • Non-strobing/blinking lights
  • Essential oils (maybe)
  • Healthy food

Decorations

Just because you avoid a fresh pine tree, does not mean you need to miss out on any holiday cheer or decorations.  Browse Pinterest or your search engine for “Christmas tree alternatives” and you will find many wonderful ideas. Using dropped and dried tree branches for decorations can work because they won’t be heavily scented. And can be from something other than pine. 

An artificial Christmas tree can be a good alternative. And be good for the environment too, as it can be used year after year.

Try a wreath made of dried hydrangea flowers or other materials. However, be careful and avoid dried herbs and plants with a strong smell – they are also very high in phenols.  

There are also many other ways to make your home festive for the holidays too: candles (unscented) or lights, wrapped gifts, ornaments, or stockings.

Here are some of my favorite Pinterest ideas: 

Sensory Support

Consider over-the-ear noise-cancelling headphones for your child. They are a great way to block out extra sounds.

Natural scents such as essential oils might be an option depending on the child, however, avoid the high phenol ones. Also, simmering some pear juice along with some orange slices can add a nice natural and not overwhelming fragrance to your home. 

Have a special room that is low in sensory stimulation that your child can retreat to as a safe haven. We all get overwhelmed sometimes. You might even find you enjoy a short break too.

Healthy Food

We all want to celebrate during the holidays and this includes some treats. However, it’s not worth eating junk food with artificial colors or flavors, or even gluten or dairy. 

The good news is, you can eat healthy AND have treats. Simply choose healthy treats.

You can make gluten-free stuffing and gravy as I mentioned above, as well as pumpkin pie without dairy or gluten. And you can also make treats like Chocolate Bark and Cocoa Mints that are delicious, festive, and free of artificial ingredients. And you can buy candy canes and chocolate treats and santas free of artificial flavors and dye. 

I wish you all the best for the holiday season. And I hope these ideas help.

If you have anything you love doing or eating for the holidays, please share in the comment section below. 

For Practitioners

While this article was written with parents/families in mind, I get asked questions related to these issues in my BioIndividual Nutrition Institute training program too! Sometimes it can be tricky to pinpoint what the trigger is with some of our very sensitive clients. I have seen this time and time again in my 18+ years working in the autism, ADHD, and special needs community and the unique biochemistry involved in the processing of these compounds and/or chemicals that results in behavior and physical manifestations.

If you are a practitioner wanting to dive deep into issues like these to support your clients even more effectively, our training program enrollment is open for just a few more days. Click here and join us today!

Amazon Disclaimer: Julie Matthews and Nourishing Hope is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

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Forbes article ignores abundant science on gluten-free for autism

This week an article was published in Forbes, disparaging the use of the gluten-free diet for autism – a healthful approach that has benefited thousands of families around the world for decades. 

The author’s “bent” seems to be to discourage parents of children with autism from giving needed attention to the food and nutrition their children receive. 

He states, “The science behind the idea that gluten or casein causes (or worsens) autism has always been sketchy.”

I so often hear there is “no science” or “little science”… or “weak” science, as this Forbes article states “weakly supportive evidence for this idea [following the gluten-free diet].”

When I see this claim of “no science” I know they have clearly not done the research because if they did they’d find dozens of studies that support the efficacy of dietary intervention for autism. (We’ll talk about some of them in a moment.)

I do what I do (write and speak), in part, because of these naysayers. I’m a Certified Nutrition Consultant who has worked with children with autism for 17 years. I’m a published nutrition researcher (with a study on diet and nutrition intervention for autism). And I’m a writer (author of Nourishing Hope for Autism and an online nutrition program for parents) that brings together the research and clinical results to help parents and health professionals distill the science and practice into things they can do to help children improve their health, learning, and behavior.

And I write and speak to not only help parents and practitioners learn how to help children, but also to give these parents a voice. A voice of the science and a voice for their experience and passion to help their child holistically and nutritionally.

The recent Forbes article is simply the latest hit piece on dietary intervention for autism.

Each year I see them. A study will come out showing diet does not help and another study showing that it does. The study showing benefit is often well designed and written but it gets no attention. And the study showing diet does not help gets all the press.

Why is this? 

Why is it that the media is much more likely to jump on a story showing that diet does not help autism, than when it does?

Why squash all hope? I may never understand this. 

At Nourishing Hope we are here for the opposite… to share the science AND nourish hope for families that there are things that can help. 

It’s solid science and it is certainly worth trying.

Let’s get into the article.

In this Forbes piece, the author, Steven Salzberg, a computer scientist, claims there hasn’t been a good study until now, saying…

“virtually no good studies have asked the question, do gluten-containing foods actually cause the symptoms of autism?”

That’s not true. There were a number of respected studies before this on gluten-free alone and many more on gluten and dairy. A quick Pub Med search brings up this study “ A Gluten-Free Diet as an Intervention for Autism and Associated Spectrum Disorders: Preliminary Findings”1 showing positive results way back in 1999.

The Old Switcheroo

Whether this is intentional or unconscious I’m not sure. But this is a common tactic many people use… Comparing apples to oranges

The author states, 

However, there are plenty of websites that offer treatments for autism, many of them unproven. One of the more common claims is that autistic children will benefit from a gluten-free, casein-free diet. 

But then he goes on to discuss only “gluten-free diets” which is not the primary dietary recommendation for those with autism. It is the gluten-free and casein-free diet (GFCF) these parents are following and seeing results from, not an ONLY gluten-free diet.  

He doesn’t consider or present any evidence on gluten-free AND casein-free diets. There is a vital distinction we’ll discuss when we talk about the study flaws. 

When he switches the conversation from gluten-free and casein-free to gluten-free only, he’s comparing apples to oranges. 

But first, more about the study.

One Study

The author only looked at one study2 to determine his primary scientific argument. He states:

“The new study, just published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, is the first randomized, well-controlled study of gluten-free diets in children with autism.”

No, it’s not the first (more studies below), and it was not well controlled. 

Let’s look at the study (you can read the full text paper here).

The study had 66 children who were all on a gluten-free diet. 

They were randomly assigned to the gluten-free diet (GFD) group or the gluten diet (GD) group. The gluten-free diet group continued to eat a gluten-free diet once the study started. The gluten diet group consumed one gluten containing food in more than one meal per day.

Flaws with the study

This article is based primarily on this one new study, which is fundamentally flawed in two ways.

1. The gluten free diet was not gluten-free

The study allows for infractions…

 “An incidental episode of consumption of a gluten-containing food (defined as a small piece of gluten product, e.g., bun or cake) or the consumption of yoghurt or spices with infinitesimal amounts of gluten was still classified as being compliant with the GFD.”

This is not a gluten-free diet to begin with. A biochemical response to gluten can occur from a very small infraction, the allowance of a “small piece of gluten product,” or even the small amount found in spices is definitely enough to cause a reaction. 

Since there was enough gluten to physiologically cause a reaction the study was not testing no gluten vs. gluten. It was actually testing a little gluten vs. more gluten, and this is very different. I’d expect not to see any/much difference between these two groups. 

Moreover, they don’t state how many infractions are allowed. We don’t know if they are happening daily or weekly. Regardless, even just a single infraction could throw things off for weeks, if not months. 

So the study cannot measure the impact of the omission of gluten. And this diet would not be able to determine the difference between gluten and gluten-free results. 

2. Dairy and Soy

The greatest flaw is that the diet discussed, a gluten-free diet, is not what’s being recommended by educated and experienced parents and professionals for autism. The science supports following a gluten-free AND casein-free diet.

That’s because casein, a protein in dairy (and soy too) share similar food proteins and properties to gluten (and similar scientific reasoning for removing them from the diet). Without omitting all three, you might not see any beneficial results.

This is because gluten and casein (and even soy) are broken down by the same digestive enzyme (DPPIV). So a deficiency with the enzyme can cause a reaction to all three foods. They are also inflammatory foods that are difficult for many people to digest. And all three have a partially-digested peptide that fits in the opiate receptor mimicking opiates. (I’ll explain more below)

Removing one may not result in any benefit.

In the Forbes article, the author quotes the lead researcher as saying, “There is no evidence either against or in favor of gluten avoidance for managing symptoms of ASD in children.”

I couldn’t find that quote in the paper, which concerns me on the legitimacy of the reporting. But either way, this statement is just wrong. Any pub med search will show you that there is plenty of research (which we will get into in this article).

Parent’s Reporting of Their Experience Matters

The author’s only mention of any past research was a single paper on parent interviews, which he defines as “weakly supportive evidence” and “notoriously unreliable.”

While parental surveys/interviews have their limitations – I disagree about their value. Parents know their children better than anyone. In that way, they can offer astute observations of changes in their child, and provide helpful data. 

And more importantly, this is only one paper. There are many more studies showing that a gluten-free and casein-free diet can help children with autism, and many that are more solid and well designed.

