Diets for Autism

Biomedical Dietary Intervention

Biomedical Dietary Intervention is the most commonly recommended diet by our team of Naturopathic Doctors.  BDI is the most effective way to support chronic concerns such as autism and lyme disease. This diet has shown to have life changing outcomes; it is also the dietary intervention with the most research.

BDI Summary

  • No grains, no dairy, less than 6 tsp of sugar daily, no high fructose corn syrup, no white potatoes, and limited processed foods. Most people also do well with no beans or lentils for a period of time. Food should be nutrient dense. Low glycemic index foods and foods high in fiber and good fats.
  • Maximize – meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, eggs
  • Minimize – sweet potato, lentils, beans, tapioca starch, buckwheat and quinoa
  • Remove – grains, dairy, white potatoes
  • Sugar – less than 6 tsp (24 grams) daily

The key to a strong dietary intervention is reducing inflammation, healing the digestive system and optimizing nutrients.

Gluten Free and Dairy (Casein) Free (GFCF)

Gluten creates inflammation in the digestive system, alters neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) and blocks absorption of nutrients like zinc, magnesium, B12, folate, iron and B6.  Gluten and dairy decrease the absorption of cysteine, which is the rate limiting step to producing glutathione.

Gluten is in EVERYTHING, even popsicles and stickers!

GFCF diet takes time. Benefits are a result of removing foods that damage the digestive tract and also actively healing the digestive tract.  Most patients on the GFCF diet also benefit from removing corn.

Food Allergies

This important research about allergenic proteins has changed the lives of many children with developmental disorders. The gluten free casein free diet has the potential to benefit in a number of different ways. Removing gluten and casein can benefit children by addressing:

  • Food allergies, specifically IgG mediated responses as an immune reaction to food
  • Food sensitivities which creates inflammation
  • Dysbiosis which is an imbalance of healthy microorganisms (probiotics) in the digestive tract.
  • Opiate or drug effect on the brain from incomplete breakdown of gluten and diary
  • Nutrient deficiencies, as gluten and diary can cause inflammation which damages the digestive system and lowers the ability to absorb nutrients into the body.

Benefits of GFCF include:

  • Increased speech and/or language use including increases in effort to speak, number of words spoken, complexity of sentences and conversational speech
  • Improved social interaction including increased interest in peers and siblings, initiation of play, appropriate use of toys and improved tolerance in larger groups
  • Decreased self-stimulating and self-injurious behaviour
  • Increased ability to focus and enhancement of cognitive function
  • Improved digestion, sleep and immune function
  • Increased awareness or “being present”

SCD or GAPS diet – Specific Carbohydrate GAPS Diet

The Specific Carbohydrate diet was created by Elaine Gottschall, B.A., M.Sc, after her courageous journey to help her daughter with Ulcerative Colitis.  Her book is called Breaking the Vicious Cycle.

The Gut and Psychology Syndrome diet (GAPS) diet is based on the SCD and was designed by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. The basics and benefits of the SCD and GAPS diet.

The SCD/GAPS diet is based on the theory that many disorder, including autism and ADHD, are caused by imbalance in the microflora or probiotics of the digestive tract. In autism, we know that genetic predisposition plays an important role combined with environmental triggers. Dysbiosis may be one of many triggers in ASD and also has tremendous treatment potential by re-populating an imbalanced gut.

When the balance of the gut is disturbed, overgrowth of microbes creates inflammation.  This situation is similar to a sprained ankle.  There is swelling that puts pressure on all the cells in the area.  Swelling in the digestive tract allows material from the digestive tract to escape. This is often described as “leaky gut”.  Harmful or undesirable microbes can also migrate to the small intestine where they compete for nutrients and disrupt digestion by damaging enzymes needed to break down food (like GLUTEN, CASEIN, SOY AND CORN).

Carbohydrates, that are not completely digested, stay in the digestive tract and become “food” for unhealthy microbes. As the microbes digest the leftover carbohydrates, the fermentation damages the digestive tract. Symptoms of fermentation and microbial debris include, mucous, diarrhea, constipation, gas and bloating, itchy bum, rashes, abdominal pain, and nutrient deficiency such as vitamin B12 and folic acid deficiency.

Low phenol Diet

Many individuals with autism, PDD and ADHD have faulty sulfation metabolism and, therefore, cannot process phenols properly. This diet reduces phenols in the diet. In most cases, doing the Feingold Diet. It is also important to support the detoxification with supplements and substances that help transulfation. Enzymes, like PST and SULT, are needed to help break down remaining phenols. There is no way to eliminate 100% of all phenols, so this diet is not an all or nothing program. Some children may need to be keep phenols very low, while others may only need to reduce phenols by avoiding the high phenol foods such as apples and grapes. This diet is often used in conjunction with other diet protocols. Rosemary Waring discovered that the majority of children diagnosed with autism had trouble breaking down phenols. Supplementation with B6 and magnesium can help but much of the phenol load in autism comes from altered microbes in the gut (microbiome) including yeast that produce phenols.

Symptoms of phenol intolerance include:

  • Dark circles under eyes, red face/ears
  • Diarrhea
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity, aggression
  • Headache, head banging and / or self-injury
  • Impatience
  • Short attention span
  • Difficulty falling asleep, night waking for several hours
  • Inappropriate laughter
  • Hives
  • Stomach aches
  • Bedwetting and day wetting
  • Dyslexia, speech difficulties
  • Tics and some forms of seizures

When to use this diet can be hard to determine.  There is no test to identify faulty sulfation. As I have mentioned, I use several factors to make this determination:

  • reaction to phenolic foods
  • reaction to Tylenol or acetaminophen and artificial ingredients
  • levels of sulfate in the blood and urine
  • test results from phase II liver panel and sulfation capabilities
  • family history of neurological disorders including autism spectrum disorder
  • If self-injurious behavior is present, I recommend implementation of a low phenol diet, especially if a GFCF diet has been implemented with no relief*

The Body Ecology Diet

The Body Ecology Diet incorporates excellent principles of proper food combining, acid/alkaline balance with low acid-forming foods, low/no sugars and starches, easily digestible foods, fermented foods, and other solid nutrition recommendations to rebuild the body’s internal ecosystem.

The Feingold Diet

The Feingold diet is a food elimination program developed by Ben F. Feingold, MD to treat hyperactivity. It eliminates a number artificial colours and flavours, aspartame, petroleum based preservatives and certain salicylates. Dr. Feingold was a pediatrician and allergist, and was considered a pioneer in the fields of allergy and immunology. He served as Chief of Pediatrics, Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, Los Angeles, CA. Dr. Feingold later established a number of allergy centers for Kaiser Permanente of Northern California, and served as Chief of Allergy at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco.Many studies show that 70% of AD/HD children benefit from the removal of additives, especially when salicylates or allergens are removed.