Supporting Asperger’s and Autism with Diet, Lifestyle Changes, and Supplements

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a spectrum of neurodevelopment disorders of unknown cause. Research suggests that environmental risk factors during the prenatal period could influence a child’s brain development. 

ASD is characterized by social communication and interaction abnormalities and repetitive behavior patterns, interests, or activities. These children become distressed when their surroundings are changed because their adaptive abilities are lower than average. This affects their daily functioning. Children with ASD also often have behavioral, language, motor, play, and intellectual skill disturbances at higher rates than the general population and bowel and bladder control issues. Most children are identified by age two; however, sometimes, there may be a later onset of regression in previously acquired skills. 

ASD is becoming more prevalent and now affects 1 in 44 children. [1-2] That’s 23 of every 1000 people.

Families with children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder face many difficulties. These challenges include financial challenges due to higher financial load, social isolation, strained relationships, and frustration due to the challenges of raising special children. 

Although there is no cure for autism spectrum disorder, early diagnosis and intensive management can help produce favorable outcomes. Management often involves behavioral therapy that trains the person to re-learn self-care, social and language skills, to reduce aggression and repetitive behaviors, with sensory enrichment of their environment. 

However, research suggests that nutrition and lifestyle factors may support autism spectrum disorders (ASD). 

People with ASD often have self-imposed food restrictions due to sensitivity to particular tastes, textures, and smells. Thus, they may not be meeting their daily nutritional requirements worsening their condition. Some eating habits may lead to nutritional deficiencies and others to excesses in specific macro or micronutrients. Furthermore, some research shows that autism could be intensified by toxin buildup in the body. 

A mother’s diet during pregnancy is thought to have a fundamental role in contributing to the expression of autism.

Children with autism are commonly affected by nutrient deficiencies and gastrointestinal disorders, including chronic diarrhea, bloating, constipation, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). These gastrointestinal disturbances are thought to be a symptom of ASD and play an active role in influencing the presentation of social and behavioral symptoms.

Here are some ways to support children with ASD, including Asperger’s Syndrome, with diet, lifestyle changes, and supplements:

1. Improve digestion with probiotics

Numerous studies have shown disturbances in gut microbiome composition in people with ASD. A study was conducted by a team from the Internal Medicine California Institute of Behavioral Neurosciences and Psychology. It focused on diet, nutrition, and exercise in children with autism and autism spectrum disorders. [3] It showed that using probiotics is a promising treatment for children with ASD.

As mentioned, maternal dietary habits may influence cognitive function due to the dietary influence on the child’s microbiome, which may predispose to ASD in genetically susceptible individuals. [4] I recommend supplementing with a broad-spectrum probiotic supplement (10 different probiotic strains), including some bifidobacteria and at least 60 billion colony forming units, four to five times a week. 

2. Supplement with digestive enzymes

Gastrointestinal co-occurring conditions and immune dysfunction are common in children with ASD, with the most reported symptoms including abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation. Because of this, children with ASD have been characterized as having a “fragile gut.” [5] 

A “fragile,” unhealthy, or “leaky gut” can lead to nutrient deficiencies and toxicity. To support healthy digestive function, parents with children diagnosed with ASD may consider supplementing with digestive enzymes, which help break down food and improve the absorption of nutrients. Digestive enzymes also contain gut-healing nutrients. I recommend taking a digestive enzyme supplement three times a week with lunch.

3. Increase antioxidant intake

Many studies worldwide have shown deficits in antioxidant and methylation metabolites that influence gene expression. [6-7]

The antioxidant glutathione and the primary methyl donor S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) are significantly lower in people with ASD, so much so that oxidative stress and methylation metabolite measurements can easily distinguish people with ASD from healthy people with an accuracy of up to 97%.

Glutathione and SAMe are supported by specific nutritional factors (including the sulfur amino acids cysteine and methionine, and the vitamins folate, vitamins B12 and B6); therefore, supplementing with these nutrients is critical for people with ASD.

To do this, I recommend supplementing with SAM, glutathione, and a B-complex three times a week at noon and consuming sufficient sulfur-containing protein-rich foods such as nuts, beans, tofu, and any whole grain like brown rice or quinoa at least once a day. It would also be best to supplement with a B complex and B12 during pregnancy since supplementation with these vitamins may prevent ASD.