Studies that show the GFCF diet helps children with autism

Here are five studies showing that diet improves symptoms in autism:

  1. Showed a reduction of autistic behavior, increased social and communicative skills with a GFCF diet, and reappearance of autistic traits after the diet has been broken 3
  2. Found development was significantly better for the ASD group on a GFCF diet 4
  3. Demonstrated significant improvement in ASD and ADHD symptoms in children with autism on the GFCF diet 5
  4. Found 91% with autism improved behavior, speech, and/or GI to on GFCFSF 6
  5. Measured 4.5x improvement in developmental age, 6.7 pts increase in non-verbal IQ, improved autism symptoms, anxiety, and gastrointestinal symptoms from diet and nutrition intervention in autism. Same study found statistically significant benefits in communication, social interaction, daily living skills, inattention, and hyperactivity. (This study also included several nutritional supplements in addition to a healthy GFCFSF diet.) 7

The Science Behind Diet for Autism

As I mentioned at the beginning, the article states:

“The science behind the idea that gluten or casein causes (or worsens) autism has always been sketchy.” 

This is not true… the science is not sketchy.

Let’s talk science…

Children with autism routinely exhibit physical symptoms; such as diarrhea, constipation, bloating and GI pain, frequent infections, food allergies, sleeping challenges, and inflammation/ pain. For many children, nutrient deficiencies, imbalanced biochemistry, digestive problems, and inflammation underscore these symptoms.

Taking charge of their diet and nutrition can help.

One strategy is to follow a healthy gluten-free, casein-free, and soy-free diet.

Let’s discuss why the gluten-free and dairy-free diet can help.

What children eat affects how their body and brain operate for several reasons: the chemicals and substances in foods can affect the brain, and the foods we digest become nutrients for the brain to function.”

Nutrients are essential to all biochemical and brain function. Adequate nutritional status requires the consumption of nutrient dense food and proper digestion to breakdown and absorb those foods. Poor digestion can lead to a condition known as leaky gut; marked by malabsorption of nutrients, inflammatory responses to foods that are not broken down, and a burden to the detoxification system.

Poor digestion often stems from environmental factors (as well as genetic susceptibility), lack of beneficial bacteria, inflammation, and immune system response to certain foods. And studies have shown leaky gut 8, low levels of beneficial flora9, inflammation and immune response to food 10, 11 in children with autism. Additionally, the response to certain foods such as gluten and casein can create an opiate or inflammatory reaction that can affect the brain.

Gluten & Casein – Possible Opiates

Certain foods, such as wheat and dairy, contain proteins (gluten and casein) that can form opiate compounds if they are not properly digested. They fit in the opiate receptors of the brain and mimic other opiates like morphine12. This opiate effect can directly influence the brain and result in symptoms similar to morphine—foggy thinking, inattentiveness, constipation, and more.

And there are a number of studies on the opiates in autism 13, 14, 15,  a decrease in GI symptoms on a GFCF diet16, and a reduction in autistic symptoms with a GFCF diet 17, 18, 19.

As a parent addresses matters within their control, i.e. their child’s diet, nutrition, and lifestyle, they are literally supplying the body the nutrients and condition it needs to heal. Improving these underlying factors influences the trajectory of disorder and leads to better overall health and well being, and subsequently improved learning and behavior.

Misleading Inference – Diet and Vaccines?

You’d be amazed at how “controversial” DIET for children with autism is. 

That’s because so many people make it about vaccines. Which it is not. And this author does the same.

“The push for diet-based treatments has its origins in the anti-vaccine movement, beginning with… Andrew Wakefield” 

Oh boy, here we go. Hey, author, your bias is showing.

Do not politicize these poor children. Children are suffering. They need help. 

This is about gastrointestinal, neurological, and nutritional science.  Let’s figure out what’s going on and how we can improve the quality of life and their potential. 

Using Andrew Wakefield as the reason why diet doesn’t work is what’s really weak in this article.

The first observation by a doctor that a gluten-free and casein-free diet could help children with autism was done 40 years ago, well before Andrew Wakefield was on the scene.

The science of nutrition for autism is clear and has nothing to do with Andrew Wakefield or the “anti-vaccine movement.”

The Science is in and the Discussion is Over

That’s what this author wants you to believe…

He writes,“This study should put to rest all of the claims that a gluten-free diet can somehow improve the symptoms of autism.”

ONE study!. One flawed study should “put to rest all of the ‘claims’” and the research and clinical experience?

That’s silly. 

That’s not the scientific method. Putting to rest an entire intervention based on one poorly designed study is foolhardy. 

Unless your objective is less about finding the scientific answers and more about pushing a narrative.

In the end, it concludes with, 

“But let’s hope that parents get the message: don’t feed your autistic child a restricted diet.”

He hopes he’s taken away hope?

That’s terrible.

I’d be happy to talk with Steven Salzberg anytime to share the science on this subject. And I’d even be open for debate. Maybe Joe Rogan (my favorite podcaster) will have us both on to discuss the science of why and how diet helps children with autism improve.

Nourishing Hope

I founded Nourishing Hope to stand for the efficacy of improved diet and nutrition for autism. 

In my book, Nourishing Hope for Autism, my websites, and programs, I give hundreds of scientific references to support the scientific rationale for making improvements to diet and nutrition. I also provide detailed “how to” guidance to encourage success. 

And routinely, when families give it a try, they find it beneficial and worth the effort.

If you’re a parent, I’m here to say, keep nourishing hope. 

It is possible that improving diet and nutrition can help your child. 

Children can and do get better, and with 1 in 59 children affected by autism, THAT’s what Forbes should be writing about.

Share your story

Parents (and practitioners), share your comments. 

Show the naysayers that diet can help, and provide families hope.

With your comments AND the science on your side, maybe they will finally hear us.

Did a gluten-free, dairy-free or other diet help improve your child’s life? 

Please share your story (leave a comment below) with other parents looking for hope and help.

  1. Whiteley, P., Rodgers, J., Savery, D., & Shattock, P. (1999). A gluten-free diet as an intervention for autism and associated spectrum disorders: preliminary findings. autism, 3(1), 45-65.
  2. Piwowarczyk, A., Horvath, A., Pisula, E., Kawa, R., & Szajewska, H. (2019). Gluten-Free Diet in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Randomized, Controlled, Single-Blinded Trial. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 1-9.
  3. Knivsberg AM, Reichelt KL, Nodland M. (2001) Reports on dietary intervention in autistic disorders. Nutritional Neuroscience, 4(1):25-37.
  4. Knivsberg AM, Reichelt KL, Hoien T, Nodland M. (2002) A randomised, controlled study of dietary intervention in autistic syndromes. Nutritional Neuroscience, 5(4):251-61
  5. Whiteley P, Haracopos D, Knivsberg AM, Reichelt KL, Parlar S, Jacobsen J et al. The ScanBrit randomised, controlled, single-blind study of a gluten- and casein-free dietary intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders. Nutr Neurosci 2010; 13(2): 87-100.
  6. Jyonouchi, Harumi, Sining Sun, and Nanae Itokazu. “Innate immunity associated with inflammatory responses and cytokine production against common dietary proteins in patients with autism spectrum disorder.” Neuropsychobiology 46.2 (2002): 76-84
  7. Adams, J., Audhya, T., Geis, E., Gehn, E., Fimbres, V., Pollard, E., … & Matthews, J. (2018). Comprehensive nutritional and dietary intervention for autism spectrum disorder—A randomized, controlled 12-month trial. Nutrients, 10(3), 369.
  8. D’Eufemia P, Celli M, Finocchiaro R, et al. Abnormal intestinal permeability in children with autism. Acta Paediatr. 1996 Sep;85(9):1076-9.
  9. Finegold SM et al. Gastrointestinal microflora studies in late-onset autism. Clin Infect Dis 2002 35(Suppl 1):S6-S16. 
  10. Jyonouchi H, et al. Proinflammatory and regulatory cytokine production associated with innate and adaptive immune responses in children with autism spectrum disorders and developmental regression. J Neuroimmunol. 2001 Nov 1;120(1-2):170-9.
  11. Jyonouchi H, Sun S, Itokazu N. Innate immunity associated with inflammatory responses and cytokine production against common dietary proteins in patients with autism spectrum disorder. Neuropsychobiology. 2002;46(2):76-84.
  12. Zioudrou, Christine, Richard A. Streaty, and Werner A. Klee. “Opioid peptides derived from food proteins. The exorphins.” Journal of Biological Chemistry 254.7 (1979): 2446-2449.
  13. Jinsmaa Y, Yoshikawa M. (1999) Enzymatic release of neocasomorphin and beta-casomorphin from bovine beta-casein. Peptides, 20:957-962.
  14. Reichelt KL, Knivsberg AM, Lihnd G, Nodland M: Probable etiology and possible treatment of childhood autism. Brain Dysfunction 1991; 4: 308-319.
  15. Shattock P, Whiteley P. (2002) Biochemical aspects in autism spectrum disorders: updating the opioid-excess theory and presenting new opportunities for biomedical intervention. Expert Opin Ther Targets. Apr;6(2):175-83
  16. Jyonouchi H, Geng L, Ruby A, Reddy C, Zimmerman-Bier B. (2005) Evaluation of an association between gastrointestinal symptoms and cytokine production against common dietary proteins in children with autism spectrum disorders. J Pediatr. May;146(5):582-4.
  17. Knivsberg AM, Reichelt KL, Nodland M. (2001) Reports on dietary intervention in autistic disorders. Nutritional Neuroscience, 4(1):25- 37.
  18. Knivsberg AM, Reichelt KL, Hoien T, Nodland M. (2002) A randomised, controlled study of dietary intervention in autistic syn- dromes. Nutritional Neuroscience, 5(4):251-61
  19. Whiteley P, Haracopos D, Knivsberg AM, Reichelt KL, Parlar S, Jacobsen J et al. The ScanBrit randomised, controlled, single-blind study of a gluten- and casein-free dietary intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders. Nutr Neurosci 2010; 13(2): 87-100.

