Top Five Things You Can Do Right Now
If it isn’t overwhelming enough to juggle the impact of a new diagnosis, special therapies, school meetings, doctors appointments and more, now you might be wondering: Do I really have to do this special diet thing? Where do I start? Here are facts you need, plus the top five things you can do nutritionally, to support your child:
1 – Replenish missing vitamins and minerals for picky eaters with the right high potency supplement
2 – Restore fats and oils essential for brain and nerve processing. Buy a good fish oil, flax oil, chia seeds, and/or flax oil supplements; add ample servings of organic eggs, nuts, seeds, and grass fed meats
3 – Yank all processed food. Period. Ditch everything with corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, colorings, flavorings, added sugars, dyes, and genetically modified foods. Replace with whole foods, real food, and home cooked food as much as possible.
4 – Try elimination diets, starting with gluten, casein, and soy free diet. Stick with it for at least four months, preferably six.
5 – Add high potency probiotics
Facts to know before you start: 1 – Nutrition deficits can cause lifelong impairment in learning, IQ, and development. More than half of children with special needs including autism may have nutrition problems big enough hinder them. Regardless of other therapies, do everything you can to optimize your child’s brain and body for growth and learning, with good nutrition. Without this, the brain functions below potential, and your child may not get the full benefit of other therapies. The earlier children receive optimized nutrition, the better, but you can begin at any age. Note: Good nutrition happens with the right foods and supplements going in, and healthy eliminations going out! If your child can’t comfortably pass stool daily, needs reflux medicine, or relies on medications for constipation, then you have work to do to optimize nutrition.
2 – In the US, physicians get little to no meaningful training in nutrition. They are not trained to apply diets and nutrition as therapies, much less for children with developmental disabilities or autism. So to get started, be sure you also talk to families who have succeeded with nutrition and special diets for their children with autism. My practice has specialized in this since 1999. For more resources, see TACANow.org.
3 – Nutrition and diets treat the nutrition and gastrointestinal problems children with autism often have, not the autism itself. A “side effect” of these treatments is that the brain and body function better. This would be true for any child with a nutrition deficit or gut disease. Get your child assessed by a knowledgeable physician or licensed nutrition professional for these problems. For in-depth strategies on how to do that, see my book Special Needs Kids Eat Right.
Fresh and local gluten free pasta at Boulder’s Farmers’ Market
So You Want To Try “The Diet” Guess what? There is no “diet for autism”. There are several nutrition approaches, including various diet strategies, supplement procotols, and gut health tools. Which one is right for your child? Though each child may have different nutrition priorities, there are many common nutrition findings for kids with autism spectrum diagnoses. So, it’s reasonable to start with these tips below, to replenish your child toward better health and functioning. For detail on how to thoroughly launch a successful intervention, see Special Needs Kids Eat Right: Strategies To Help Kids On The Autism Spectrum Focus, Learn, and Thrive.
If you don’t see progress, don’t give up – this likely means your child’s biggest nutrition problems remain undiscovered, not untreatable. Get help from others who have succeeded, talk to knowledgeable professionals, and check for meetups and support groups in your area.
1 – I’ve reviewed hundreds of food intakes of kids on the autism spectrum, so I can vouch for their legendary picky eater status. Their diets tend to be weak for minerals – so, mineralize! Put back missing vitamins too. These are critical co-factors for learning, mood, sleep, and energy. Give your child a high potency multivitamin and mineral supplement daily. Pick the format best for your child: Chewable, liquid, capsule, or powder. Then get started. Multi’s built for this task may not be on store shelves, such as these examples, available from health care providers or on the web: ProThera VitaTab, Klaire Labs VitaSpectrum, or Kirkman Labs TheraResponse. Each of these delivers high potency minerals with full dose or higher for B group vitamins, another notable helper for kids with autism. Caveat: Don’t give more than indicated for your child’s weight, and use these in the morning or early afternoon, not in the evening. If your child uses medications, check with your pharmacist or doctor on when to take a new supplement: Some drugs impede nutrient absorption, and vice versa. Browse these products right now from the Nutrition Care For Children virtual dispensary that I set up for my own patients. Enter with access code MyNCFC and password 80303 (my office zip code). Follow the prompts from here to set up your own account, if you want to purchase.
