The CDC has recently reported that the number of children with autism spectrum disruptions has continued to climb and there is no clear-cut cause for this disorder. In New Jersey, the rate for boys is as high as 1 in 28. In fact, Walter Zahorodny of NJ Autism Study has stated, “It's quite likely there is one boy with autism in every classroom (in New Jersey)”.
What has changed over the past few decades that could cause these numbers to continue to rise? One of the largest changes is the type of food we eat. Think back 30 or 40 years. The majority of our diet consist of home cooked meals and brown bagged lunches. We did not have places to buy burgers, French fries, candy, cookies, donuts, and soda around every corner. When we did indulge, the quality and amount of sugar, salt and fat in these foods were much different then they are today.
What if you take a child who may already have a weakened immune system and you expose them to all the chemicals, preservatives, and poor quality ingredients found in today's food? Could more focus on the quality of our food begin to turn these numbers around? Sometimes it's the most obvious answer that leads you in the right direction.
The Experts May Never Agree On A Cause
While it's always nice to find someone or something to blame, we may never know the true cause of autism. Where parents actually need help is in moving forward and dealing with the daily issues of this disorder. These children have difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communications, social interactions, repetitive behaviors, as well as a long list of co-occurring conditions (eg learning disabilities, depression, anxiety, mood disorders, disruptive behavior disorders, and sensory integration disorders) .
Specialists have noted that many of these children also suffer from a poorly functioning digestive system, high toxic load (most notably high mercury levels), and a weak immune system. Traditional treatment methods have focused on medication and behavioral therapies. While these methods can minimize improper behavior, they do not address the overall health of the child. Many resourceful parents have found that traditional therapy along with the modification of their child's diet has been delivered in even greater improvements in behavior and wellbeing.
What Should We Focus On?
More attention should be focused on improving the health of the digestive system. Digestion, elimination, immunity and even brain health are all inter-related. However, they all start with the proper digestion of food. When the digestive system is not working, we see a domino effect of problems. The body does not absorb nutrients, stops naturally detoxifying itself, and the immune system weakens. In addition, mood, behavior, anxiety, focus, and sleep are affected from a poorly functioning brain and nervous system.
What's Your Child Eating?
Let's look at the typical child on the autism spectrum. They tend to be picky eaters who may only eat certain, favorite foods. These foods tend to be white bread, pasta, rice, pastries, frozen pizza, candy, soda, and fruit juices. What do these foods have in common? They contain no fiber, are high in sugar, and are full of artificial colors, flavors and preservatives.
Specialists believe that cravings for these foods develop because the body is looking for a quick energy source. The damaged digestive system can not properly digest food and absorb nutrients, so instead it looks for fuel in the form of sugar. Unfortunately, these processed, sugary foods continue the domino effect and further weaker and stress the body. Parents also need to be aware that many gluten-free and casein-free (GFCF) products which are popular choices for autistic children are loaded with a ton of sugar, chemicals and preservatives which continue to aggravate the body. Some GFCF products are just processed foods in a clever disguise.
What The Body Needs
The first goal should be to reduce the amount of processed and sugary foods in the diet. These foods weaken the body. The body needs vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, healthy fats, high quality carbohydrates, and plenty of water. Dietary changes can be hard to make for people of any age, especially children. The biggest hurdle is getting over the thought that you can not do it. Gradual, long-term dietary changes can be made by anyone and the benefits are worth the effort.
Second, parents may want to discuss the benefits of using a good quality probiotic with their child's doctor. Probiotics increase the number of 'friendly bacteria' in a damaged digestive system. These good bacteria can improve digestion, aid the immune system, prevent diarrhea and constipation, improve elimination, as well as many other functions.
The third goal should be to improve the health of the brain. Most people do not think about feeding the brain, but it also requires a healthy diet. However, the brain has a special requirement since 60% of the brain is composed of fat. It requires a consistent supply of fatty acids to build more brain cells, send messages through the nervous system, and other functions. The body can produce most of the fatty acids that it needs, but can not make and tend to be lacking in omega 3 fatty acids. These must come from food such as salmon, walnuts, flax and chia seeds, and sea vegetables. High quality fish oil supplements can also be used to ensure that the brain is receiving enough omega 3s and functioning at its optimum level.
What's the Solution?
As the number of children on the autism spectrum continues to rise, more and more parents are looking for solutions. Traditional treatment methods for children are more targeted towards 'behaviors', such as aggression, anxiety, focus, depression, and seizures.
Issues related to the 'body', such as the digestive system, immune system and brain health are typically not addressed. However, it's easy to see that the 'behaviors' and 'body' are part of the same puzzle. Many parents and support groups promote the benefits of nutritional therapy. In some cases, very minor changes in diet can have a tremendous effect. More parents need to be made aware of this powerful tool.