Autism is a general developmental disorder that includes: attention deficit syndrome, Asperger’s syndrome, general disability and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The disease is named after the Greek word “autos” which means “alone”. Every year, autism is diagnosed in thousands of children around the world – interestingly, there are more and more people struggling with the disorder. Currently, as many as one child in 100 is born with autism. Unfortunately, a therapy that would effectively reduce the symptoms of autism has not yet been invented, but doctors are increasingly recommending patients to change their diet. Why? How are the foods that autistic people consume every day related to autism treatment? What is the influence of eating habits on the development of the disorder? In the article below you will find all the rules for the diet of a child struggling with autism.
The role of diet in autism
Few people know that most autistic children also suffer from various types of intestinal diseases. Usually it is a leaky gut syndrome. The disease is caused by yeast infection of the digestive system, as well as by the frequent intake of antibiotics and a general weakening of the body. The yeast infection of the digestive system is caused by the candida fungus. It occurs naturally in the body, but its uncontrolled growth is dangerous to our health. Leaky gut in autistic children are unable to fully digest substances such as gluten, soy and casein – as a result, compounds that act like opiates enter the bloodstream, directly affecting the nervous system. These products work similar to narcotics and include:
- isolating oneself
- frequent changes in mood
- disturbance of touch, vision, taste and smell
- laughter for no reason
Types of diets in autism – what should a child with autism eat?
There are many types of diets recommended for children with autism. The choice of a specific diet largely depends on individual needs and contraindications resulting, among others, from from food allergies – therefore, before introducing any changes, it is worth consulting a specialist. Here are the main types of diets recommended for people with neurological disorders:
· Diet niskoszczawianowa
Oxalates are molecules found in plant-based foods. When consumed in excessive amounts, they enter human cells, causing permanent damage to the immune system. An excess of oxalate in an autistic person’s diet also affects the gut, which is closely related to the nervous system. Excluding foods high in oxalate from your diet may temporarily worsen your health, but it is temporary. Among the products prohibited on a low-oxalate diet, we can mention: cocoa, black tea, apples, grapes, tangerines, figs, strawberries, cherries, beans, dried fruit, peppers, potatoes, beets, and spinach. Products recommended on the diet include: water, green tea, fruit juices, corn, honey, lentils, cauliflower, lettuce, radish, green peas, eggs, meat,
· Diet gaps
The gaps diet (psycho-intestinal syndrome) is a diet recommended in the treatment of neurological disorders – not only autism, but also ADHD, depression and neurosis. The diet assumes that the main source of neurological problems is intestinal disorders, which affect the functioning of the nervous system. Products contraindicated in the diet are sources of complex carbohydrates (grain products, groats, rice and their products, sweets, processed foods). There are six stages in the gaps diet – their duration is an individual matter and depends on the patient’s condition. The first stage of the diet lasts about a week and is based on the consumption of bone broth and tender meat, and the gradual introduction of silage juices. During the second stage, yolks and tender, cooked vegetables are slowly introduced. In the third stage of the diet (after about two weeks), we include avocados, grain-free pancakes, eggs and pickled vegetables. After a month of following the diet, you can start eating lean cooked meats and fresh vegetable juices. The last two stages of the diet involve gradually including raw vegetables in your meals. The products recommended in the gaps diet are healthy vegetable fats as well as kefir and buttermilk.
· Diet casein-free (non-dairy)
Casein is the main ingredient in dairy products. Like gluten, it has a negative effect on the functioning of the nervous system. Products forbidden in the cassation-free diet include milk and its products: kefirs, natural yoghurts, cheese, cream, buttermilk, coffee milk, ready-made puddings and butter. We can replace cow’s milk with rice, almond, goat or coconut milk. Coconut oil is an excellent substitute for butter. Today, there are many dairy-free products available in stores that fully replace cow’s milk.
· Diet katogeniczna
The main assumption of the diet is to change the source of energy supplied from glucose to fats. The diet is very often used in neurological diseases accompanied by metabolism disorders. The diet is highly effective in relieving the symptoms of autism – its use, inter alia, increases the conversion of glutamate to GABA (the main neurotransmitter), which improves speech in children. A catogenic diet increases the amount of glutathione, which is the largest antioxidant in our body, and also inhibits the growth of candida fungi.
The products prohibited in the cathogenic diet are: bread, dairy products, sweets, cereals, pods and potatoes. Among the recommended ingredients, we can mention eggs, meat, fish, seafood, raw vegetables. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the catogenic diet is very radical and excludes many products, not every child can use it. Contraindications to starting a catogenic diet are disturbed liver and kidney function, diabetes, dehydration, vitamin deficiencies and symptoms of malnutrition. Children who switch to a catogenic diet should be thoroughly tested. We should also remember that this kind of excluding diet may require additional supplementation. Going on a diet can be a very difficult task for a child.
· Gluten-free diet
While the effects of gluten-free diets in children with autism are still debated in the medical community, remember that gluten is a substance that a child with leaky gut syndrome cannot digest. Gluten-free nutrition certainly alleviates both digestive problems and the psychological symptoms of autism. A gluten-free diet is based mainly on the exclusion of the following products from the diet: wheat, barley, oats, rye, spelled, bulgur, couscous, and whole grain flakes. On a gluten-free diet, reading labels carefully is very important as gluten can be an ingredient in many grocery stores.
· Sugar-free diet
The elimination of sugar from the diet helps in the regeneration of intestinal villi. In addition, high amounts of sugar in the diet make it difficult to digest gluten and casein, favoring their conversion into opiate substances. In addition, sugar stimulates the baby’s entire nervous system, promoting hyperactivity. However, sugar is addictive, so giving it up can be very difficult. Abrupt withdrawal of sugar can cause fatigue, weariness, joint pain and even depression. If we can’t completely give up on the sweet taste, replace sugar with xylitol, which is not stuck in the intestines.
Benefits of introducing a diet
A properly selected diet has a number of benefits for a child with autism. The complete exclusion of products that increase the symptoms of autism has the following effects:
- improvement of skin condition
- reduction of psychomotor hyperactivity
- improvement of eyesight and hearing
- eliminating digestive system ailments (diarrhea, constipation, vomiting)
- positive effect on general well-being
- improving the quality of sleep
What should you know before adopting a diet?
If we decide to introduce a restrictive diet in an autistic child, we should first visit a dietitian who also deals with patients with autism, who will order the necessary tests and suggest the best solution. It is worth remembering that autistic children very often suffer from various types of food allergies. People with autism sometimes have a problem with the proper absorption of vitamins and micronutrients, so if we intend to exclude certain products from the diet, it would be good to replace them with others. During the diet, the child should be closely monitored by a doctor who will check from time to time whether harmful deficiencies have appeared in the child’s body.