2 – Kids eating mostly processed starchy foods get nearly no healthy fats and oils, which are essential for the human brain to grow and function. If possible, add nuts, nut butters, seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, flax), meats, eggs, or olive oil, and give your child an omega 3 fatty acid supplement daily. Use about 1000mg to 3000mg of mixed “DHA” (docohexaenoic acid) and “EPA” (eicosapentanoic acid). Choose a high quality brand carefully screened for mercury and potency, such as Pharmax, Spectrum Essentials, Nordic Naturals, or Barlean’s. Barlean’s makes a product even picky children like called “Omega Swirl” which is good on pancakes, muffins, cupcakes, or just off the spoon. Caveat: Children on medications for bipolar disorder should check with their prescribers first to review safe dosing of EPA omega 3 fatty acid. These products can also be browsed in the dispensary.
3 – Ditch processed food, sugar-added food, and junky drinks, punch, soda, and flavored waters with artificial ingredients. Period. It may sound impossible, but it isn’t. Roll up your sleeves and commit to your child’s better health and functioning. Artificial ingredients like colorings, dyes, fake sweeteners, corn syrup, genetically modified foods, and flavorings have been linked to ADHD, behavior challenges, and even organ damage. High fructose corn syrup has been found to contain mercury, leftover from its processing. Map a plan that you can live with to replace all those convenient snack foods and frozen items, and switch in real whole foods – organic if you can afford it. Take on as much as you can – even a few more servings of real, wholesome food over processed empty food will begin to help your child each week. Even if you can only manage removing all foods and drinks with high fructose corn syrup, it’s worth the effort.
4 – Ready for more? Trial an elimination diet, by eradicating all dairy protein (casein, whey), all gluten (wheat, rye, some oats, barely, and many flavorings, seasonings, condiments), and all soy. Start here for help on how. Starting with gluten makes sense simply because there are so many gluten free versions of food now available, from pasta and bread to pie crusts and pretzels. Then work on the milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream – any and all sources of foods made with cow’s milk or cheese have to go. Substitutes for cheese and milk are a little trickier, but still workable (Note: Do not switch in soy milk or soy yogurt!). These foods cost more, but you may be saving money in the long run because of your child’s improved health and functioning. Give this trial at least 4 months, no cheating. See my book Special Needs Kids Eat Right for more on why soy can cause your intervention to fail, the rationale for elimination diets, and how to implement them successfully.
5 – Gut it – That is, get your child’s gut functioning optimally. If your child is dependent on medications for constipation and reflux, then it’s time to clean house – this means nutrients are not absorbed to potential. Talk with your doctor about how to wean off of those nutrient-robbing medications. If no alternatives are offered, see Special Needs Kids Go Pharm Free for strategies to help your child have normal bowel function without prescription medications that interfere with nutrition. A simple start: Give a chewable high potency probiotic daily like Klaire Labs Prodegin (also in the dispensary), daily for 2-3 months. If no progress and those medications are still needed, consider talking to a naturopathic doctor (ND) for more ideas.
This is only the beginning. Your child’s birthright of strong nutrition will help replenish him to his potential, autism or no. Dive in, reach out for help and support, and stick with it.
Anne Dachel, Age of Autism
Anne Dachel is a contributing editor for Age of Autism and parent of a child affected by autism. I’m grateful for her daily news alerts on all things autism and her tireless effort to advocate for autism awareness. When I sent her a copy of Special Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free, she wrote back “..my copy is now in tatters, having been carried with me in my purse everywhere I went so whenever I got a spare moment, I could read it.” Here are her questions for me about the book.
Your book gives dire statistics right at the beginning about the state of the health of American children. What has happened to children in this country during the last 25 years? Two major changes happened in the 1990s in the US, making American children born since then extremely vulnerable: One, the FDA permitted, with no safety review, the introduction of genetically modified (GMO) foods – including soy and corn, which both go into infant formulas and most processed foods. Two, we upped the vaccine schedule dramatically for infants and children. Both have shown potential to injure the human immune system, brain, gut or other organs‘ development and function, from birth onward. We’re just beginning to understand how detrimental this is for triggering asthma, allergies, inflammation, seizure disorders, autism, or gut/brain injuries that may mean poor outcomes like Crohn’s disease, eosinophilic esophagitis, learning disabilities and conduct disorders – all of which have risen dramatically in children since 1990.
Synergistic effects of GMO foods in pregnancy, in utero, in infancy – plus all the vaccines now recommended – are entirely unknown. For example: The gene inserted into GMO soy makes soy produce its own insecticide. It was found in gut bacteria of human volunteers eating GMO soy – meaning, the gene transcribed to the bacteria in the gut, and “taught” the volunteers’ gut bacteria to make insecticide. I believe this may be why some children with autism and GI problems are so treatment resistant, when it comes to correcting their bowel microflora. Do they have genes operating in there that make antibiotics and probiotics less effective? Nobody knows.
