The Gut-Brain Connection in Autism—It’s Real
For years, people have been speculating as to why as many as 9 in 10 people with autism have gut issues. Exciting new research from 2019 has confirmed the gut-brain link in autism. The study, which appeared in the journal Autism Research, found that the same gene mutation that disrupts neuron communication in the brain also contributes to gut dysfunction.
This new research opens up the possibilities for future treatments targeting the gut to improve the quality of life for people with autism, a condition also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is characterized by developmental delays, learning disabilities, abnormal social and communication skills, and other behavioral issues.
5 Steps to Better Gut Health
In the meantime, here are 5 ways to promote better gut health that have already been linked to an improvement in autism symptoms.
1. Go gluten-free.
Research shows that people with autism are more sensitive to gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, barley, and other grains that can also be found in everyday food items like ketchup, salad dressing, and soy sauce. Gluten is known to disrupt the balance of gut bacteria and contributes to inflammation and an increased risk of leaky gut. This also leads to the malabsorption of nutrients and interferes with the synthesis of neurotransmitters, which can raise the risk of issues like anxiety, mood problems, and mental difficulties. Some parents who have eliminated gluten from their autistic child’s diet have noticed improvements in behavior and communication symptoms.
2. Skip the dairy.
Remember this old ad: “Milk: It does a body good”? The truth is milk does NOT do an autistic body (or brain) good! Milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, and other dairy foods contain a protein known as casein. As dairy foods are digested, casein contributes to the release of substances called exorphins that bind to the brain’s opiate receptors. The result? Brain fog, problems concentrating, and a spacy feeling. Eliminating dairy from the diet has decreased hyperactivity and increased communication in some people with autism.
3. Ditch all food dyes and artificial additives.
Nacho Cheese Doritos, M&M’s, Powerade Orange—these “food-like” products all have something in common. They all contain red dye #40, which has been linked to hyperactivity, nervousness, trouble concentrating, and more. A growing body of evidence has found that other food additives can alter gut bacteria and are linked to mood problems, behavioral issues, and other neuropsychological issues. Getting them out of the diet is important for anyone with autism.
4. Shake the sugar habit.
Consuming simple carbohydrates—think cookies, pretzels, and pasta—can reduce the levels of good bacteria in the gut. Imbalances in gut bacteria have been linked to inflammation as well as mood problems, impulsivity, and other issues. Sugar also raises the risk for the erratic firing of neurons. Avoiding sugar is critical for people with ASD.
5. Prime the gut with probiotics and prebiotics.
Probiotic and prebiotic foods and supplements help with restore the balance of healthy gut bacteria. Probiotic-rich foods include fermented foods that contain live bacteria, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, unsweetened yogurt, kefir, kombucha tea, and miso soup. Prebiotics support and promote the growth of probiotics. Look for products that contain both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains.
At Amen Clinics, we have seen over 1,000 patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder and have discovered that autism is not just one thing. There are 8-10 different factors that influence abnormal brain function. We utilize brain imaging technology called SPECT to help identify brain patterns, which can be either dramatically overactive or underactive in people with ASD. With this information, we can more effectively personalize treatment, including nutritional coaching, to help decrease symptoms of autism. If you would like help finding integrative solutions for autism, call 888-288-9834 today to speak to a specialist or schedule a visit online.