By Dr. Jen Newell, ND
Today, April 2 is recognized as World Autism Awareness Day and to show their support and raise awareness iconic landmarks around the world will be illuminated in a blue light (Autism Speaks Light It Up Blue campaign).
1 in 200 Canadian children is affected by autism and autism spectrum disorders, making it the most prevalent childhood neurological disorder in the country. There has been a 600% increase in prevalence in the last 10 years and there is no established explanation for this increase, though improved diagnosis and environmental influences are considered as likely contributors.
Autism appears to be rooted in very early brain development with the most obvious signs and symptoms emerging between 2 and 3 years of age. Autism spectrum disorders are associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention, and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances.
Signs and Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders:
- Social challenges
- Failure to respond to their name
- Reduced interest in people
- Difficulty playing social games and establishing friendships with peers
- Failure to imitate actions of others
- Preference to play alone
- Failure to seek comfort or respond to parents’ displays of anger or affection in typically expected ways and lack of empathy
- Verbal and nonverbal communication
- Lack of eye contact and problems developing nonverbal communication skills
- Delay in or lack of learning to talk
- Difficulties taking steps to initiate a conversation and to continue conversations
- Repetitive use of language (ie. repeating a phrase over and over)
- Failure to understand implied meanings
- Limited interests in activities
- Unusual focus on a single part of a toy (eg. wheels on cars)
- Preoccupation with certain topics
- Need for a routine to be maintained
- Repetitive stimulating behaviours (eg. body rocking, hand flapping)
Early intervention is critical to gain maximum benefit from existing therapies. Naturopathic care offers comprehensive treatment addressing the central nervous system, the digestive system and the immune system; these three systems of the body are the most frequently compromised in autism and autism spectrum disorders.
1. Rebalance the nervous system
Specific supplements or drainage protocols can restore homeostasis to the disrupted system and allow brain development to progress through appropriate stages. Certain products may also be chosen to reduce the oversensitivity to stimuli and to calm the brain’s reactivity.
In practice, I have found a personalized protocol including homeopathics, UNDAs and other drainage products have resulted in significant results. Additionally, I have found working with a skilled Osteopathic manual practitioner to optimize potential for healing and promoting development has resulted with profound improvements.
2. Evaluate the diet and improve gastrointestinal health
Gluten and casein-free diets are often recommended in the treatment of autism. This is because molecules found in these two types of food increases the leakiness of the cells lining the gut. Protein molecules can then pass through the gut lining, initiating an inappropriate immune system response 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 response and provide brain-nourishing foods.
With regards to healing the gut and improving gastrointestinal health the goal is to reestablish normal gut flora colonization, address permeability of the gut lining and reduce inflammation in the system. While healing the gastrointestinal tract, it is also critical to address any underlying nutrient deficiencies such as zinc, vitamin D, B vitamins, essential fatty acids and iron.
3. Modulate and regulate the immune response
There is an ever-increasing body of evidence that at least some forms of autism are associated with chronic inflammation and immune system imbalance. Inflammatory markers (cytokines) have been found to be higher in those with autism than in those that do not have the disorder
Ashwood P, Krakowiak P, Hertz-Picciotto I, et al. Elevated plasma cytokines in autism spectrum disorders provide evidence of immune dysfunction and are associated with impaired behavioral outcome. Brain, Behavior, and Immunology. 2011;25(1):40-5.
Dr. Jen Newell is passionate about helping people embrace health, feel amazing and easily incorporate “real” food into their busy lives. Her mission is to make health accessible and achievable, and to inspire patients to live an active, vibrant and healthy life.
Jen has a clinical focus on digestive health, food sensitivities and healthy nutrition; mental health and stress-related illness; women’s health, hormone balance and fertility; optimal aging; and dermatology. She focuses on integrating healthy foods into one’s diet in a medicinal and therapeutic capacity and providing individuals with nutritional support that is easy to incorporate into a busy day. Dr. Newell practices at the Integrative Health Institute in Downtown Toronto.
main image via Wikimedia