GMO crops are banned in most European countries. The approach there in the ’90s was that no data existed to show these foods were safe, so it was an unacceptable risk. The US approach was the opposite:The FDA said there no proof this is unsafe, so they allowed these highly profitable crops into the food supply. These can trigger allergies more often than their naturally occuring counterparts; other findings of detrimental effects on animals eating GMO feed crops are very disconcerting, from increased miscarriages and organ failures to death. Consumers are just beginning to understand this issue. Eating food that’s genetically modified to produce its own pesticide is something we wouldn’t want to do if given the choice, but Americans were not given the choice. Interestingly, the UK is also a GMO friendly nation, and has an even a higher rate of autism than the US.
Why aren’t doctors expressing alarm over what they’re seeing? Doctors are at a disadvantage for two reasons. One, they don’t study nutrition to a meaningful degree, and have a limited exposure to it. They are inundated with pharmaceutical information during their education and in practice, at the expense of valid information about nutrition or special diets. So, they don’t know how to assess kids for nutrition problems beyond the most obvious, and they don’t know how to provide nutrition care. This leaves children unscreened and untreated; doctors may not even know there is potential for treatment here.
Two, they have no accountability for the injuries that may be caused by vaccines, due to the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program set up in the 1980s and the recent Supreme Court ruling that vaccines are “unavoidably unsafe”. Doctors have zero liability and zero accountability for vaccine injuries. If a child is injured by a vaccine, the doctor never gets sued; they suffer no penalty whatsoever. If a nurse goofs and gives a baby the wrong vaccine at the wrong time, and an injury occurs, there is no recourse at all other than to file a government claim and wait. My own family waited nine years for my son’s case to reach the docket, only to have it thrown out. I think this – along with how lucrative it is to vaccinate children in a pediatric practice – has kept doctors easy for industry to manipulate. This also leaves physicians free of any accountability to treatments for the injured – if they are brainwashed that these injuries aren’t happening, then there is nothing to treat. This leaves families scurrying for help elsewhere.
Your book is about nutritional needs… What’s wrong with what we’re feeding out children? Lots can go wrong with how we feed our kids, even with all our best intentions. But the book is not about what parents are doing wrong, or even what is wrong with food. It’s about strategies that restore a child’s normal appetite, normal curiosity for a variety of foods that are healthful, normal bowel habits, and specific tools to replenish and support brain function with food and nutrients, instead of drugs, where ever possible.
Aren’t agencies like the Food and Drug Administration supposed to be making sure all our food is good for us? What do you mean when you say the FDA is “overwhelmed”? The FDA’s focus has historically been about bacterial contaminants in food, not chemical toxins. There is less of a focus on agricultural chemicals, dyes, preservatives, additives, heavy metals, toxins, or colorings in food. There is no focus at all for monitoring the healthfulness of food, and certainly none at all for monitoring what GMO food does to human beings – the FDA has made it clear it doesn’t care about this with recent industry-friendly steps. It’s an overwhelming task to chase whether the food supply is safe, even in the FDA’s simplest terms; when you have beef in a single hamburger coming from dozens of cows raised in different countries, or juice in one carton from oranges in four countries, that’s a lot of processing over many locations to monitor. That’s just two foods. Parents can be a lot more pro-active than waiting to hear what’s okay to eat from the FDA. Buy organic foods if you can afford them; support your local farmer’s market it you have one; or even grow a few things yourself. This year I am working with an outfit called PersonalFamilyFamers.com to help us grow more of our own food this year.
What are sources we can trust for information on safe and beneficial foods and supplements? The organic label is one help. It’s not perfect, but hopefully your grocer is honest and sourcing with integrity. I encourage buying organic, and that includes meat and eggs as well as produce. Organic foods are non-GMO foods at least in intent; pollen from GMO crops can drift into organic crops, but there is no knowing for sure right now if this is happening. Knowing your growers and grocers is another step, and this is catching on more and more around the US. Use this map to find what’s in your area in this regard. As for supplements, Special Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free devotes a chapter to picking reputable supplements. These can be just as fraught with contaminants, unwanted metals or chemicals, and toxins as food can be.
What do you consider that most critical changes that need to be made? The biggest need I see is waking up the medical community on this. I would love to train pediatricians on the role of nutrition in conditions like adhd, autism, learning disabilities, conduct disorders, and depression/anxiety in children, and the potential for helping these children, without prescription drugs. Right now the pediatric community seems to be asleep at the wheel. A generation of children has slipped through their fingers, fallen victim to chronic disabilities and diseases, and they aren’t doing anything about it. I include a chapter in the book on working with other providers, if you’ve become too frustrated with your pediatrician.
