Treating Autism: A Naturopathic Approach
by Hilary Andrews, ND, with assistance from Katherine Brigh
One in 200 Canadian children is affected by autism, making it the most common childhood neurological disorder in the country. Heres how one naturopath is getting positive results with her autistic patients.
When we come into the world we perceive everything with our senses: touch, taste, smell, sound and sight. The experience of an infant is in some ways more intense than that of older children or adults. In children born with a predisposition to develop autism, this sensory stimulation may be even greaterforcing their sensory systems to shut off the outside world and go inward in an attempt to protect or filter them from the extreme stimulation. The exact mechanisms behind autism remain something of a mystery. However, more and more we are beginning to get an insight into the triggers of this state of being.
Infantile autism is a progressive developmental disorder with behavioural manifestations that are usually present within the first two years of life. However, it is not a behavioural disease but rather a physical disorder. In other words, autistic children are not acting out in an attempt to control or manipulate their situations, as is the case with temper tantrums. They are behaving the way they do because of a biological difference on a neurological level, which causes them to perceive the world differently than "normal" children.
According to the Geneva Centre for Autism in Ontario, one in 200 Canadian children are affected by autism, an increase of 600 percent in the past 10 yearsmaking autism the most common childhood neurological in the country. And each year the number of diagnoses rises. While some experts believe this increase is due to a difference in case reporting, I do not. Without a doubt, the triggers of this disease are on the rise, and as more and more susceptible individuals come in contact with the triggers, the number of autistic cases will rise even higher.
Causes of Autism
Males are two to four times more likely to develop autism than females, suggesting a strong genetic component. Ten genes have been isolated that may bring about this disorder, but they alone are not the sole cause. Autism occurs when there is an interaction between genetic predisposition and environmental factors or insults, such as pollution or viruses. It is this combination that causes the sensory overload in the autistic child and his/her subsequent withdrawal from the world.
MMR Vaccination: While the measles-mumps-rubella or MMR vaccine has been strongly linked to the onset of autism, I believe that prior vaccinations also play a cumulative role in this disease. Current vaccination schedules overload very young, fragile immune systems with a huge number of viruses. The number of vaccinations administered to children has more than doubled during the last decade. Today, a child receives approximately 33 doses of 10 different vaccines before the age of six.
Gluten and Casein Foods: Children with autism have changes to their digestive system, specifically the nerves that innervate the small intestine. This gives the gut the ability to absorb larger, undigested molecules into the bloodstream, a condition otherwise known as leaky gut syndrome. Peptides from gluten found in wheat and grain products and casein found in milk protein have been associated with symptoms of autism such as repetitive behaviour, irritability and social withdrawal. Many autistic children will also experience gastrointestinal and bowel complaints such as greasy stools, constipation or diarrhea.
There is no universal treatment protocol for autism, which makes things that much more complicated. However, all treatment programs must address the three systems of the body that are compromised in autism-namely, the central nervous system, the digestive system and the immune system. I cannot emphasize this enough. I have spoken with many parents who have tried one or two of the following treatments with little success. Each treatment builds on the next, and since three areas of the body are profoundly affected, then the three areas of the body must be addressed.
1. Rebalance the Nervous System
This treatment should only be performed by a skilled doctor trained in drainage protocol, but the results can be magical. The human brain develops in stages. For the most part, these stages are complete by about age 25. If there is some interruption or disturbance in this process at any point, future stages of development are compromised. Some forms of "drainage" address these disturbances by restimulating the areas of the brain necessary to allow each stage to be completed in sequence.
2. Evaluate the Diet
Most often we hear of gluten and casein-free diets in the treatment of autism. This is because molecules found in these two types of food increases the leakiness of the gut substantially. Protein molecules can pass through the gut and travel to the brain where they have the potential to cause harm. I have found greater results from a diet that not only prevents leaky gut syndrome, but also helps regulate the immune system and provide "brain food." (I strongly recommend that only organically grown foods be consumed.)
Foods to avoid for the time being include:
- all dairy products including milk and cheese
- wheat products including breads, pastas and couscous
- citrus fruits
- corn products including anything with corn syrup
- peanuts and peanut butter
- caffeinated teas
- coffeeregular and decaffeinated
- red meatespecially pork and pork products
- sugar, Nutrasweet and all sweeteners except maple syrup and honey
- fried foods
- all processed foods.
3. Improve Intestinal Health
Our goal here is to reduce any inflammation in the digestive tract and to establish normal gut flora.
L-Glutamine: This amino acid is the preferred source of energy and food for the cells that line the digestive tract. It is critical for the repair of intestinal tissue, especially with respect to permeability. It is also an ideal source of energy for the brain. I start out by recommending one gram per day.
Friendly Bacteria: Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidus are bacterial floras normally located in the digestive tract. Autistic children often have an imbalance in gut flora, thus making supplementation imperative. Twelve billion organisms per day are recommended.
Dimethylglycine (DMG): Supplementation with this compound has been shown to improve behaviour, concentration and speech. DMG has been reported to increase interest in speaking, eye contact, frustration tolerance, immune response to infection and physical performance. I recommend 125 milligrams of DMG per day.
DHA and EPA: These are essential fatty acids from cold water fish that have been shown to exhibit numerous beneficial effects on the body. DHA is the main essential fatty acid of the brain and helps considerably with brain health. The foods that naturally contain these fatty acids are cod liver oil, salmon, Atlantic cod and rainbow trout.
All children born to this beautiful planet have obstacles to overcome. For children with autism, these hurdles may appear more difficult. These gentle and beautiful children require tender coaxing back into the world so that they might have the opportunity to experience all of the splendour that life has to offer.
- Autism Society Canada: 519.952.8720 or autismsocietycanada.ca
- Autism Today: autismtoday.com
- Autism Treatment Services of Canada: 403.253.6961 or autism.ca
- Geneva Centre for Autism: 416.322.7877 or autism.net