Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Diet and Autism, the GFCF Cult

The photos above show the corn, soybean, and wheat fields located between Marr's Elementary School and the smokestacks belonging to Vectren Energy's Brown Power Station located on the west side of Evansville, Indiana. These photos were taken in July 2008.
Today's post:

This post addresses some questions people have been asking about the Gluten-Free/Casein-Free Diet and why it is so important in recovering kids diagnosed with Autism. By the way, all of this information also applies to ADHD, ADD, Asperger's Syndrome, and other forms of Pervasive Developmental Disabilities Diagnoses.

When Jenny McArthy first came out publicly with her son’s story, she took a huge personal risk, braving all sorts of criticism from mainstream medicine and groups who believe that by improving a child’s state of wellness, we are somehow saying that we do not accept our children’s individuality. While I applaud Ms. McCarthy’s willingness to make herself a target for all kinds of backlash, one concern I have is the extreme emphasis on GFCF (Gluten-Free, Casein-Free), or for that matter SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet), LOD (Low Oxylate Diet), etc., as THE DOCTRINE everyone must follow. It's not that simple. If you start removing things because of sensitivities, without also focusing on improving digestion, clearing constipation, and healing the lining of the intestinal tract, eventually you end up with an even more limited list of foods because the child will keep developing new sensitivities.

DAN! has been hesitant (in my opinion) to recommend the use of digestive enzymes, which seems to be because they do not want people to use the enzymes as a "lazy" alternative to cleaning up the diet. Cleaning up the diet is a very important thing to do - by getting rid of artificial dyes, artificial preservatives, white flour and sugar, artificial sweeteners, fermented foods, yeasty foods, and basically eliminating things your child is obviously addicted to (this often means wheat and cow's milk), allergic or highly sensitive to (frequently, soy, corn, & eggs).

Personally, as a resident of the Midwest who drives by multiple corn, soy, and wheat fields, as well as coal-burning power plants on a daily basis, I have strong suspicions that the extremely frequent "food allergies" and "food sensitivities" to these five foods in particular, may have more to do with where they are grown and the environmental toxins, than with the food itself. Our food is being grown in soil that is polluted with heavy metals. The corn being grown in this region is fed to the cows and chickens from which our milk and eggs are derived.

Back to today's question and why Dietary Interventions are so important:

Many children with autism self-limit their diets to the point where the only foods they will accept are wheat and dairy-based. The problem is that with a leaky gut - caused by candida overgrowth - among other things, gluten and dairy are not broken down effectively and they are misidentified by the body as opiates. In combination with the alcohol produced by the yeast, you get a kid who is mixing drugs and alcohol and no wonder they're spaced out! And no wonder they have such high pain tolerance. Opiates are what we give to adults after back surgery!

The GFCF diet works so well because it removes the sources of opiates. This is why you may initially see an increase in negative behavior and hyperactivity when removing wheat and dairy from the diet. They are going through withdrawal - aka "cleansing." This is also why the diet is so difficult to stick to because like all addicts, when the kid is not closely supervised, he or she is going to "drug-seek." Lock your cabinets and put a chain on the freezer door!

Many children, especially those who are further to the right on the continuum between autism and ADHD, will benefit significantly from the addition of digestive enzymes, which help to break down particular offending proteins (in most cases, gluten & casein). Others, who are facing more significant challenges, will need to be completely free of dietary sources of gluten and casein. For some, even a minute amount can be problematic and the negative effects can last for several weeks after a single dietary infraction. The only way to know where a child falls on the continuum is through thorough examination of the developmental history and by gathering objective data through laboratory testing.

Many older children, and especially those who are high-functioning, make the connection between how good they feel when they abstain from problematic foods and take digestive enzymes, versus how bad they feel when they don't. As a result, they are much more likely (at least in my house) to be the ones to say, "Mom, I need an enzyme!" Does that make me lazy? Okay. It also helps to keep me - and my kids - closer to the "sane" area on the continuum.

BALANCE is the key! Not rabid adherence to any particular diet just because that's what worked for someone else's child. In most children I have seen, once yeast is eradicated and constipation and/or diarrhea are under control, you can often re-introduce foods, especially if you are supplementing with enzymes to break them down. My kids have been taking enzymes with every meal and snack for the last few years, along with probiotics, CLO, and full-spectrum vitamin/mineral/amino acid supplements. As a result, they CAN eat cake and ice cream at parties. The only time we really have problems with dietary infractions is if we run out of enzymes! Then there was the time my husband bought a package of those frozen "cherry" slushy things - even enzymes couldn't handle that one. He has learned his lesson about red dye, believe me!

Being a mom (or dad) of a sick kid makes you nuts. Accept it and roll with it. You don't have to necessarily join the GFCF or SCD cult in order to be successful at motherhood (parenthood) - even if your kid happens to have autism. The best dietary advice (in my opinion and experience) is to stick to the outer aisles of the grocery store. Shun anything in a cardboard box. You may as well feed them the box; it has more nutrition and fewer preservatives and neurotoxins. Avoid cans as much as possible. Read labels. The more ingredients something has in it, the less you want it. If you can't pronounce it your body probably can't recognize it and won't know what to do with it. When your body can't figure out what to do with it, valuable energy is wasted trying to get rid of it and it gets lumped in with all the other toxins in the heap.

When you have a child with autism, "Diet" is about controlling that which is possible for us to control. "Perfection" and "Diet" only belong in the same sentence when you're talking about anorexia and bulimia. We're all too obsessive-compulsive already. Where do you think our kids got it from?
If your child does not respond to the more general dietary interventions, then you probably need to consider formal laboratory testing for food allergies (IgG – not IgE) and enlist the help of medical professionals to eliminate problematic foods while ensuring your child receives the proper nutritional supplementation for optimal wellness.

In the meantime, give yourself a break as a parent. Congratulate yourself for being proactive regarding your child’s healthcare! To celebrate, have a piece of fruit - just be sure to peel it if it's not organic.

Marci Terry

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