4. Limit sugar consumption

Some research recommends that children with autism avoid sugar for numerous reasons. Sugar increases hyperactivity, a behavior already familiar in children with ASD. Moreover, children with autism may have other co-occurring conditions exacerbated by sugar intake, including digestive issues, chronic sleep problems, and obesity. Excessive sugar has been linked to inflammation and increased gut permeability. [8] 

Avoid consuming sweets, sugary beverages, especially those with high-fructose corn syrup, and refined carbohydrates that can cause blood glucose levels to fluctuate. When glucose levels in the blood are unstable, the result can be loss of focus, erratic behavior, and hyperactivity levels. It also impacts normal brain development and function.

5. Supplement with omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are critical to healthy brain growth and development. A team from the Department of Psychiatry, Tsyr-Huey Mental Hospital in China, studied the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on children with autism spectrum disorders. The randomized clinical trial aimed to determine the link between omega-3 fatty acid deficiency and ASD. The results showed that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids might improve hyperactivity, lethargy, and stereotypic behaviors in children with autism. [9]

During pregnancy, omega-3 fatty acid deficiency is also involved with reduced learning and memory and decreased cognitive functioning if not corrected in early childhood. [10]

In people with ASD, chronic inflammation in multiple brain areas has been noted. [11] Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce chronic inflammation if taken regularly. 

Other studies related to omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in children with autism have shown that it can improve sleep patterns, behavior, spontaneous speech, and focus. 

Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency may serve as a mechanistic pathway for the development of ASD.

A study on Canadian children with autism showed significantly lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood and lower ratios of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, predisposing them to inflammation. [12]

In a meta-analysis of studies examining the relationship between omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and ASD, researchers concluded that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation significantly improved social interactions and repetitive and restricted interests and behaviors. However, studies were small and with short durations. [13]

My recommendation is to supplement with a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid supplement, for example, algal oil, three to four times a week. If you prefer getting omega-3 from foods, you may encourage the consumption of walnuts, ground flax, and chia seeds as part of your child’s daily diet. Seaweed is also good but not too much due to its high iodine levels.

6. Consume a Gluten and Dairy-Free Diet

A gluten-free diet involves the exclusion of gluten, a mixture of proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye, as well as many processed and prepackaged foods. A dairy-free diet involves excluding all dairy products, including cheeses, milk, and processed foods with dairy.

The rationale behind gluten and dairy-free diets is that opioid peptides are released by digestion of both gluten and dairy. These opioid peptides decrease uptake of the amino acid cysteine, which is involved in the production of the antioxidant glutathione resulting in reduced glutathione levels. Glutathione prevents oxidative damage to critical cellular components from free radicals, fat degradation, and heavy metals. Glutathione is made in part with cysteine and glycine. Low glutathione levels lead to the release of pro-inflammatory mediators, which contribute to inflammation of the digestive tract, a common feature of autism. [14-15] Gluten and dairy-derived opioid proteins also decrease methylation, altering gene expression. 

Digestion issues common in ASD may block cysteine uptake, reducing cysteine availability, which will reduce glutathione production. A gluten and dairy-free diet improves cysteine absorption and thus increases glutathione levels, reducing inflammation and digestive issues, especially in people with low glutathione levels, as is the case in ASD.

Some strains of gut bacteria stop the activity of gluten and dairy-derived opioid peptides. These bacterial strains (Bifidobacterium) are common in the intestines of infants, especially breastfed infants. Some studies have found a connection between decreased breastfeeding and autism. [16-17]

Furthermore, people with ASD have been found to have higher levels of antibodies to gluten and dairy proteins [18] and to have 25.6% increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut) [19] compared with 2.3% in healthy children. The leaky gut leads to opioid peptides passing through the gut wall and into the general circulation exerting their effects all over the body.

To conclude

Healthy digestion is crucial in supporting healthy behavioral patterns and managing ASD symptoms. Healthy digestion can be supported through probiotics, digestive enzymes, omega-3 fatty acids supplements, and an antioxidant-rich, low refined sugar and gluten and dairy-free diet.

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References

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