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By Julie Matthews, Certified Nutrition Consultant
For autism, giving attention to the food and nutrition children receive is fundamental. However, with picky eating issues being so common in autism, the parental drive to nourish sometimes takes a back seat to the day-to-day realities of simply getting a child to eat - anything.
Don't let this happen to you, food and nutrition choices are vital – and it is especially important to pay attention if your child’s diet has become limited or restricted to certain foods. This is highlighted by a recent case study of a 9 year old boy with autism1 who ate only chicken nuggets, crackers, cookies and water – a diet not uncommon for a child with autism. He refused fruits, vegetables, juice, and vitamins.
This boy developed a limp, followed by cough, tachypnea, hypoxia, and tachycardia, and was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension (PH). His medical team (at a respected hospital) was completely stumped, having no idea what was causing his condition or how to ameliorate it. On a whim, the mother mentioned that the boy had bleeding gums - what she thought was an unrelated symptom. A doctor recognized that as a sign of nutritional deficiency –and ordered a complete nutritional work up identifying severe nutritional deficiencies including “undetectable” levels of vitamin C, as well as low vitamin B1, B6, B12, and vitamin D.
The doctor diagnosed the boy with severe nutritional deficiencies, and began vitamin therapy.
Once the vitamin levels were improved and replete, the metabolic bone disease and his heart and lung problems were reversed. Through the fundamental “intervention” of nutrition, this child’s life was turned around.
I’m surprised to still hear people say, “there is no research to support diet for autism.” Even this case study, shows us that simply not getting essential nutrients in the diet can be detrimental, even possibly life threatening.
There are many other reasons to improve nutritional intake and follow a special diet, here is some of the supportive evidence:
- Studies on gluten and casein creating opioids in autism 2, 3, 4, 5
- Research on digestive problems with gluten & casein in autism 6
- Elevated antibiotics to gluten in autism 7
- Reduced autistic symptoms with gluten-free and casein-free diet, 8, 9, 10
- Decreases autistic symptoms with nutrient supplementation 11
My mission is to help parents and clinicians understanding the biochemistry underlying autism, and how food and nutrition choices can help children’s health, learning, and behavior. Download our free eBook, Using Food and Nutrition to Improve ADHD and Autism, with over 70 scientific references, as well as information on special diets, meals and recipes for the whole family. Nourishing Hope Get Started Guide
Julie Matthews is a Certified Nutrition Consultant specializing in autism spectrum disorders. She provides dietary guidance backed by scientific research and applied clinical experience. Her award winning book, Nourishing Hope for Autism, has helped people around the world to make food and nutrition choices that aid the health, learning, and behavior of those with autism, ADHD, and other developmental delays. She presents at leading autism conferences in the US and abroad, and is the Nutrition Editor of the Autism File magazine. Julie has a private nutrition practice in San Francisco, California, and supports families and clinicians from around the world. Visit NourishingHope.com
1. Duvall, Melody G., et al. "Pulmonary Hypertension Associated With Scurvy and Vitamin Deficiencies in an Autistic Child." Pediatrics 132.6 (2013): e1699-e1703.
2. Jinsmaa Y, Yoshikawa M. (1999) Enzymatic release of neocasomorphin and beta-casomorphin from bovine beta-casein. Peptides, 20:957-962.
3. Reichelt KL, Knivsberg AM, Lihnd G, Nodland M: Probable etiology and possible treatment of childhood autism. Brain Dysfunction 1991; 4: 308-319.
4. Kamiński S, Cieslińska A, Kostyra E. (2007) Polymorphism of bovine beta-casein and its potential effect on human health. The Journal of Applied Genetics, 48(3):189-198.
5. 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
6. 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.
7. Lau, Nga M., Peter HR Green, Annette K. Taylor, Dan Hellberg, Mary Ajamian, Caroline Z. Tan, Barry E. Kosofsky, Joseph J. Higgins, Anjali M. Rajadhyaksha, and Armin Alaedini. “Markers of Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity in Children with Autism.” PLOS ONE 8, no. 6 (2013): e66155.
8. Knivsberg AM, Reichelt KL, Nodland M. (2001) Reports on dietary intervention in autistic disorders. Nutritional Neuroscience, 4(1):25-37.
9. 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
10. 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.
11. Adams, James B., et al. "Effect of a vitamin/mineral supplement on children and adults with autism." BMC pediatrics 11.1 (2011): 111.