My cousin can recite the entire credits from a Disney movie from start to finish. He can tell you the day of the week you were born if you tell him the day and year (Sept 13th was a Wednesday the year I was born... I was unaware until he told me). He can make an exact replica of every state flag with just magic markers and his expert fine motor control. He's autistic, and awesome, and talented. He has skills that surpass most aspiring artists and mathematicians. Autism is an ever growing topic in health care (and life) as the number of children diagnosed rises every year. My cousin was born about 20 years ago when the likelihood of an autism diagnosis was 1 in 500. That number is now 1 in 68, with boys being 4 to 6 times more likely to be affected. Part of that can be contributed to the fact that autism is now diagnosed on a spectrum (ranging from low to high function). You may not have a child or sibling with autism, but odds are growing that you know someone who does. You might teach autistic students, have autistic co-workers, or have a friend with a recently diagnosed child. We won't debate the cause or reason for rising numbers here, because we're all about improving the quality of life for EVERYONE. Let's unlock how nutrition can be helpful for autism. I've compiled this for you to share, because Lord knows that a parent supporting and loving an autistic child might not have a lot of spare time to pull this information from various research studies, and it's just plain nice to have a short cut sometimes!
THE GUT CONNECTION
Before we dive into the vitamins and minerals talk, there's something we need to toss a spotlight on. There's new (and somewhat overwhelming) evidence
that the gut flora (bacteria population
) is altered in those with autism. If you're a parent to an autistic child, you've probably watched them struggle with constipation, diarrhea, or stomach aches. However the gut connection plays out, it's definitely a part of the puzzle for those with autism. Autistic people are more likely
to experience "leaky gut" which occurs when stuff that's supposed to be inside the GI tract mistakenly gets into the bloodstream. It's hard to tell if food allergies and sensitivities cause this leaky gut, or vice versa, but either way autistic people are also more likely to be intolerant of gluten and dairy products.
So... what's the big deal?
The big deal is that the health of our gut majorly affects the health of the rest of the body. Our GI tract is home to about 70% of our immune system. Meaning: infections, colds, and flus are more common if our gut is jacked up. Also, if we don't have a healthy lining of our intestines we can't absorb the good stuff we are taking in through our diet. Removing irritating things (like gluten and dairy, or other food sensitivities) and adding the good stuff (probiotics
) is a huge and powerful first step (ok, 2 steps) to repair. So, highlight it in your best yellow marker, tie a ribbon around your finger, or draw a giant arrow, whatever you have to do to remember that fixing the GI tract is amazingly important.
NOW FOR THE NITTY GRITTY
The details are in the chart below, but the VIP nutrients for autism are:
HAVE A PICKY EATER AT HOME?
Picky eating can be a major struggle. Autistic people often have stronger aversions to tastes and textures than the average bear. Tell moms and dads to address their child's nutrition, and they might say "yeah right, he only eats 2 foods." or "There's no way I could get her to swallow a pill." Insert the saviors: powdered and liquid nutrition. I'll be the first to admit that nutrition should come from food, and supplements are, well, supplemental. In the case of autism (where simple carbs are typically the favorite foods), it's handy that these supplemental nutrients can be mixed into food barely changing taste or texture. A powdered
probiotic, or a liquid
vitamin D can make a difference between no nutrition, and a head start to quality living.
IT'S REALLY HARD.
Taking care of someone with autism can be challenging. In other words, you're right, it's very hard. Hopefully the information in this post saves the small part of a parent's sanity spent on nutrition. Spread the good news, that something as basic as daily nutrients can make huge improvements in the quality of life for an amazing population of people.
Did you know that some of Well Labs profits have provided music therapy for children with autism? Find out more about our mission here
, and how you can get health and give back!