How can nutritional changes reduce the need for prescription drugs? Nutrition impacts learning, sleep, cognition, mood, behavior, and development in children. Most kids I encounter are not eating diets that support those in a normal fashion, and/or, they have problems absorbing their diets that no one has ever assessed or treated. You can’t fix nutrition problems with psychotropic medications, reflux meds, inhalers, or steroids…. You have to identify, sort and prioritize the nutrition puzzle pieces. It’s not unusual for parents to tell me after we’ve had a few months with nutrition care process that their child no longer needs a medication, is using less of it, or has found a totally different one that works much better. We remove the confounding of nutrition problems from the whole picture.
How can school lunches be made healthier? The short answer is money. Schools need money to procure healthy whole foods and prepare them on site, rather than buy packaged food prepared elsewhere that is laden with additives, sugar, salt, trans-fats, and GMO ingredients. Boulder Valley School District is extremely lucky to have professional chef and whole foods advocate Anne Cooper – aka “Renegade Lunch Lady” – directing our Nutrition Services. She has made incredible progress in reducing processed and sugary foods in our school lunches, and bringing in as much organic and locally sourced food as the district can afford – which is a big accomplishment in Colorado, a state that is notoriously weak for funding for education. Ann is a strong national advocate for healthy school lunches – rightly so, since ample data illustrate how crucial nutrition is to better student outcomes.
What is “Splash”? This is a medical food made for children with intestinal inflammation, Crohn’s disease, or multiple food protein allergy. The protein source in it is ready to absorb, that is, it is made up of individual amino acids, rather than whole or partial protein molecules that require some digestion. I first used it for children with autism in my practice about 12 years ago. It was clear that in some cases, it made a dramatic difference. I wanted to know if replenishing the brain with the amino acids would help them progress. The formula is not made for this purpose; it is made to avoid allergic reaction, and to help the gut wall heal. But children with autism may not digest proteins very well; besides causing allergy for some of them, I wondered if this could leave their brains bereft of neurotransmitter ingredients, which we get from proteins in our diets. I noticed that kids in my caseload whom I placed on special diets and who added this formula progressed more for language and reduction of autism features than kids who didn’t add the Splash formula. There is great potential here. Caveats too; the formula has some ingredients that I don’t like; but I do think a subset of kids can do well with this tool or a similar approach, no matter what the developmental diagnosis is, if there are certain deficits in their diets or GI function.
Can you describe some examples of improvements you’ve personally witnessed in children that you’ve worked with? First, kudos to these parents, because they were the boots on the ground. I do the work teasing out the problems and crafting the care plans, but the most success happens when the parents roll up their sleeves and work it. I have seen children move far away from an autism diagnosis; from needing an aide to not needing one; from facing a feeding tube and missing school due to physical weakness, to gaining weight and playing, learning, living again. I’ve seen kids leave behind debilitating eczema or asthma symptoms, and reverse poor growth and gain, after being told they were going to be stunted for life and need growth hormone injections. I have witnessed a teen who was suicidal, nearly non-verbal, constantly bullied, and disengaged while on SSRIs turn into a happy, talkative, engaged, and successful youngster without medications – by successful I mean getting a varsity letter on a sports team when engaging in sports prior to nutrition care was out of the question; getting a job; and making frinds.
What do our children need that they’re not getting from doctors? We need our doctors to stop regarding children with diarrhea, constipation, shiners, bloated bellies, chronic illness, frequent infections, anxiety, insomnia, and developmental disabilities as healthy enough. I would like to see doctors recover their curiosity: Why did they become doctors in the first place? Hopefully it was to do more than hand out prescriptions for Prevacid, Adderall, Amoxicillin, Miralax, and Albuterol, after jabbing a young patient with multiple vaccines at once. This isn’t health care; this is drug-pushing. It may be common now, but it isn’t normal for children to live on polypharmacy. And, though I have a masters degree in public health, I do not believe children need all the vaccines they now get. We have forgotten the role of nutrition in infection. It needs to be re-engaged. I do think we are over-vaccinating infants and children, and that it is causing more harm than good in the US at this point. The polypharmacy-and-hypervaccination approach hasn’t helped our kids, who are more chronically ill and disabled than ever before. We can’t slip into this as a New Normal. In fact, in Vaccine Epidemic, that is the dilemma I wrote about in my chapter.
Are your protocols strictly for “special needs” kids? Nope! I tried to convince my publisher to title the book differently to reflect that, but they felt parents weren’t ready to hear that this affects everybody’s kids. I don’t agree. I sense every week how frustrated parents are with what is happening to their children, and how they feel so unheard and unhelped by the medical community. Maybe in my next book!