Autism & Nutrition: The Possible Connection

Autism is a collection of neurological disorders, characterized by abnormal behavioral and social patterns.  While the criteria for an autism diagnosis are behavioral, research is elucidating that alterations gastrointestinal, metabolic, and immune function are also part of the disease presentation (1-7). Many theories about the cause of autism exist, ranging from maternal nutritional status and diet (9), food allergy (10), to food sensitivity (11).  And equally as many treatments for autism have been studied, including gluten and casein restriction (12-21), omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid balancing (18), ketogenic diet (22-24), biofeedback (25), and environmental toxin elimination (25).

Evidence that gluten and casein restriction, the most popular dietary interventions, are beneficial, is not conclusive. However, response to this protocol is highly individual, likely a result of the many complex causes and presentations falling under this classification.  Because subsets of populations within the autistic spectrum do appear to achieve benefit from the diet, a significant percentage of children with autism are being managed using dietary intervention (18, 26, 27).

While there may be therapeutic benefit to eliminating gluten and casein for the purpose of managing behavioral and gastrointestinal issues, this protocol does eliminate one major food group and a major component of another.  Autistic children also often have sensory integration issues, resulting food jags, compulsions, and textural issues.  These can often affect their willingness to eat certain foods (28-32).  These two nutritional risk factors predispose autistic children to a variety of nutritional deficiencies; inadequate zinc , calcium, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin D, iron, amino acid, vitamin B12, and folic acid (14, 33-42).  Medical issues known to be related to these deficiencies include:  low ferritin (37), reduced cortical bone density (43), dry eyes (33), intracranial hypertension (33), optic neuropathy (41), and scurvy (44).  Because of the high risk for nutritional deficiency disease, it is especially important, if you choose to restrict casein and gluten, to work with a dietitian specialized in treating autism so that dietary analyses and clinical testing is performed at regular intervals, to insure that your child’s diet is nutritionally complete.

Growing Naturals products provide several essential nutrients that can be challenging to find in foods that are both available and acceptable to the autistic palate.  The protein powders provide the amino acids that can help to maintain an amino acid balance that supports healthy brain function.  The pea protein provides 15 grams of protein per serving, whereas the rice protein provides 24 grams of protein per serving.  In addition, one serving of GN rice milk contains 25% of the recommended daily value (DV) for vitamin D, 28% of the DV for calcium and 30% of the DV for vitamin B12.  As a dietary supplements, Growing Naturals products can be added to many of your child’s favorite foods, allowing you to enhance your child’s diet without  the stress of introducing foods and textures that he or she may not easily tolerate.

The many complex factors affecting the nutrition of the autistic child can be a challenge.  A strong partnership with a skilled team of caregivers and nutrition support with foods like Growing Naturals products, can help to reduce stress at the dinner table and improve your child’s quality of life.

 

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