By nutritionist Joanna Lyall
The connection between the symptoms of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and nutrition are increasingly well established.
We can see great improvements in behaviour, concentration, focus and digestive complaints by improving the diet and using the right supplements. Any parent considering using nutrition to support their child with ASD should be prepared that it is a long-term therapy that requires diagnostic testing followed by daily supplements in order to get the best results for improving everyday life.
It is very common to see children with ASD complaining of digestive problems such as stomach ache and diarrhea or constipation. This is usually because many of them will have low levels of digestive enzymes and intolerances to certain foods containing gluten and caseins. These foods include bread, milk, fast and processed foods (look out for ingredients such as lactose and milk solids). Foods containing chemicals called salicylates can also be an issue for some children and these are found in a wide variety of foods in varying levels (you can see some examples here http://salicylatesensitivity.com/about/food-guide/). Testing or elimination is the best way to see if salicylates are affecting your child. With an elimination diet, results should be seen within six months and symptoms may improve even before that time.
I will usually recommend that we use some diagnostic tests to establish the child's nutritional status and gut health. In particular we may test stools, saliva and urine because these will indicate if the digestive tract has a bacterial imbalance or if food intolerances are present. It is thought that 92% of autistic children will have heavy metal toxicity, which contributes to their symptoms. This can be tested and improved over time.
Whilst every child is unique and will need a bespoke approach, a typical nutrition plan for autism will focus on the following areas:
Improving digestion - following the test we can identify which bacteria levels need to be reduced or enhanced and we can supplement digestive enzymes to improve the breakdown of foods, which in turn may reduce symptoms like stomach aches, constipation and diarrhoea. The digestive system is the foundation for health so it will always be the first thing that I look at before we move on to other areas.
Improving detoxification - this will ensure that the child is breaking down toxins and eliminating them properly so that they are not circulating in the system and causing more problems. One of the simplest things you can do to improve detoxification is to use Epsom Salts in the bath.
Eliminating trigger foods - as I explained earlier certain foods are likely to contribute to symptoms and by eliminating them we can see marked improvements
Boosting key nutrients - essential fats, magnesium, vitamin A and vitamin D are all likely to need supplementation in children with ASD, and used in the right way they can improve speech, focus, sleep and immunity
NB: parents should only embark on an in-depth nutrition plan under the guidance of a nutritional therapist.
More often than not children with ASD will be very particular about how and what they eat, so I work with parents to give them ideas for lunch boxes and meal times that will improve their nutrition and be acceptable to the child. Later on this year I hope to release a recipe book that will provide inspiration and ideas to parents of children with ASD.
Joanna’s practice Nutritio is in Balham and you can find out more about her services at www.nutritio.co.uk.