Real Results from Real Kids

Improve their diet and reduce their symptoms

When a child is diagnosed with autism or ADHD, parents go looking for solutions. They seek therapies and approaches to support their child’s well being.

But with many alternative approaches being touted, it can be difficult to figure out what’s real. Some people explore the science, others look for stories of families who’ve been successful to learn what worked for them.

They don’t want to waste time on things untested. Maybe you can relate.

Fortunately, there is such an approach – and it’s easy to do. It’s called Nourishing Hope – making strategic diet and nutrition changes that lead to improved health, learning, and behavior.

Parents often have questions about diet and nutrition, and why they haven’t heard of the approach. They want to know how to do it safely and effectively, and they want to hear the success stories of others just like them. This helps build their confidence in giving it a go.

There are many real results expressed below, and rest assured that my Nourishing Hope program, developed from 17 years supporting children and families with autism, gives you all the information and science needed to improve the diet of your child and reduce their symptoms – easily, safely, and effectively.

Though before I explain the what, why, and how, let’s address some very common questions parents have when they first learn that food and nutrition matter.

Common Parent Questions

 

“If nutrition helps ADHD & autism, why haven’t I heard about it from my doctor or

in the media?”

Many people simply don’t know the underlying physiological conditions involved with ADHD and autism and don’t realize the power of nutrition to improve systems and the symptoms they affect., They are convinced that genetics determines who your child is and what their potential may be. Doctors gets very little nutrition education, that healthcare today views autism as a “behavioral” disorder and sanctions mainly behavior modification and speech therapy to help

So it’s not surprising that the media and the world at large haven’t yet noticed the important scientific work that’s been done on this subject.

But you’ve noticed – and that’s a great start for you and your child.

The truth is: there is extensive science on nutrition for autism and ADHD, and families getting incredible results with diet and nutrition strategies. When you are able to address the underlying nutritional and biochemical needs with foods and nutrients, you see improvement in their speech, constipation, diarrhea, anxiety, hyperactivity, and sleep issues, as well as their autism and/or ADHD symptoms.

“If I put my child put on a special diet like gluten-free and dairy-free, will they be nutritionally deficient?”

A healthy GFCF diet, done right, can include all of the nutrients your child needs.

In fact, a child with autism or other neurobehavioral disorder is already likely to be deficient in various nutrients, and needs to focus on good nutritious food, something a strategic diet can help with. Additionally, dairy and wheat can be inflammatory to the digestive system, and can limit the absorption of nutrients in their meal, including not being able to absorb the calcium from dairy foods. 

However, adjusting your child’s diet by removing inflammatory foods like dairy and gluten and adding nutritious foods improves their uptake of the nutrients they do eat.The goal is a healthy gluten-free and dairy-free diet.

“A special diet is too expensive!”

It doesn’t have to be. A special diet can be done to fit almost every budget. Families from varied circumstances around the world are making it work. 

I explain there are some great ways to save money on a special diet – and that no longer buying processed and big name brand foods can reduce the grocery bill.

Now that we’ve answered some of your common questions, let’s explore how food and nutrition affect your child’s behavior.

How Does Diet Affect Children’s Behavior?

Diet and nutrition are the crucial building blocks that set your child up for a healthy life. You want the very best for your child, but the Standard American Diet (SAD) is not sufficient for children with autism, ADHD, or other neurodevelopmental conditions, and contain artificial additives that cause significant behavior and learning challenges. There’s a long-standing link between the severity of ADHD in children and a diet high in artificial colorsbut such substances can also affect neurotypical children in large amounts. 1 

Artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives can all play a part in neurobehavioral disorders. Excitotoxins such as the glutamate in ingredients such as MSG can excite brain cells, often leading to brain cell death – and have been linked to autism.2 3 

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are another area of concern for parents of children with neurodevelopmental delays. Produce from GMO plants is best avoided, as the plants are genetically modified to withstand disease – often using the DNA from bacteria, or other plants that people can be allergic to. Is it any wonder that eating GMO food increases the chances of developing allergies?4 GMOs are bad news for all of us, but for children with autism or ADHD who are far more sensitive to toxins, it could be making their symptoms worse. 

80% of children with developmental delays struggle with picky eating.5 So it’s a common problem – and you may think it’s impossible to change your child’s habits if he or she only eats three or four particular foods. However, a shift in diet may reduce picky eating in your child as they shake off their addiction to gluten in wheat, and casein in milk – which can act like morphine on neurotransmitters in the brain.6 Often it can take days or even weeks to wean your child off these addictive foods, but replacing them with more nutritious food has a knock-on effect of helping other foods seem much more appetizing – deficiencies in nutrients such as zinc can make other foods taste bland.7 Finally, heading off yeast overgrowth by eating better can reduce sugar cravings – and help balance the gut microbiome.8

Success Stories from Parents of Children with Autism

But don’t take our word for it – at Nourishing Hope we’ve helped thousands of families improve their child’s nutrition, resulting in a huge improvements in health, learning, and behavior.

Jennifer was at a loss for what to do next – so she started to research how she could help her son. She first encountered my work while attending a conference on autism…

“I was at a conference listening to nutritionist Julie Matthews. She was showing a slide of various behaviors, pretty accurately describing my son. At that time, my son had started showing some aggressive behaviors, mostly directed towards me (biting, causing bruises), and I was getting phone calls from school about him lashing out. The follow up slide was which foods to eliminate in order to stop the behaviors. It was all of my son’s favorites. I immediately texted my husband and told him, when I got home, we were doing a diet overhaul. We took out all of the problem foods, and his behaviors stopped! The change was so dramatic that his doctor, who had wanted to start medication, decided it was unnecessary. Do not discount diet!”

Jennifer S.

Sarah’s son was diagnosed with autism when he was three, but she was determined to find a way to improve his life. The results of following Nourishing Hope also impressed an otherwise skeptical doctor…

“I’m writing today with elation and still some disbelief to say thank you for all of the insights and learning you have shared over the years. They sure work!!! What a miracle! My 17 year old son has just received feedback from the diagnostician who gave him his diagnosis of PDD-NOS way back when my son was 3. This doctor is a very capable, very conservative allopathic practitioner – one of the more noted practitioners in the Boston area. While he doesn’t believe in autism healing per se, he happily and confidently said that my son is ‘in remission.’ ‘The diagnosis just doesn’t apply to him anymore!’ he continued. Lots of bone broth, epsom salt baths, GFCF eating, lots of exercise, and lots and lots of stress reduction. It ALL works. Thank you for showing me and the rest of the autism community the way forward.”

Sarah

Mom of a 17 year old boy who no longer has autism

The Science Behind Neurobehavioral Disorders and Nutrition

There is a lot of science behind my approach at Nourishing Hope – drawn from many sources. My article Why Diet Matters delves deeper into the biochemical mechanisms that contribute to ADHD, autism, and other neurobehavioral disorders – but in short, certain foods contribute to the following:

  1. Issues with inflammation
  2. Trouble digesting certain substances such as gluten, or digesting crucial nutrients
  3. Difficulty with methylation (gene signalling)
  4. Dysfunctioning detoxification pathway
  5. Raised levels of oxalates which can contribute to poor nutrient uptake.

Nourishing Hope looks at the body as a whole – a complex system with plenty of interplay between different bodily functions. As such, it’s rarely as simple as giving them a daily supplement, or cutting out a particular food – however, it’s a good starting point.

I co-authored a study in 2018 entitled Comprehensive Nutritional and Dietary Intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder—A Randomized, Controlled 12-Month Trial.9 We trialed a healthy gluten-free, casein-free diet, soy-free diet combined with supplementing vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids.

We found that following this specialized diet:

  • Raised IQ by 6.7 points
  • Improved developmental age by 4.5x
  • Reduced digestive symptoms
  • Improved cognitive thinking, attention/focus and sociability
  • Reduced anxiety, depression, irritability, and aggression

To read more about our findings click here.

