We’ve been talking a lot lately about the impact of diet on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), even though they are typically considered a neurological condition. Many people with an ASD experience chronic digestive symptoms that, when treated often results in the alleviation of behavioral and neurological symptoms. But we talk so much about gluten-free diets, casein-free diets, low-carb diets, probiotics, and leaky gut syndrome separately from each other that it gets really confusing. Do these approaches contradict each other? Is one better than the others? What does it all mean?
We’ll start with leaky gut. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that children with ASD are three times more likely to suffer from leaky gut syndrome, inflammation in the digestive tract that is characterized by chronic diarrhea or constipation. People with leaky gut syndrome are said to have increased intestinal permeability, which means the lining of their digestive tract allow things to be absorbed that shouldn’t, including gluten, bad bacteria, undigested food particles, even toxic waste. A strong indication of leaky gut is multiple food sensitivities. Partially digested proteins (like gluten) and fats are absorbed into the blood stream, causing an allergic reaction aka inflammation. This allergy won’t cause sneezing, but bloating, fatigue, joint pain, headaches, skin issues, weight gain, or digestive issues and can develop into inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, eczema, psoriasis, depression, anxiety, migraines, muscle pain, and chronic fatigue.
Leaky gut also affects the brain. Proteins like gluten and casein can act similarly to an opioid drug on the brain when absorbed and recirculated by the bloodstream. This is why autistic people respond so well to gluten-free, casein-free, and low-carb diets. All of these approaches minimize the proteins and food allergens that are most likely to wreak havoc when absorbed inappropriately by a leaky gut.
So where do probiotics come in? One of the main causes of leaky gut syndrome, in addition to poor diet, chronic stress, and toxin overload, is bacterial imbalance. Many of us are born with an imbalance of good and bad gut bacteria inherited from our mothers, or develop them through an overuse of antibiotics, sensitivity to chlorinated or fluoridated drinking water, or a lack of probiotics rich foods in our diets. Research from Arizona State University revealed that children with autism tend to have significantly greater risk for imbalanced bacteria levels, which can cause leaky gut, which causes inflammation, which triggers an autoimmune response. So, probiotics taken in supplement form and in foods like yogurt and kefir rebalance digestive bacteria and help the leaky gut that makes gluten and casein a problem in the first place.
So, while we often talk about these different nutritional approaches separately, they are related and should be integrated for maximum effect. It’s a good idea to be tested for food allergies and eliminate them immediately from your or your children’s diet. If you suspect leaky gut syndrome, you can find many different diet protocols to set you on your way to a healthy gut, which may someday process proteins like gluten and casein without adverse reaction. Add foods rich in probiotics to your or your child’s diet like yogurt and kefir. Other foods thought to help heal the gut include bone broth, fermented vegetables, coconut (in every form), and sprouted seeds.