Hi, I’m Craig Kendall, the author of The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide. In today’s issue we will discuss…
Autism Treatment –
Can a Diet Change & Probiotics Help Autism Symptoms?
If you’ve been reading about autism treatment for a while, you’ve probably heard of a hundred different diets supposed to help or even cure autism. It’s true that what a person eats can have a big impact on their behavior, but diet does not usually cure autism. It will, however, often significantly improve their behaviors and their functioning.
Many autism researchers believe there is a strong connection between the gut and the brain. But with so many diets out there, how do you know which one to choose?
You will probably find as you pursue different avenues of autism treatment that some things just have to be tried to see if they will work, and discarded if they don’t. Unfortunately, in most cases there is no test to see what the perfect “autism diet” is for your child. But, that said, there are several dietary guidelines that are often recommended for those on the autism spectrum you should know about.
Gluten and Casein Free Diet for Kids with Autism
Many books and articles talk about the gluten and casein free diet for kids with autism. Gluten is an ingredient found in bread products and many other foods, and casein is found in dairy products. But in this newsletter, we’re going to talk about a different kind of diet.
Since a great majority of kids with autism have gastrointestinal problems and some form of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), we are going to talk about what an IBS friendly diet would look like.
Remember, if you relieve some or all of the digestive discomforts for your child, they will be a lot more able to learn from their environment and interact with their environment. It’s hard to attend to what’s going on around you if you are physically uncomfortable. Not all kids with autism have digestive complaints, but enough do that these suggestions will probably benefit a lot of people.
What is irritable bowel syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a digestive disorder that affects the large intestine. The most common symptoms are cramping and abdominal pain.
Diarrhea, constipation, bloating and gas usually go along with it too. Nonverbal kids with autism who are crying and screaming are a lot of times doing it because of physical pain, but they can’t tell anyone. Treating possible gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms can be a good step in resolving some of the issues you might have thought were behavioral.
What can I do to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?
There generally are not any medications that you can take for this condition, but it can often be kept in check by following a careful diet. Others have had great success by taking probiotics, as we discuss below.
Certain foods tend to trigger irritable bowel syndrome symptoms more than others. These are often different for different people, but there are some that are more or less the same across the board. Certain foods make the intestines have muscle spasms and create the physical discomfort associated with IBS.
There is something called the gastrocolic reflex that causes most of the suffering in IBS. The gastrocolic reflex is what sends messages to the colon to start getting ready to digest food. When someone with IBS eats or drinks, it will often activate the gastrocolic reflex far too early, and there will be spasms and over activity that is painful to the person with IBS.
So the key to managing IBS, which as we said can be considered an autism treatment as well, is to eat foods that are easily digestible and won’t activate the gastrocolic reflex as much.
Foods to Avoid
Let’s start with the foods that you should definitely avoid and make sure that your child with autism stays away from — or has in moderation — during this particular autism treatment.
- Insoluble fiber
- Coffee or alcohol (not likely to be a problem for kids, but still)
- Artificial sweeteners
Now let’s look at each of those more closely.
1. Insoluble fiber
What is insoluble fiber, you ask? Well, you might not have realized this, but not all fiber is created equal. Many times, if we have digestion issues, we are told to simply eat more fiber. But not all fiber is good fiber! Generally, fiber is divided into two categories — soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber is a very good food for those with digestive problems. It therefore can be very useful in your autism treatment regimen if your loved one has digestive issues.
Soluble fiber calms and regulates your digestive tract. It can both absorb extra liquid which can reduce diarrhea, and prevent constipation by adding a lot of bulk as it passes through the gut. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and is not digested.
Insoluble fiber is much harder to digest, and stimulates the digestive tract quite a bit, so it is best to take in moderation. It is important to remember that you should still be eating some foods with insoluble fiber, as they are necessary to your health. However, you will want to make sure you don’t have too many foods with insoluble fiber in your or your child’s diet for better digestive health.
Here are some foods with insoluble fiber in them.
- Anything with whole wheat, and wheat bran
- Anything with whole grains in them
- Granola and muesli
- Seeds, nuts and popcorn
- Berries (blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, cranberries, etc.)
- Pineapple and many other, but not all, fruits
- Greens (spinach, lettuce, kale, mesclun, collards, arugula, watercress, etc.)