The Link Between Autism and Chronic Pain – and How to Help Your Child

There’s an idea that children with autism are less likely to register pain – but that’s untrue.10 In actuality, many children with autism who don’t seem to show pain are often hurting on the inside, often experiencing abdominal pain alongside gastrointestinal discomfort.11 If you’ve ever watched a loved one struggle with gastrointestinal disorders such as constipation or inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) then you’re all too aware of how distraught it can leave your child. And how you’d do anything to make those symptoms go away.

In fact, you’d do anything to improve your child’s quality of life – to reduce their anxiety in new and unfamiliar situations, help improve their social connections, and have a better relationship with the wider world. Though it may seem like an impossible dream, Nourishing Hope can help you and your child make a start on that path to their new future.

A Safe Method to Reduce Autism Symptoms in Children

While researching your child’s condition online you will need to weed through what works and what’s safe. Let’s face it: it can be difficult to work out what’s real, and what’s nonsense. But you’ll be relieved to hear, not only is Nourishing Hope backed by studies – it’s safe and effective.

After all, what can be safer than eating healthy right? Making changes to your child’s eating habits helps reduce their autism or ADHD symptoms – and improve health and help prevent disease. 

When you want to make diet and nutrition improvements for your child, check out my Nourishing Hope for Healing Kids nutrition program for parents.

The Nourishing Hope program gives you all the information and science needed to improve the diet of your child with autism or ADHD and reduce their symptoms. And by using the Nourishing Hope questionnaires and handouts throughout the course, you’re able to tailor the approach to your child and adjust accordingly. 

My program is risk-free.

Share with us how nutrition has helped your child in the comments.

 

References:

  1. Stevens, L. J., Kuczek, T., Burgess, J. R., Stochelski, M. A., Arnold, L. E., & Galland, L. (2013). Mechanisms of behavioral, atopic, and other reactions to artificial food colors in children. Nutrition reviews, 71(5), 268-281.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23590704
  2. Blaylock, R. L. (2009). A possible central mechanism in autism spectrum disorders, part 3: the role of excitotoxin food additives and the synergistic effects of other environmental toxins. Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine, 15(2).
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19284184
  3. Rojas, D. C. (2014). The role of glutamate and its receptors in autism and the use of glutamate receptor antagonists in treatment. Journal of neural transmission, 121(8), 891-905.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4134390/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1392248/
  5. Manikam, R., & Perman, J. A. (2000). Pediatric feeding disorders. Journal of clinical gastroenterology, 30(1), 34-46.
    https://insights.ovid.com/crossref?an=00004836-200001000-00007
  6. Levine, A. S., Morley, J. E., Gosnell, B. A., Billington, C. J., & Bartness, T. J. (1985). Opioids and consummatory behavior. Brain research bulletin, 14(6), 663-672.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2992720
  7. Goto, T., Komai, M., Suzuki, H., & Furukawa, Y. (2001). Long-term zinc deficiency decreases taste sensitivity in rats. The Journal of nutrition, 131(2), 305-310.
    https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/131/2/305/4687001
  8. Sam, Q., Chang, M., & Chai, L. (2017). The fungal mycobiome and its interaction with gut bacteria in the host. International journal of molecular sciences, 18(2), 330.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5343866/
  9. Adams, J., Audhya, T., Geis, E., Gehn, E., Fimbres, V., Pollard, E., … & Matthews, J. (2018). Comprehensive nutritional and dietary intervention for autism spectrum disorder—A randomized, controlled 12-month trial. Nutrients, 10(3), 369. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5872787/
  10. Moore, D. J. (2015). Acute pain experience in individuals with autism spectrum disorders: A review. Autism, 19(4), 387-399.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24687688
  11. Downs, J., Géranton, S. M., Bebbington, A., Jacoby, P., Bahi‐Buisson, N., Ravine, D., & Leonard, H. (2010). Linking MECP2 and pain sensitivity: the example of Rett syndrome. American journal of medical genetics Part A, 152(5), 1197-1205.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20425824

My Approach to a Healthy Food Pyramid for Kids
[Is Choose MyPlate Best?]

It’s no secret that we live in a culture of fad diets and nutritional trends. In fact, the odds are that you’ve heard of several new ones this year alone. Mediterranean, keto, vegan, and more– with all these options, what’s the best choice for eating healthy? 

Especially as a parent, it can feel perplexing and overwhelming to understand what’s best for your child’s nutritional needs.

American dietary guidelines for children have changed over the past century; the most current standard is MyPlate. This newest iteration is an attempt by government to combat the wave of childhood obesity sweeping our nation.

While this protocol for kids is widely followed in the school systems, as a Certified Nutrition Consultant and Educator, and Mother, I know we can do better for our little ones. In this article, I will introduce to you a modern and healthy food pyramid for kids and I’ll explain how eating this way can improve their learning and behavior far beyond MyPlate.

Should you Choose the USDA’s MyPlate?

MyPlate is a fairly simple approach to children’s nutrition that aims to encourage kids to eat healthy. 

Their basic premise is to fill half your child’s plate with fruits and vegetables, avoid sugary beverages like fruit juices, and opt for more whole grains. It also urges children to have a glass of low-fat dairy (like a cup of milk) with each meal and to engage in regular physical activity. 

While this may be a starting point for those struggling to move past obesity, there are better ways to fuel the body long-term, and to provide the nutrition children need.

The MyPlate model doesn’t account for inflammatory foods that can aggravate issues like autism, ADHD, anxiety, and gastrointestinal problems. It also doesn’t consider common food allergens like wheat and dairy products, and there’s no mention of how to add good oils and healthy fats into your child’s diet. 

Regarding the “fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables” suggestion, almost half is reserved for fruit. That means the vegetable portion is merely a quarter of the plate, which may not allow for the levels of vegetables kids should really be eating.

Because vegetables have incredible properties including decreasing cancer risk, improving behavioral symptoms in ADHD, I’d like to see more description of the diverse types of veggies available in their veggie category.

And MyPlate makes no mention of the advantages of choosing organic. Pesticides in non-organic foods are the primary way children become exposed to these damaging neurotoxins. One recent study showed that children eating conventional produce had 6 times the level of pesticides in their bodies than those on an organic diet. To be most protective of children’s health, I’d like to see them recommend eating an organic diet, that includes high quality grass-fed meat as well.

While MyPlate is better than the outdated USDA kids MyPyramid, I and many other nutritionists today believe that many improvements still need to be made.

The food our children eat is either nourishing or negatively impacting their daily lives. As a nutritionist and parent today, I believe we should be asking the question, “What are the best tolerated, easiest to digest, and most nutrient-rich foods my child can eat?”

My Approach to Food Groups

As a parent myself, I know you want to make the most of any time you spend in the kitchen. I believe that a food pyramid for kids should include a variety of foods and be based on scientific research and cutting-edge ideas.

That’s why the foundations of my pyramid include not only basic food groups, but more categories of natural foods and supplements. Through my thousands of hours of research, analysis, and clinical experience in the field of nutrition, here are the groups that I’ve found to be most healthful.

The Department of Agriculture’s “MyPlate” as five food groups, of which two are dairy and gluten-containing foods (under “Grains)”. My food pyramid for kids has seven. That’s because I know that the diversity of a child’s diet has a major impact on their health down the line. The groups include:

  • Vegetables
  • Animal protein
  • Good fats
  • Fruits
  • Nuts/seeds
  • Legumes and gluten-free grains
  • Nutrition foundations: organic, grass-fed… (described below)

Research shows that diet and learning are interconnected.

When we feed our children grass-fed, organic, non-inflammatory foods, we are setting them up for success in the classroom as well. Not only that, but better nutrition leads to better behavior, especially in cases of ADHD or autism. When we approach food groups with the idea that “food is medicine,” we can see major benefits for our children.

I find that, in my approach to food groups, allowing your child to understand healthy eating habits for themselves is a huge win. With children, I call protein “growing food,” vegetables “stay healthy foods,” and good fats “brain foods.”

When we can teach children what they need in terms they grasp, a kids food pyramid can prepare them for empowered, informed eating decisions into the teenage years and beyond.

The greatest challenge when implementing a varied diet is often patience. I frequently hear parents say that their child simply won’t eat the healthy food choices. But with a little planning and support using my guide on navigating meals with a picky eater, you can make progress and see lasting success.

The Nourishing Hope Food Pyramid for Kids

I believe that food isn’t just healthy… it’s healing. I created my own Nourishing Hope Food Pyramid to support parents in learning how to actualize this mindset. And it’s incorporated in my online nutrition program for parents, Nourishing Hope for Healing Kids.

This food pyramid values food for its nourishment and role as healing “medicine.” I begin with nutrition foundations that make foods more nutritious.

Nutrition Foundations

These foundations at the base of the pyramid include concepts that make foods more nutrient dense and easily digested, such as: fermenting, sprouting, juicing, raw foods, bone broth, quality water and salt, supplementation, and more. Additional principles include organic and grass-fed foods. These aren’t included on a broader guideline like MyPlate, but are incredibly effective in getting your child the nutrition they need to thrive.

