Autism has become an epidemic in North America. The current prevalence in Canada is an astounding 1 in 165 children. And incredibly, the rate in boys is much higher at 1 in 70. The reasons for this explosion are partly due to increased knowledge in terms of diagnosing, but lifestyles and the environment our children live in have also had a great effect. While this is an enormous problem, increasingly, families are discovering how effective a natural treatment for autism can be.
Autism is used quite generally to describe a wide spectrum of symptoms. The term “spectrum” is crucial to understanding autism, because of the wide range of intensity, symptoms and behaviours, types of disorders, and considerable individual variation.
Children with autism spectrum disorders may be non-verbal and asocial, as in the case of many with “classic” autism, or Autistic Disorder. But on the other end of the spectrum there are children with a high-functioning form of autism characterized more by deficits in social skills and play. Asperger Syndrome falls on this part of the spectrum. The American Psychiatric Association has defined these disorders by deficiencies in three areas: social skills, communication, and behaviours and/or interests (published in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” or DSM IV).
The biomedical treatment of autism is a science-based approach to treatment. The psychotropic drugs prescribed by Medical Doctors do not treat ASD—they simply reduce or eliminate some of the symptoms. The aim of the biomedical approach, in contrast, is to address the underlying health problems, by removing what is causing harm, and adding what is missing.
For example, children with ASD often have an exaggerated response to toxins, foods, and allergens, and these create harmful changes in their bodies. Often they are missing various nutrients, amino acids, anti-oxidants, and essential fatty acids.
Biomedical practitioners address these underlying issues, by assessing your child individually, starting with a comprehensive health intake, recommending necessary specialized lab testing, and then beginning a step-by-step treatment plan based on the unique issues of your child.
A comprehensive health intake discusses your child’s current health issues, medical history, pre – and postnatal history, family history, nutrition, lifestyle habits, any previous psychological and diagnostic testing, and supplements and medications used.
We also use Specialized Laboratory Testing which can tell us more about what is going on inside your child’s body that may be causing this condition. These tests use blood, urine and stool analysis and can include:
Many children with ASD have food allergies, due to abnormalities in their digestive and/or immune systems. If food is not broken down and digested, then the partly digested food can pass from the gastrointestinal tract into the bloodstream. The immune system recognizes those foods as foreign to the body, and may launch an immune response to those foods, including brain inflammation. These food allergy reactions are called IgG, or delayed, food reactions, as they can take hours or even a couple of days to occur.
The most common IgG food allergies associated with ASD are gluten, the wheat protein, and casein, the milk protein. Casein-free diets usually produce benefits within a month, and sometimes within a week. Gluten-free diets can take up to 6 months to produce benefits. In some children there is a worsening of symptoms initially, however this is followed by an improvement.
Biomedical practitioners can order IgG food allergy blood testing through specialized laboratories, to detect gluten and casein allergies, in addition to many other possible food allergens. Removing allergic foods can result in a wide range of improvements in up to 65% of ASD children, in particular improvements in behaviour, focus and concentration.
While it is important to understand that every patient is different and therefore treatments will also be unique and specific to each child, the following tips will normally make up part of a treatment program.
Removing sugar, in desserts and hidden in packaged foods, as well as artificial colours and preservatives from the diet has been found to be an effective treatment in 50% of children with ASD.
The RDI, or recommended daily intake of vitamins and minerals, is the minimum amount required to prevent disease, but may be less than the amount needed for optimal mental and physical health. Research studies indicate vitamin-mineral supplementation can be an effective treatment in up to 45% of children with ASD.
One option to achieve optimal vitamin-mineral levels is to use a juicer to make fresh vegetable/fruit juice (this can safely be stored for up to a few days in an airtight glass container). Fresh vegetable/fruit juice is a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and soluble fibre. Commercial juices are “pasteurized” or heated to destroy bacteria, which causes a loss of some nutrients.
The advantage of juicing is that it is often a very easy and tasteful way to get healthy nutrients into children who don’t eat fruits/vegetables. Some of the healthiest vegetables to use include cabbage, spinach, carrots, and broccoli, mixed with a small amount of fruit. Organic vegetables and fruits are preferred, as they have a higher amount of vitamins and minerals and fewer toxic pesticides.
Another way to achieve optimal vitamin-mineral levels is by using a multi-vitamin-mineral supplement which can be taken orally. Keep in mind though, that iron should only be added if testing indicates a need. Too much iron is not desirable.
Vitamin B12 injections are one of most well-studied treatments for ASD. Up to 90% of children with ASD have been found to benefit from this treatment. Vitamin B12 has been found to improve behaviour, focus and concentration, energy and mood.
Essential fatty acids are critical nutrients for humans. They are part of the cell membrane of every cell in our body, and roughly 20% of an infant’s brain is composed of them. Of note, breast milk is very rich in essential fatty acids, but most infant formulas lack this key ingredient needed for brain development.
Two general categories of essential fatty acids are omega-3 and omega-6. Most of us have enough omega-6 essential fatty acids, as they are found in grains and cooking oils. But we are deficient in omega-3 because our bodies don’t produce it and the western diet doesn’t provide enough of it. The American Heart Association recommends at minimum, two meals a week of cold water fish such as salmon or tuna to maintain a minimum intake of omega-3.
Low levels of omega-3 essential fatty acids are associated with a wide range of psychological disorders, including depression, post-partum depression, anxiety, and bipolar. Most importantly, studies have found that children with ASD have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids than the general population, and that supplementation can improve cognitive development, including language and learning skills.
One of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids is fish, however most fish are high in mercury and other heavy metals, so it is generally safer for children to obtain omega-3s from fish oil, since the higher quality fish oils have had all heavy metals removed. A good quality fish oil supplement will provide sufficient levels for overall health.
Natural treatment for autism is effective. Dramatic improvement can be achieved in your child’s condition because the lifestyle changes we focus on attack the cause of the condition – not the symptoms. If your family is dealing with the challenge of an autistic child, please call us. We can help.