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Functional Medicine and Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental disorder that begins early in childhood. It is more common among boys (1 in 42) than in girls (1 in 189) with an average prevalence of about 1-2.6% worldwide. It affects how a person interacts and communicates with others, and it is considered a “spectrum” because the symptoms can range from mild (poor eye contact, difficulty vocalizing feelings and emotions) to more severe (nonverbal and unable to follow instructions).

Autism may have repetitive or rigid behaviors, poor or no social interactions, inability to build or maintain a relationship, savant -like behaviors and unusual interests.

In more severe cases I have witnessed delayed speech and language, rudimentary communications such as gestures of waving, clapping, or pointing, or not eve responding when someone calls their name. Many times, the children have unusual ways of moving the hands, fingers, or whole body. Some are extremely focused or attached to unusual objects (one child slept with copper wiring in large spools) while others have unusual sensory interests or rituals such as repeating things over and over or lining up objects.

If you take a functional medical approach to this there is a focus on the whole system and how each or all component parts may be affecting the way the brain is behaving. Diet is the foundational piece in the functional medical approach to most conditions and this is no exception.

Increasing fiber and vegetable intake while no dairy, gluten, sugar is an essential start. Processed foods, food dyes, aspartame, pseudo-sugars, or high fructose sugars and highly preserved foods in the American diets can behave as neuroexcitotoxins. These excitotoxins are exactly that, toxic! Just watch how chocolate can excite a child immediately!

Finding or testing for food allergens may help cater the diet for a more personalized approach to the diet. If a food is allergenic it also is toxic to the brain and needs to be eliminated. Some Paleo or ketogenic diets may have all the right component parts, but really need to be evaluated by a trained functional physician. Patients should receive thorough nutrient, vitamin, and fatty acid testing multivitamin and replace any deficient nutrients like iron, B vitamins, and Vitamin D.

The exciting newer research indicates that gut health is at the epicenter of the affected autistic child in that they have significantly altered gut microbiomes (bacteria and their metabolites). Some patients have such severe symptoms that they experience incontinence or chronic loose stools. Most have food sensitivities or allergies to multiple foods. In fact, gut health is so important that fecal transplanting is showing much improvement in these children. There are many ways to look at the gut with today’s sophisticated stool testing, so please ask for it. There is a definite connection between the gut and the brain, so controlling gut inflammation is also key to treatment of brain inflammation. A gut on fire is a brain on fire.

Genes for inflammatory responses are turned on at higher levels in these patients, particularly disorders of methylation. Checking the MTHFR mutation may change the approach to vitamin supplementation but also cause a lot of departments to go faulty in the system, including mitochondria. Thus far we believe that MTHFR C677T mutation is common amongst these children.

Chronic infections like HSV, yeast, and mold, as well as heavy metal exposure, could be potential triggers. There are some great pediatric neurologists that will work with anti-viral therapy and check titers and levels in these autistic children and have great success. Having an inadequate detoxification pathway also may be responsible for the autistic phenomenon. Having a heavy toxic burden needs an intact detoxification system. The liver may need to be supported well if heavy metals need to be treated.

Patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often also have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) and tend to have anger outbursts as well as hyperactivity. They suffer from sensory processing problems, which leave them in constant states of stress and elevated cortisol, manifested by “stimming,” or self-stimulating behavior of repetitive physical movements or sounds. Checking neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and glutamate, norepinephrine and epinephrine, and hormones like cortisol, we can identify which ones will benefit from a low glutamate diet, as well as supplements that support neurotransmitters like L-theanine, GABA, 5 HTP, and tyrosine. Pregnant women also need normal vitamin D levels for the conversion of l-tryptophan into serotonin. Those with lower vitamin D levels while pregnant have higher rates of autistic children.

Our good friend CBD oil is also helpful for anxiety, sleep, and outbursts.

Vaccines and vaccine injury are on the table for autistic children. Not all vaccines are created equally and not all vaccine companies have safety studies. We are typically talking about the multi-dose, highly preserved, non-live vaccines as potentially creating that said “toxicity” in the extremely sensitive at-risk autistic child. It is awfully hard to dispute Moms who have noticed a distinct cause and effect of their child pre and post vaccine. But that is for another discussion.

There is also an energetic and metaphysical side to the very “tuned in” autistic person. First off Martha Herbert MD PhD at Yale reviewed research studies indicate that wireless and electromagnetic fields alter brain function and affect the nervous system. Research links these exposures to altered sleep, damaged mitochondria, increased oxidative stress, cellular damage, genotoxicity, and blood brain barrier permeability. When our bodies have increased stress at the chemical, immune and electrical levels, our brain health is compromised. Children are more vulnerable as their brains are still developing so the neurological effects will be greater. Teachers of these children have figured out that sounds must be quieter, and lights can be distracting and painful.

This is an exact excerpt from frequency and sound healing research center they observe the following:

The auditory world is not matching up with the visual world. Therefore, systems that use both synchronized light and sound can be effective.

Oversensitive nervous system. It is important to monitor the level of stimulation very closely.

It is important to get them express and explore on their own. Often social anxiety can impede the process. Therefore, we will be playing sound healing music in the background and sound mats will be placed on the floor for them to explore if they like.

Autism is caused by tunnel-vision on one frequency. One hypothesis is that that autism is caused by tunnel vision on one frequency and that by exposing the individual to a full range of the frequency spectrum can “open up” the person to wholeness. Our music provides a good balance of all frequencies. “The Listening Program” rolls off the low frequencies in Classical Music until only the high frequencies are left, then slowly brings back in the full range of frequencies. This program has proven to be quite effective.

If there ever is a condition that needs the integrative and functional approach, it is autism spectrum disorder. Please do your children a favor and investigate everything!!!!