Beyond the nutrients found in my food pyramid for kids, I’ve also filtered the foods by what they don’t contain. Some compounds found in “healthy” foods can be inflammatory — like gluten, lectins, salicylates, and oxalates. Just because something is a whole food doesn’t mean you should load up on it. The best way for health and healing is to eat a variety of nutrient dense foods for children’s growing needs, and to know what’s in your food.

It’s important to note that my Nourishing Hope Food Pyramid is not a fad diet. This is a way of eating that will boost your child’s quality of life, whether they need foods to combat ADHD symptoms, won’t put down the junk food, or refuse to try lentils. With the right basics, a properly proportioned food guide pyramid, and appropriate supplementation, your kids’ health can flourish like never before.

5 Principles of Healthy Eating

I’m a mother, a Certified Nutrition Consultant, and specialist in autism and ADHD. Therefore, I can look at a food guide from many different angles. Here are five principles of healthy eating I believe are important for a healthy child

1. Vegetables Go With Everything

Veggies for breakfast, lunch, or dinner? The answer is always, “Yes!”

I recommend organic veggies with every single meal. Don’t just stick with broccoli — healthy kids benefit from eating a variety of colors and types of vegetables. In my approach, I share how many vegetables belong in breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with some meal ideas (and recipes!) to incorporate them.

I know that hitting a goal of six total vegetables each day sounds intimidating to some. Unfortunately, most children in the U.S. get far below the daily recommended amount.

This is why I created my V123TM method, part of my Nourishing Hope for Healing Kids program. I find that once you begin to intentionally add in vegetables and keep them on hand, it becomes increasingly natural to incorporate them into each meal.

2. All Children with Special Needs Can Benefit from a Specialized Diet

It’s no secret that diet can play a major role in reducing symptoms and improving life for children with autism and special needs. More and more research indicates that our gut (and it’s diverse microbiome) is our “second brain.”

Physiological symptoms can stem from what’s happening in our digestive system, and symptoms of ADHD and autism are no exception. This phenomenon has prompted me to study the creation of customized diets since the early days of my career.

3. Go Gluten-Free, Casein-Free, and Soy-Free

If your child struggles with gastrointestinal issues, ADHD, or autism, I highly recommend considering a gluten-free, casein-free, and soy-free diet. Studies show that removing gluten and casein (proteins found in wheat, wheat derivatives, and dairy) can improve symptoms of ADHD and autism. Furthermore, children with allergies are less likely to get proper nutrition, so ensuring a healthy gluten-free, casein-free and soy-free diet is a must.

Grains, and particularly gluten, can be most irritating to the digestive system. In my program, I leave out gluten-containing grains altogether and only recommend casein when it’s tolerated. They can cause gas, bloating, and inflammation in the digestive system.

When following my program you may be alerted of food sensitivities you didn’t recognize in your child before, and then can lower inflammation and improve digestion by making strategic adjustments to diet.

4. Every Child Is Different

While all families can benefit from the aforementioned healthy tips, the biochemical makeup and needs of each child are different.

And this makes sense… Every child is unique and every child has unique nutritional needs.

You may find your little one needs some extra protein, or less grain than you expected, as well as individually tailored supplements. Nourishing hope is about discerning and applying the most supportive food and nutrition plan for each individual child.

5. Parents Need Nourishing, Too

It takes time and energy to care for your child, especially when altering their diet to get them the nutrition they need.

I encourage you to extend that same care to yourself– to spend time doing things that are good for and nourish you! 

Don’t forget to feed yourself the same healthy things, spend time appreciating what you find beautiful, and get out in nature. When we reach burnout, our eating can be the first habit to go, so don’t neglect yourself. For more ideas, check out my guide to self-care for parents.

In Summary

  • While the USDA’S MyPlate is well-meaning, it doesn’t begin to cover the complexity of what a child needs for optimal healing and health. 
  • Nutrition foundations, like organic produce, grass-fed meat, broth, and fermented foods are crucial for children’s development.
  • By adding in these foundations, increasing vegetable intake, and avoiding food allergens/sensitivities, your child can actually heal through food.
  • My signature program, which includes these Nourishing Hope Food Pyramid principles, will boost your child’s nutrition and help them begin to heal, improving their behavior and learning.
  • Remember that your child is an individual, incorporate individualized nutrition into their healthcare plan, and take the time to care for yourself. 
  • Follow my program and food pyramid for kids and prepare to be amazed by the results in the classroom, home, and behavior over time.

Sources

  1. Fakhouri, T. H., Ogden, C. L., Carroll, M. D., Kit, B. K., & Flegal, K. M. (2012). Prevalence of obesity among older adults in the United States, 2007-2010 (Vol. 106, pp. 1-8). US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22617494
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  9. Jyonouchi, H., Geng, L., Ruby, A., Reddy, C., & Zimmerman-Bier, B. (2005). Evaluation of an association between gastrointestinal symptoms and cytokine production against common dietary proteins in children with autism spectrum disorders. The Journal of pediatrics, 146(5), 605-610. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15870662
  10. Knivsberg, A. M., Reichelt, K. L., & Nødland, M. (2001). Reports on dietary intervention in autistic disorders. Nutritional Neuroscience, 4(1), 25-37. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11842874
  11. Whiteley, P., Haracopos, D., Knivsberg, A. M., Reichelt, K. L., Parlar, S., Jacobsen, J., … & Shattock, P. (2010). The ScanBrit randomised, controlled, single-blind study of a gluten-and casein-free dietary intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders. Nutritional neuroscience, 13(2), 87-100. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20406576
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Two Strategic Autism Diets (GFCF and Grain-Free)

Insights into the influence of dietary changes on symptoms of autism are providing families with more hope than ever before.

Autism has long been considered a “mysterious” brain disorder that begins/ends in the brain, and that affects observable social behavior.

But autism is far more than a behavioral-only diagnosis; it is a whole-body disorder. Whether it’s the common inflammation, digestive problems, or sleep issues they experience, these physical symptoms of autism affect the overall health of autistic children.

I believe from my extensive research on developmental disorders that a targeted autism diet can improve children’s quality of life and may be simpler than you think to start.

Autism intervention requires more than what traditional therapies and medications offer or provide. Supplying the body what it needs to engage natural healing processes by avoiding problematic foods and adding healthy foods is crucial to the health of your child. In this article, I demystify an “autism diet,” explain why dietary intervention works, and how to start your child on this safe and natural approach..

Top 4 Areas to Address with Diet

Autism is a whole-body disorder. The foods and substances that are fed to children directly impact what happens in their brain… and can impact the symptoms of autism. 

There are many body systems and biochemical processes that need to work properly for the body to be healthy and the brain to function well — they require nutrients, a normal inflammatory response, good cellular and metabolic function, proper digestion, and adequate detoxification. 

Special diets can put the puzzle pieces together and give parents the information you need on your journey of nourishing hope. As I stated, diet can help a myriad of autism symptoms, and here are four top underlying factors that targeted diet plans can help.

1. Leaky Gut & Inflammation

 

This is one of the most widespread and common symptoms of autism that can be addressed with diet, and I write about tummy aches often.

Leaky gut and inflammation can be extremely painful for a child, even exacerbating behavioral problems as they will try anything to ease these painful issues in the digestive tract. Behavior, rashes, and language issues all improve with reduced inflammation and better gut health.

Leaky gut, or “intestinal permeability,” is a condition in which the layer of cells protecting the intestines are compromised and can leak waste or other particles into your bloodstream. This is harmful because only certain particles are meant to be absorbed from the intestine and sent into circulation.

To combat this issue of inflammation and leaky gut, I recommend you steer clear of sugar, refined oils, soy, corn, and eggs. Even more importantly, ditch the gluten and casein, proteins found in wheat derivatives and dairy products.

All of these foods, especially gluten and casein, feed into inflammation. Unfortunately, they are a major part of the Standard American Diet. 

After you’ve knocked out what’s feeding the problem, add in some positive elements. Try fermented foods like sauerkraut, dairy-free yogurt, or kefir to increase your amounts of good bacteria.

Prebiotics like bananas, beans, garlic, and more will also increase the good bacteria already living in your gut. Finally, try out some anti-inflammatory food choices like turmeric, ginger, and fish oil to help heal the inflammation that’s gotten out of control.

2. Nutrient Deficiencies

Children with ASD frequently experience nutrient deficiencies. This can be due to a number of factors like picky eating, when asked to try new foods. The inflammation and leaky gut mentioned above can also make it difficult to properly absorb nutrients. 

A well-nourished child is a healing child, and there are several things that can be done to support this process. First, increase the quality of food, increasing your child’s food intake of organic products and grass-fed meats. More vegetables are also vital for improving nutrient levels. If your child won’t try them, try pureeing or juicing to make things easier. 

Finally, consider using supplements. Vitamins, minerals, and fatty or amino acids are all acceptable forms of nutrients. Working closely with a nutritionist or dietitian on an autism diet, as well as with your child’s doctor, can help to remedy your child’s individual nutritional deficiencies. 

