Autism Spectrum: What Foods Improve?


PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — In the 1970’s, one in 1,000 kids was diagnosed with autism. That rate has jumped to one in 59 children. So many stories about autism behaviors focus on why the disorder is so much more common today versus a generation ago … and not what can help. There aren’t many, but some research studies are looking at what, if any, foods can help young people on the autism spectrum.

Sean McMonagle’s parents understand what behaviors avoid anxiety and meltdowns with their autistic son.

“He goes in the pool every day, he loves to ride his bike and swim. He’s not super into sports or anything,” said Joe McMonagle, dad.

Now they’re looking into what foods may help.

Wendy Ross, MD, FAAP, Director, Center for Autism & Neurodiversity, Jefferson Health shared, “A lot of kids on the spectrum do have restrictive diets. they have certain preferred foods.”

Sean loves drive-through.

Sean stated, “I do like the fast food, I like the chicken fingers, French fries, cokes, and my favorite chocolate milkshakes.”

“A lot of times these restrictive diets can limit their nutrition, which is a problem. Some individuals have tried diets that are gluten-free or that have a special supplement in them,” Dr. Ross continued.

When some patients with digestive issues start eating healthier foods, changes emerge.

“There’s not a lot of actual data to support that. In those families that have restricted diets, sometimes they do see changes,” explained Dr. Ross.

What can you do diet-wise for autistic and spectrum kids? Fortify their nutrition with fruits and vegetables … stick to whole, unprocessed food, and whenever you can, try new foods.

“Guess what? For thanksgiving, I tried pumpkin pie,” smiled Sean.

The proof may be in the pudding … or the pie.

Although there is no definitive study, doctors continue to research the gut-autism connection.

Contributors to this news report include: Donna Parker, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.


REPORT #2723

BACKGROUND: Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum condition” that affects people differently and to varying degrees. Early diagnosis helps a person receive the support and services that they need, which can lead to an improved quality of life. In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its ADDM autism prevalence report that concluded the prevalence of autism had risen to 1 in every 59. This is twice as great as the 2004 rate of 1 in 125. Reports have consistently noted that more white children are identified with ASD than black or Hispanic children. And currently, boys are approximately 4.5 times more likely to have an autism diagnosis than girls of the same age. However, recent research suggests that girls may not show autism in the same way as boys and might go undiagnosed because of that.


AUTISM AND DIET: Many parents find their child’s sensitivity to tastes, colors, smells and textures the biggest hurdles to a balanced diet. One of the easiest ways to approach this is to tackle them outside of the kitchen. Have your child visit the supermarket with you to choose a new food. When you get home, research it together on the internet to learn about where it grows. Then, decide together how to prepare it. Making meals as predictable and routine as possible and serving meals at the same time every day is one of the simplest ways to reduce stress. A gluten or casein-free diet has been known to improve symptoms of ASD. Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Casein is a protein found in milk. Proponents of the diet believe people with autism have a “leaky gut,” or intestine, which allows parts of gluten and casein to seep into the bloodstream and affect the brain and central nervous system. While some studies indicate these diets may be effective for certain children, controlled scientific studies have not proven this to be true so more research is needed. Some children have constipation that is secondary to restrictive diets or a diet of processed foods, combined with sensory issues. Fruits and vegetables can decrease constipation and improve overall nutrition.


NEW RESEARCH SHEDS LIGHT: A study from the University of Central Florida makes the case for the emerging connection of autism and the human microbiome. High levels of Propionic Acid (PPA), which is used in processed foods to extend shelf life and inhibit the growth of mold, appears to reduce neuronal development in fetal brains. This study implicates the mother’s diet in the onset of autism in the developing fetus. Such a finding could have important consequences for prenatal care moving forward. The research team notes that thousands of genes are associated with ASD. While there is no singular likely culprit, they believe it is an interplay between genetic and environmental forces, they focused on maternal immune system abnormalities. One researcher homed in on PPA and observed high levels of this carboxylic acid in stool samples of children with autism. Excessive PPA reduces the number of neurons in the brain while simultaneously overproducing glial cells, resulting in inflammation, a marker of autism. PPA might not be the cause of autism, and this research requires follow-up studies, but still, it’s pointing to one potentially important marker.


* For More Information, Contact:

Wendy J Ross, MD, FAAP                                                     Edyta Zielinska                                           / (215) 955-7359

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