- Many kinds of peas
- Green beans
- Bell peppers (roasted and peeled they’re safer)
- Onions, shallots, leeks, scallions, garlic
- Broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes
Fat is a problem because it triggers your digestive tract to snap into action more than any other category of food. It makes your digestive system work too hard. When you eat anything with a lot of fat in it, it cues your colon to start contracting. Now, for most people, this is a good thing. But for people with IBS, this usually results in either constipation or diarrhea. The spasms can either cause the colon to work too hard, or seize it up so it’s barely working at all.
Some things that might fall into this category (there are many more, but here are some of the most common ones)
- Meat and dairy products
- Any fried foods
- Salad dressings, onion rings, potato chips
- All pastries, donuts, croissants, etc.
Caffeine stimulates the colon and therefore should be avoided.
Carbonation, such as in sodas and even mineral water, can cause bloating and cramps. Soda also has a lot of caffeine and is generally bad for you, so there are many reasons to avoid it.
5. Coffee and alcohol
Both coffee and alcohol are GI stimulants. Coffee in particular contains a powerful GI tract irritant.
6. Many artificial sweeteners can trigger IBS symptoms.
In general, artificial anything is not good when you are trying to do autism treatment. Sorbitol is an artificial sweetener in many products, especially sugar free products that can be problematic.
Also watch for ingredients like carrageenan and guar gum, ingredients that are used to give texture and stability to certain products that have been known to cause a lot of gastrointestinal symptoms in people both with autism and without. These ingredients can be found in many dairy products such as ice cream and even in toothpaste.
So the best treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is?
The best treatment is to get as much soluble fiber in your child’s diet as possible. Here are some examples of soluble fiber.
- Rice and rice cereals
- Pasta and noodles
- White breads, such as sourdough or French bread
- Flour tortillas, corn meal, and quinoa
- Potatoes, carrots, yams and sweet potatoes
- Turnips, beets, squash and pumpkins
- Bananas, applesauce, mangoes and papayas
You can also buy soluble fiber powders to increase the amount of soluble fiber in your child’s diet.
Peppermint, chamomile and fennel can also be soothing to the digestive system. You can make teas out of these herbs.
Can Digestive Enzymes Help?
Apparently digestive enzymes can also make a major improvement. A recent study (Adams, James B. Gastrointestinal flora and gastrointestinal status in children with autism – comparisons to typical children and correlation with autism severity. BMC Gastroenterology, 2011) indicated that there is a clear link between gastrointestinal (GI) disorders and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). This study concluding that as many as 63 percent of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience some form of GI trouble, such as diarrhea, constipation, bloating and gas.
The study also indicated that digestive enzymes are essential to a properly functioning GI system, and enzyme deficiency can lead to GI symptoms. When specific methods were used to treat gut flora imbalances, children with late-onset autism experienced significant improvement in behavior, but only as long as they continued to receive treatment. Probiotics are one way of restoring the digestive enzyme balance that is so essential to good digestion.
Probiotics Can Help GI Problems in Those With Autism
Probiotics are designed using specific strains to help restore proper balance of good and bad bacteria while improving absorption of nutrients.
Probiotics are living microorganisms, also known as “friendly bacteria” that occur naturally in the human digestive tract. Foods, such as yogurt, kefir, and others, contain probiotics and have been used throughout history to help improve overall health and vitality. Probiotics help support a healthy gastrointestinal and immune system and help maintain digestive balance. An excellent source of probiotics is from NutraFoods. NutraFoods is the brand of probiotics that my family uses.
NutraFoods often offers BIG DISCOUNTS. Click here to see what specials are currently running.
Can antibiotics make GI problems worse?
Gut flora, including digestive enzymes, can be thrown out of balance by antibiotic usage, something that is more common in children with autism. While antibiotics kill harmful bacteria, they also destroy nearly all of the beneficial bacteria in the gut, contributing to GI symptoms such as constipation. This is why doctors and health specialists recommend supplementing with probiotics when taking antibiotics, to help replenish the good bacteria and enzymes that are killed off by antibiotic usage.
What should parents with kids on the autism spectrum do?
Kids with autism are very prone to digestive disorders. If you’ve tried diets such as gluten and casein free, specific carbohydrate diet or any of the others with no success, you might want to follow these guidelines for treating irritable bowel syndrome. Probiotics are something that I recommend and use in my family. They can restore enzyme balance and eliminating irritable bowel syndrome. This can help improve behavior problems and overall quality of life. Many people do not realize that treating digestive symptoms is an important part of autism treatment.