3. Imbalanced Microbiome

The microbiome is a term that refers to the balance of bacteria in your body, both beneficial and pathogenic. One of our main sources of good bacteria is in the food that we eat, and your child’s diet can directly determine the quality of the microbiome and digestive tract. Scientific studies show that our microbiome, via the gut-brain axis, affects more than our gut, from brain function to stress levels

One specific microbial culprit is yeast, and antibiotic use aids its growth as good bacteria no longer exist to crowd it out.

A diet to balance the microbiome will first remove sugar. Not only does it contribute to inflammation, but also feeds yeast and other pathogens in the body — whether from a sweet treat or too much fruit. 

Next, you may want to remove yeast itself from your diet, which is often found in bread, aged meats and cheeses, and grapes. The last compounds to avoid when balancing the microbiome are refined starches, such as breads and gluten-free grains.

Along with these eliminations, add in fermented and probiotic-rich foods, which help with microbiome rebalancing along with the inflammation mentioned above. My book, Cooking to Heal, details ways you can ferment at home.

ment at home.

4. Biochemical Imbalances

Children with autism often have biochemical imbalances that stem from both genes and nutrient deficiencies. Studies show that children with autism are low in glutathione. Glutathione a primary detoxifier and antioxidant. 

Toxins deplete our glutathione stores. And when toxins cross into the brain, tantrums and hyperactive behaviors may increase. Both boosting glutathione levels through nutrients and reserving it by avoiding exposure to toxins can help. One step you can take is to avoid food additives, which are difficult to process and harmful to our health. Aluminum and plastic are also difficult to remove from the body, and can transmit toxins from cooking and storage containers to the food being cooked. 

To reduce your child’s exposure to toxins, eat organic foods, and avoid pesticides, GMOs, and hormones. Grass-fed meats, organic produce, and pastured chickens are all safer, natural options.

Finally, help the liver, which plays a major role in detoxification, by eating foods high in A, C, E, and B vitamins. Foods high in sulfur, such as cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, also support liver function and can be useful. Broccoli and broccoli sprouts are high sulforaphane: a nutrient that increases glutathione levels in the body and has been shown to improve autism symptoms.

Glutathione first requires proper methylation:a set of biochemical pathways that are impaired in the bodies of children with ASD. Methylation has hundreds of important functions in the body, including: healthy gene expression, proper mitochondrial function (i.e. energy production), good mental health, and the avoidance of leaky gut and anxiety. 

Supplementing with nutrients like B6, B12, folate, magnesium, and zinc can help with methylation. You can work with your pediatrician and nutritional team to determine exactly which supplements your child needs for proper methylation. 

Generally speaking, a healthy diet rich in folate, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, sulfur, and other nutrients will help support these important biochemical pathways.

Gut-Brain Connection

As you can see, the foods we eat affect the brain.

Poor quality food can lead to deficiencies such as vitamins, minerals and fatty acids that are needed for brain function. Without proper nutrients the body can’t perform many tasks, including thinking clearly and paying attention.

When digestion is not working well, we can’t absorb nutrients well. 

Certain foods such as wheat and dairy can cause inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. This can lead to systemic inflammation, that negatively affects brain function.

Additionally, gluten (a protein in wheat), and casein (a protein in dairy) when improperly digested can create opioid compounds. These compounds cross the blood-brain barrier and fit in the opiate receptor (like morphine) and can cause very severe symptoms: such as: irritability, difficulty with language, insensitivity to pain, and even food cravings for these problematic foods. 

Healthy Gluten Free & Casein Free Diet (GFCF)

A healthy gluten-free diet and casein-free is a great introduction to a specialized autism diet.

Gluten and dairy can cause intestinal inflammation, leaky gut, poor digestion, and tummy aches. And a healthy GFCF diet can help improve digestion and digestive symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, gas, and bloating. And as your child’s gut heals, they can absorb more nutrients and begin to thrive.

I encourage parents to eliminate harmful food allergies, and to incorporate better healthy alternatives as well. While a gluten and casein-free diet may sound daunting for the parent of a picky eater, I assure you after supporting thousands of families, that it’s possible and the benefits are tremendous.

Educating yourself thoroughly before you start the diet, and having a clear nutrition plan (like mine) are key to success here.

Foods to Avoid

In its most straightforward form, gluten can be found in grains like wheat, rye, spelt, kamut, barley, and oats (except certified gluten-free oats).

However, gluten can be sneakier than that — it commonly hides in seemingly innocent items like sauces, spice blends, and flavorings. Reading the label is key to avoiding gluten.

Casein is also found in more than just milk, ice cream, and yogurt; it’s commonly lurking in chocolate, whey protein, potato chips, and even dairy-free cheese. Again, reading the food label is the only way to be sure. And remember to avoid processed foods and food additives.

One important thing to note is that the Standard American Diet relies on dairy for calcium, so be sure to add calcium rich-foods and/or supplementation to avoid deficiency.

Healthy Foods

As you remove gluten and casein, consider adding in a few healing, healthy alternatives. Try making your own non-dairy yogurt with coconut or nut milks and adding in some fermented foods mentioned above like sauerkraut or kefir.

Homemade bone broth is a dish that’s simple to prepare and can aid both digestion and healing; adding in vegetables can increase the mineral content even more.

And add lots of vegetables to your child’s diet. The vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients will help support their biochemistry and needed functions.

Grain-Free Diet

A grain-free diet like the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, GAPS Diet (Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet), or Paleo Diet is a more refined step. It avoids not only gluten-grains, but all grains (and starches like potatoes too).

This autism diet is appropriate in more severe cases of inflammation, with IBS, or with children who have low carbohydrate enzymes (which is common in autism).

Grains are difficult to digest and can be a source of severe inflammation for children with gastrointestinal problems and an imbalanced microbiome.

A grain-free diet restrains carbohydrate intake to fruits and non-starchy vegetables.

While a grain-free autism diet can be challenging to implement, it’s an excellent option when more significant dietary intervention is needed.

In Summary

  • Parents are learning that an autism diet can be extremely beneficial in addressing ASD and its underlying conditions.
  • An individualized autism diet can heal inflammation, rebalance the microbiome, and improve a variety of functions throughout the body.
  • A GFCF diet avoids gluten and casein. This special diet, along with supplementation, is an excellent starting point for addressing autism spectrum disorder through diet.
  • For more severe gastrointestinal situations, a grain-free diet can yield beneficial results.
  • I have designed a helpful nutrition program designed to aid parents on their journey toward nourishing hope and healing their child through diet.

Sources

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The Gut Brain Axis in Autism [A Study Review]

The gut-brain axis is a well established connection suggesting that the intestinal microbiota (the good bacteria in our gut) signal to the brain in a myriad of ways. This delicate balance of gut microbes can influence emotional development, modulation of stress and pain, mental health, and neurotransmitter systems in the brain. 

Research encourages that improvements in our gut microbiome can improve overall mood, anxiety-like symptoms, pain, and more in people with autism. 

There is substantial evidence that using prebiotics and probiotics, such as strains of Lactobacillus, can have a positive effect on the gut-brain axis, but is there something more at play? 

In this article I share the results of a cutting edge study that examines the gut brain axis in autism. I give you my analysis, what’s lacking, and key takeaways for those wanting to be informed.

The researchers propose amino acids as a potential treatment. 

Today, I take a closer look at the ins and outs of this new study, a review paper entitled, The Gut-Immune-Brain Axis in Autism Spectrum Disorders; A Focus on Amino Acids. I explore its findings and discuss practical implications for therapeutic intervention.

How the Gut-Brain Axis Influences Autism

I’ve written previously on how dealing with your child’s digestive issues can address both gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms of autism. It’s no secret that children with autism spectrum disorder are significantly more likely to have food allergies than those without it. 

However, a startling statistic is that children with autism are seven times more likely to experience frequent diarrhea and colitis than those without a developmental disability. 

The link between digestive problems and autism is undeniable, and it’s related to inflammatory bowel issues, acid reflux within the gastrointestinal tract, and possibly more. This is partially due to the inflammation that food allergies and digestive issues can bring on, which can be painful and influence behavior negatively. 

This brain-gut link also puts these children at risk of nutritional deficiencies, which can aggravate cognition problems and adversely affect immune responses.

Early life environmental factors can also play a part in the development of autism spectrum disorder. The study cites prenatal and postnatal diet, gut microbiota, and immune system triggers as contributors to the disorder’s prevalence. 

Furthermore, it addresses the inflammatory responses that are so common in autism spectrum disorder. It proposes they may be linked to the aforementioned common food allergies, causing increased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and allergy-associated Th2 cytokines.

This study also suggests that microglia and astroglia (certain brain cells) are deregulated in the brains of people with ASD, altering their immune-like responses. An impaired ability to remove toxins that’s commonly found in individuals with autism can play an important role in a compromised immune system

A look at the weakened ability to detoxify and a less responsive central nervous system makes it clear: the gut brain axis has a profound effect on autism. While you’re reading, be sure to look into my guide on where environmental toxins are commonly hiding and what to do about them.

