Autism and Gut Health
As we put steady foot forward towards progress and development, we come together to spread awareness about certain conditions that need special mention. April 2nd is internationally recognized as World Autism Awareness Day. This day is all about learning a little more about Autism and supporting people around us affected by it. This article is an effort to help people identify and recognize the condition and dig a little deeper into how it affects one’s gut health. We also try to mend bridges on nutritional aspects and the symptoms.
Nutrition plays a key role in improving quality of life for those who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Gastrointestinal issues (GI) have a significant impact on day to day life and behaviors for these individuals. If we can improve the foods consumed and allergens that are introduced into their body, studies have shown a significant improvement in digestive symptoms which affect daily behaviors.
So what exactly can we do at home in order to help those with ASD?
Two things mentioned above are within our control, the foods we eat and the environment we are exposed to. How do foods and allergens affect behaviors you may ask? Deep within the walls of the digestive system the enteric nervous system (ENS) is two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract from esophagus to rectum. This is where you have heard the term before “go with your gut”, insinuating that you get a “stomach feeling” of emotion!
The main role of the ENS is to control digestion, from swallowing to the release of enzymes. Enzymes break down the food to the control of blood flow for nutrient absorption to elimination i.e. bowel movement,” explains Jay Pasricha, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology, whose research on the enteric nervous system has garnered international attention. “The enteric nervous system doesn’t seem capable of thought as we know it, but it communicates back and forth with our big brain—with profound results.” Scientists have continued successfully developing medicine’s understanding of the links between digestion, mood, health and even the way the brain functions. If the foods that are being consumed present inflammation like processed foods or the GI system is overloaded with airborne irritants like mold, it stimulates this “system overload” and symptoms can worsen.
Here are some great things to start with at home:
- Dust often, control dust mites. Try to keep surfaces in your home clean and uncluttered.
- Vacuum once or twice a week.
- Prevent pet dander build up by changing filters in your Air conditioner every 8-12 weeks.
- Prevent pollen from getting inside by keeping windows and doors closed during those seasons.
- Avoid mold spores, keep your washer open for ventilation to completely dry out.
- Be aware of pest control, manage pests with natural methods versus chemicals.
- Use fragrance free products and reduce personal hygiene chemicals as much as possible which includes laundry detergent, deodorants, soaps and air fresheners.
- We want a chemical free environment as much as possible!
Food choices for a Healthy Gut
- Drink filtered water! And a lot of it! Everyone should consume half their body weight in ounces of water.
- Remove Boxed foods as much as possible!
- Stick to fresh or frozen vegetables rather than canned or boxed.
- Add fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, beans, eggs, and lean meats
- Look for the least amount of ingredients listed as possible.
- Try a “LOW HISTAMINE or ANTI INFLAMMATORY DIET” to reduce inflammation and minimize the “work” the digestive system has to do.
- Eliminating gluten, dairy, sugar, corn, soy, and potentially allergenic foods for 30 days, slowly can reintroduce once a week one at a time.
Gastrointestinal disorders are one of the most common medical conditions that are comorbid with autism spectrum disorders. In an article titled Autism Spectrum Disorder as a Brain-Gut-Microbiome Axis Disorder, the authors state “These comorbidities can cause greater severity in autism spectrum disorder symptoms, other associated clinical manifestations, and lower quality of life if left untreated. Effective treatment of gastrointestinal problems in autism spectrum disorder may result in marked improvements in autism spectrum disorder behavioral outcomes”.
Simply put, if we can minimize or completely remove the processed foods in the diet and keep the environmental irritants to a minimum, individuals with ASD symptoms may show significant improvement. Moods can regulate, outbursts can decrease, extreme food selectivity and ritualistic eating behaviors may improve.