These behavioral, digestive, inflammatory, and immunological issues all play a part in the nervous system’s role throughout the body. Patients with ASD have a nervous system battered with these issues, playing a complex role in the disorder. While we know that psychobiotics (gut-supporting supplements that positively influence the gut-brain axis) can be of some help with microbial composition and brain interactions, what about amino acids?

The mTOR Pathway and Amino Acids

Preclinical and mouse model studies have indicated that when mice are allergic to their food intake, their reaction produces many similar symptoms to those seen in individuals with autism and alters processing in the prefrontal cortex. 

As mast cells and T cells are unusually activated in the brains of those with ASD, the study suggests that their hyperactivation is linked to symptoms associated with autism. If so, food allergies may be a driving force of the symptoms and behaviors associated with ASD, along with increased intestinal permeability.

So, how can amino acids help these digestive woes? Well, it starts with the mTOR pathway. The activation of the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) is reported frequently in cases of autism. 

This activation is also noted in many other health problems, such as insulin resistance and tumor formation, and is increasingly studied for its overarching effects on health, neural communication, brain function, and immune cells. Mutations in mTOR pathway-related genes are widely associated with ASD. 

While the first instinct to treat these mutations may be pharmacological, the severe immune system detriments can make mTOR inhibitors an extreme prescription to write. This drug can hamper cell growth, and in other cases, increase unwanted cell signaling. 

This study proposes that a safer, nutritionally-based approach using amino acids is possible. For me, this type of research is vital — I believe improving nutrition is hope in action. 

Amino acids show a promising effect on the mTOR pathway. They do an excellent job at modulating the function of the proteins that translate both global and specifically selected mRNA for mTOR.

While the research isn’t exactly conclusive, it seems that the amino acid’s transporters enter through the plasma membrane, interact with and activate a multi-protein complex, and activate mTOR at appropriate levels. 

A promising trial showed that a developed amino acid diet was able to normalize or reduce mTOR signaling in ASD mice, reducing repetitive behaviors and improving social interactions. 

Just as exciting, the potential issues in this dietary change do not have the severe side effects that rapamycin dosages have shown. However, the study notes that proof of principle clinical studies are still needed to see the effects of a diet that specifically adds helpful amino acids.

Can amino acids be used to improve symptoms of autism?

It seems likely. Multiple studies have pointed to reducing inflammation as an effective means of improving the symptoms of autism. This evidence further shows just how impactful the gut microbiome is in autism. Used properly, combinations of amino acids can be helpful in combating not only this inflammation, but harmful mutations as well. 

A promising preclinical trial mentioned above developed a combination of relatively higher amounts of histidine (His), lysine (Lys), and threonine (Thr) and relatively lower amounts of leucine (Leu), isoleucine (Ile), and valine (Val) for further studies in ASD, and saw a reduction in mTOR hyperactivity. 

Another in vitro study found that dosages of Leu, Ile and Val individually reduced the mRNA and protein levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-6. It can be inferred from the results of amino acid tests that increasing the availability of amino acids has a positive, anti-inflammatory result on immune cells.

Conversely, some evidence points to a lowered amount of amino acids as a detriment to antibody production. Immunologically speaking, it seems that certain amino acids reduce inflammatory response and assist in antibody production. 

In rats with colitis, a condition seen seven times more frequently in those with ASD than neurotypical individuals, amino acid mixtures were seen to positively affect intestinal function and balance gut microbiota composition

So, what does this mean for nutrition and patients with ASD? Well, with guidance from a doctor or nutritionist, here’s what we may be able to implement:

  • Raising levels of Gln, Gly, Val, Ile, and Leu can decrease inflammatory response in the immune system.
  • Trp and Gly lower intestinal inflammation, while Glu, Gln, and Thr all improve the epithelial barrier, leading to less harmful intestinal permeability. 
  • Leu, Ile, and Val raise mast cells and epithelial cells in mTOR pathways, while His, Thr, and Lys all lower it while also negatively affecting brain function when used in tandem. These latter three amino acids have a “synergistically negative effect.” Both of these groupings affect the brain in converse ways, which is why it’s important to work on this type of therapy with a licensed doctor or nutritionist/dietician.
  • Leu, Ile, and Val also lower pathogenic bacteria levels in the microflora. However, these same three also lower the neuroprotective factor microglia.
  • There are many more amino acid combinations, but as we can see, supplementing amino acids must be done mindfully and with proper healthcare supervision. Some can have unintended effects that augment undesirable symptoms in individuals with autism. However, keeping in mind possible negative or synergistic effects, we can begin to formulate the best ratios of potentially helpful amino acid mixtures. 

Areas of Further Research and Conclusions

While I find this study to be rather comprehensive in its approach, there is still much more to be done. Firstly, almost all of the current research on amino acid interaction with the gut brain axis and its effect on autism is still in germ-free mice. This is certainly a limitation. 

Progression to clinical trials at some point will tell us much more about the possibilities for the future. 

I’d also like to hear more from this research about the practical implications for nutritionists and parents seeking to make dietary adjustments. While there are some takeaways, I felt there were limitations in how to apply our current understanding of the link between amino acids, mTOR, inflammation, and brain development

It is also worth further exploring how to balance each amino acid in combination — some can have extremely neuroinflammatory effects when out of balance. This is the opposite of our goal in helping those with ASD.

Even with its limitations, this study provides us an important look into mTOR in autism and how amino acids may be helpful in improving the gut-brain axis.

In Summary

  • The gut brain axis is a significant issue in patients with ASD. Outside of behavioral issues, this is not only a sign but also an aggravation of ongoing symptoms associated with individuals with autism.
  • Rectifying an imbalance in gut bacteria can positively affect not only behavior, but also inflammation and digestive symptoms. 
  • The studied amino acids show promise of modulating negative mTOR pathway signaling, which may reduce a great number of issues that present with ASD.
  • If administered properly, neuroactive amino acids show great promise of treating the gut brain axis imbalance in autism, with far fewer side effects than rapamycin medication.
  • These findings call for a closer look into amino acids and their properties in relationship to ASD. There are many possible uses for nutritional interventions and alleviation of symptoms within this study.

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Fecal Transplant for Autism: What We Know (& What We Don’t)

When it comes to emerging treatments to address symptoms of autism, few things have garnered the attention (or Google searches) as the fecal transplant. This treatment gained the spotlight in early 2019 after researchers in Tempe and Flagstaff, AZ completed the first clinical trial with very positive results.

Fecal transplants stand on the cutting edge of autism innovation. Recent research highlights these transplants as a treatment for autism spectrum disorder — one that has huge potential. If you’re familiar with autism or my work, you may be aware that gut health can affect autism symptoms, from repetitive behaviors to social interaction.

In the past few years, science has begun to catch up to the idea that the microbiome matters for nearly every facet of health. The microbiome is the unique combination of organisms that live in your body. These microscopic building blocks are specifically concentrated in the intestines.

An excellent microbiome can “prevent disease and optimize health.” For people with autism, the issue is of vital importance, since autism is associated with distinct, severe gut problems and microbiome deficiencies. So, how can we improve the microbiome and expand the good bacteria in the body?

New research is showing that an answer may be found in a total reset of gut bacteria by using the extensive microbiome of a healthy gut, this can be accomplished by a new medical procedure called a fecal transplant. Fecal transplants have, so far, been used with differing levels of success to treat recurrent C. difficile infection, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and even Alzheimer’s.

While there’s not enough research yet to make this a widely practiced treatment, it’s worth our attention. Read on for the practice, potential, and pitfalls of this emerging treatment of fecal transplant for autism.

What is a fecal transplant?

Typically, we hear the word “transplant” associated with organs and tissue, but a transplant can refer to moving any specimen from one location to another. This is exactly what happens in a typical fecal transplant — extremely healthy, screened feces is transplanted into the colon of the recipient. This process is also referred to as microbiota transfer therapy (MTT).

This idea was first brought into the arena by Dr. Thomas Borody, an Australian gastroenterologist looking for ways to improve the gut health of his patients. As a doctor specializing in GI problems, he noticed that repopulating the bacteria in the digestive tract could benefit his patients long-term. In fact, he noticed that roughly 90% of patients being treated for recurring digestive diseases saw improvement after the procedure. Now, the ripple effect of this transplant is being studied for other conditions, like ASD.

While a traditional fecal transplant involves implanting a stool sample through a colonoscopy, other ways are emerging to achieve the same benefits. Fecal microbiota transplantation doesn’t have to be a rectal insertion. Truly, any maneuver that allows healthy microbiota to get into the digestive tract can be effective. One study I discuss later in the article involves the purification of waste matter down to just the bacteria, and then provided this concoction of gut microbes, orally. 

This procedure is more effective than an over-the-counter probiotic due to its high diversity and potency, as well as its method of delivery. However, the bowel cleanse required before the procedure is also very helpful, as it provides something akin to a clean slate. In their new home, these beneficial bacteria can begin to improve both the gut-brain axis and autism-related symptoms of the individual. A fecal transplant for autism holds incredible potential.

Autism and Gut Microbiome Problems

Autism is generally known for its neurological symptoms: impairments in behavior, communication, and social skills. As such, most treatments until now have focused on behavior modification, speech therapy, or medication. 

However, at Nourishing Hope, we know good nutrition puts hope into action. In extensive  research, including the paper I participated in, we’ve effectively proven how much diet can affect autism symptoms (improvements in gastrointestinal function and behavior), and this fecal transplant fits right into our gut-centered theory and nutritional strategies.

Why would this highly unusual procedure be necessary? Clinical trials and research alike increasingly show that gut microbiota have a strong connection to both brain development and behavioral symptoms. The greater microbial diversity, the better the odds of a healthy gut. Adding in the gut microbes of a healthier person diversifies the good bacteria, improving social, behavioral, and communication symptoms of ASD.

Unfortunately, children with autism are generally plagued by gastrointestinal symptoms. This is partially due to their unusual microbiomes, with higher ratios of “bad” bacteria than other patients, and lower percentages of “good” bacteria like Bifidobacterium. This lack of microbial diversity, along with disproportionate rates of harmful microbiota, affects everything from the immune system to neurological health

In fact, just one bacteria, Prevotella, is commonly lacking in autistic patients. As it turns out, lack of Prevotella is linked to autism-like symptoms. The researchers in this study found that a lack of diversity in the gut influenced symptoms of autism (interestingly, separate from their individual diet, although they did point out the presence of “unusual diet patterns” in the subjects).

This Prevotella study shows that microbiome diversity is a major key to addressing autism symptoms. The connection between the gut and autism is undeniable. The question has been: how can we correct these gut issues to resolve symptoms?

New research in this field may offer one of the first solid answers to this question.

Current Research on Fecal Transplant for Autism

Aware of the major breakthroughs being made in Australia with these transplants, an American team decided to apply them to an issue close to home. Dr. James Adams (my mentor), Dr. Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown, and a team of Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University researchers pursued a more palatable way to perform a fecal transplant for autism. 

The results were far beyond what they were looking for as an outcome of their groundbreaking new open-label trial.

The team at the Biodesign Institute was aware of the rising epidemic of an autism diagnosis. The CDC has estimated that more than one in every 59 children now has ASD. Knowing this link between the potential therapeutic role that a healed gut microbiome can play and the severity of ASD symptoms, they innovated a new angle on a fecal transplant for autism. 

Researchers from the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology took the feces of a screened, extremely healthy donor pool. From these samples, they purified out the waste matter. This left the “super probiotics,” or the gut bacteria found in these healthy specimen’s microbiome. Their theory was that this diverse, healthy microbiome sampling would improve not only the childrens’ GI symptoms, but their ASD symptoms as well.

First, the children were prescribed vancomycin, an antibiotic to cleanse the gut microbiome. This was meant to knock out Clostridium difficile  (C. diff) and any other “bad bacteria” existing in the intestinal tract. This assists in the goal to raise the level of beneficial bacteria, since it removes the microbiota that might attack any beneficial bacteria. Next came a bowel cleanse and a half-day fast, then the transplant could begin safely. 

They began taking this probiotic orally in high doses for two days, and lower doses for eight more weeks. A stomach acid suppressant was also used, boosting the new bacteria’s chance of surviving. Each clinical trial participant had their microbiomes tested over these eight weeks, and the results were astounding.

By week five, the scientists saw an 80% reduction in gastrointestinal problems. By week eight, there was a 25% reduction in overall symptoms of ASD. And the benefits continued over two years, and counting.

These kind of results are extremely rare in autism intervention and study! The benefits seemed to last throughout the trial, and preliminary results pointed to a fecal transplant for autism as a real solution.

Recently, the team at ASU conducted a two year follow-up study, published in early 2019. Surprisingly, this demonstrated that the benefits of the transplant are still in effect. More than just continuing far past the expected impact, the children’s microbiomes are even more diverse than at the end of the trial. This potential treatment is a rare breed: one that seems to show even more significant improvements as time passes, and continues benefits after intervention has ended. 

Other proposed therapies in the past have included antibiotics, but benefits end shortly post-treatment. On the other hand, this could have lasting, positive effects on recipients’ overall symptoms and health. A professional evaluator at the two year follow-up found that subjects showed a 45% decrease in core ASD symptoms.

In a startlingly good outcome, 44% of children originally diagnosed with ASD were now below the cutoff to even be diagnosed with autism. This sounds like “autism recovery” to me. This is tremendous news! The improvement in GI symptoms, behavioral and social symptoms, and gut microbiota is a holistic solution to many of the gastrointestinal woes children with autism face.

Areas of Future Study


While the initial findings of this team are promising, further
clinical trials are needed to plug certain holes in the current research. The sample size of 18 children is small, and by no means conclusive or applicable to everyone. We would need a much greater number of successful efforts to vet and successfully reproduce the results of this trial. 

Excitingly, the researchers are embarking on a larger, placebo-controlled trial of this fecal transplant for autism in adults. We also aren’t yet sure how these procedures affect adults, since only children participated in the first trial. 

Furthermore, for more well-rounded scientific reports, it would be excellent to include double-blind studies. Removing researchers’ bias will help provide a more unbiased report. There is always a potential for the placebo effect unless double-blinded studies are used. This term refers to the bias in participants that something is changing simply because they’re participating in the trial. 

It may be several years before sufficient research has been published to gain FDA approval for fecal transplant for autism. However, in May 2019, the FDA did give this treatment “fast track status,” meaning it will receive priority in approvals. At the moment, this procedure isn’t performed outside of research settings for this particular condition.

It also remains to be seen exactly how fecal transplant for autism will differ from the development of probiotics. To date, research on fecal transplant therapy displays a much higher efficacy for this therapy as opposed to generalized probiotics. Theories for this are limited, but I think it’s because there are many more strains of bacteria in stool, not to mention other microbes (beneficial viruses, etc.) that likely affect the diversity of the microbiome.

The isolated microbiome of a healthy host in fecal transplant for autism is also different than, say, fecal transplant for C. diff infection. The individualized biome markers used to treat one condition don’t extend to the next condition — an additional reason why a probiotic with generalized bacterial strains is less effective (though may still be beneficial).

Dangers of Fecal Transplants

The FDA published a strong warning about fecal matter for transplantation (FMT) on June 13, 2019. The warning elaborates on a lack of testing that occurred with a stool donation. Unfortunately, that stool was later tested and found to contain E. coli traces. And the effects were deadly for one immunocompromised recipient. 

Of the two known subjects that received a transplant from the infected donor, one died and the other became extremely ill. This poses an extra level of concern since most patients receiving FMT are not in top immune condition, even if they aren’t immunocompromised. Clearly, standardized and thorough testing should be a top priority before administering a fecal transplant for autism or other purposes.

It’s worth noting, however, that no major medical procedure exists without some reasonable risks that may occur in a very small number of cases. 

In light of this development, there are FDA concerns that must be met before it becomes an FDA-approved treatment. Firstly, there is a call for stool donations and donors to be tested for MDROs (drug-resistant bacteria)– such as MRSA, VRE, and resistant Acinetobacter. These typically resist antibiotics and other attempts to medicate, and can be deadly to patients with an already-weak microbiome.

The FDA also urges doctors to openly discuss the risks of this procedure and the investigational nature of fecal transplants. Properly informing and receiving consent from patients is key. Finally, guidelines were recently published about how and how often to screen donations for MDROs. 

Clearly, until these potentially fatal flaws can be worked out of a fecal transplant for autism, it won’t be widely administered. However, as research and standards move forward, its chances improve. Until then, it’s not widely available outside clinical trials

Summary

  • Fecal transplants (microbiota transfer therapy or FMT) hold great promise for the future of autism treatment.
  • Unlike most treatments, the positive effects of FMT are long-lasting, increase over time, and have exceptional success in treating ASD core behaviors.
  • A fecal matter transplant gets at the microbiome issues that ASD patients can suffer from, helping with digestive discomfort as it diversifies the microbiome. 
  • While the research is highly promising, larger-scale studies, double-blind participation, and adult patients are needed for a rounded approach.
  • Unfortunately, fecal matter transplants aren’t yet widely available in the U.S., but progress is being made toward FDA approval.

In Conclusion

This helps us to see how powerful and important the microbiome is in autism, and how improving the microbiome can improve symptoms, in cases leading autism recovery. Though it may not compare or replace FMT, while we await further study on fecal transplant, it seems prudent to use the food strategies we know that may be able to positively improve the microbiome. Strategies such as: fermented foods and probiotics, and foods that support the growth of good bacteria like prebiotic foods have been used by nutritionists and functional medicine practitioners for decades. 

Parents should be enthused by the research and scientific vigor of today. Hope continues.

Sources

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  6. Horvath, K., & Perman, J. A. (2002). Autism and gastrointestinal symptoms. Current gastroenterology reports, 4(3), 251-258. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12010627
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