If you read books, the newspaper or watch TV at all today, the word autism is now mentioned in just about every media outlet available. The numbers of children on the autism spectrum seem to be growing at a rapid speed. Even with all the publicity, many people today still do not know what autism is.
It is simply seen as a form of “retardation,” compared to the movie “Rain Man”. It is a disease that steals away a child’s ability to have social and speech skills. Many have “odd, repetitive behaviors,” obsessions with things such as trains, along with many other behavior characteristics, as non-autistic children.
What seems to be the more notable controversy are the treatments available that many autism families claim increase the value to the life of these children, most popular, the GF/CF diet. For decades, the gluten-free, casein-free diet has been a popular approach by parents attempting to improve the cognitive and behavioral symptoms of their children’s autism.
This approach has been bolstered by anecdotal reports from parents and celebrities that avoiding gluten and/or casein—the proteins found in wheat, barley, rye and milk—may help improve symptoms of people living with autism.
Skeptics take aim
Because this is a non-traditional medical treatment, many general practitioners are non-believers to its ability to do any kind of change, being it’s considered a neurological disorder. To understand the connection of the two, you first must understand each as a single subject to make the connection of how removing food products from a diet can improve behavior issues, increase speech, and offer a better life to those on the autism spectrum.
So what is autism? Autism is a potentially severe neurological condition affecting social functioning, communication skills, reasoning, and behavior. It is considered a spectrum disorder, meaning that the symptoms and characteristics of autism can present themselves in a variety of combinations, ranging from extremely mild to quite severe.
One of the most frustrating aspects of autism is the lack of physical findings in individuals with autism. Most individuals with autism have normal appearances, and few, if any, have any severe medical problems. Because the specific cause of autism is unknown, there is no prenatal test available for autism.
This is where the controversy begins. Medical professionals, who only practice “standard medical protocols”, do not commonly test for allergies, or for “non-obvious medical issues.” It is not “standard practice” to dig deeper into the cause of autism to discover there could very well be hidden medical problems.
Looking for proof
Is there proof that food items that contain gluten and casein could be causing behavior issues associated with autism? As usual, it comes down to man versus medicine. So, what is it about gluten and casein? Don’t we all consume these in everyday food products, used in every kitchen?How could it cause such havoc to a body that would lead thousands of families to go against medical professional’s advice and put their child on a strict GFCF diet?
Some research suggests that one feature of autism spectrum disorders is reduced enzymatic activity and increased permeability of the intestinal barrier, both of which can lead to potential gastrointestinal problems. Given these digestive disorders, one prevailing theory holds that ingestion of gluten or casein might result in incomplete digestion, in turn causing large, undigested proteins to leak out of the gut and travel to the brain, where they could eventually interfere with Neuro-receptors and cause autistic symptoms.
Therefore, it was believed that in susceptible autistic patients, a gluten-free/casein-free diet might produce direct improvements in brain function. To date, research on the topic has been contradictory and characterized by small, poorly designed studies. This is the one side of the argument, but like always, there are two sides to every story.
Controversy takes center stage
How would such controversy, over a simple diet become so huge, and who says it works?
In 2005, Jenny McCarthy, actress and New York Times bestselling author, published an astonishing book, “Louder than Words, a Mother’s Journey to Healing Autism,” claiming she had “recovered” her son, Evan, from autism, using biomedical protocol, along with the help of Dr. Jerry Kartzinel. The medical field went crazy with this, stating her claims were false with no proof to back it up, other than her own words.
The claim was that both she, and Kartzinel were only out to gain financially off millions of desperate families willing to do anything to “heal” their children. Kartzinel, one of the top autism doctors in the nation, came back with not only medical proof, but human proof as well. Millions of families began joining the GFCF diet team, using their own children as the proof.
In their book, “Healing and Preventing Autism” (2009), McCarthy and Kartzinel share their beliefs that the best way to tackle the factors contributing to autism is through a biomedical approach. Biomedical intervention looks at nutrition, detoxification, and removal of interfering factors, such as yeast, food allergies, viruses, bacteria, and heavy metals.
McCarthy and Kartzinel admit that biomedical interventions do not help everyone, but thousands of children have improved with this type of therapy. An important focus of this approach involves supporting the body's innate healing response with healthy food and nutritional supplements. Their book asserts that autism is not rooted in one cause, and therefore successful treatment is often multifaceted.
Take new approach to diet
First of all, clean up the diet. A gluten-free casein-free diet is one that has helped thousands of kids. (Including my own son). In addition, eat as organic as possible, and avoid artificial colorings and flavorings, sugar, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners. Consider nutritional supplementation.
Kartzinel said autistic kids have major nutrient deficiencies. The book highlights the supplements he has found most helpful for his patients. Kartzinel’s claim is,” Children with autism have weakened immune systems that cannot simply break down proteins that are found in both gluten and casein. The inability to break these proteins down causes what’s known as “leaky gut syndrome.”
On simpler terms, the proteins cause the intestinal wall to form holes, allowing the gases from the protein to enter straight into the blood stream causing a euphoria-like feeling, comparing it to the effects of how heroin would feel like to the regular person. This gets them “high," causing many of the autistic behaviors. As Dr.Kartizel continues to explain it, it becomes very simple for me, and many other parents to understand their children’s behavior. “Think of it this way: We are all born with our own size garbage can that only holds as many toxins as our body is built to withstand, but what happens when our can is full? The toxins will build up outside the can and can cause disease. Two more variables to consider here: One is that we are all born with different size garbage cans, some bigger and some smaller. The next is how efficiently we can dump our garbage can so it can accept more toxins. Now it becomes easy to understand how children with autism can develop symptoms at different times following different exposures."
They are just indicating to us when their “garbage container” is full. To back this theory, The Autism Research Institute collected data from 26,000 parents on the effects of biomedical treatments with the results posted on its website.
Ninety percent observed improvement in their children with such approaches as the gluten-free, casein-free diet, removing sugar from the diet, supplementing with cod liver oil, etc. Elsewhere on the site, www.autism.com, parents began to share story after story of the children that emerged once the diet was put into place.
The chaos had been stirred by two people: one an actress, and mother of a child with autism, and the other being a DAN! (Defeat Autism Now) doctor, who also has a child on the spectrum. Surely these two knew what they were saying. They had seen it with their own eyes, so had millions of families. Both have children that made incredible improvements, so why was society so against this treatment?
Medical professionals that treat with traditional medical protocol were the first to scream foul play. DAN! Doctors are those who treat diseases with other ways including diet, supplements, changing environment, and removing toxins from the body to improve its well being. They believe in healing the problem instead of masking the problem with a pill.
Colliding with science
Wasn’t this simple to understand? Isn’t it easy to see that if you heal the gut by removing the main cause of what was destroying it to begin with, (and autism symptoms), that they would simply go away? Not to the general public. The battle had begun between the millions of families with children with autism against medical professionals. Study after study began to make headline news.
After reviewing the articles, which covered 188 patients between the ages of 2 and 17, scientists deduced a “limited and weak” connection between a diet low in gluten or casein and brain function in those with autism. They suggested a different factor may be to blame for any observed behavioral changes after dietary restrictions were imposed.
So, how does this recent study account for some patients’ reported changes in mood and behavior on the GF/CF diet? Simple: Allergies and food intolerance, according to researchers. “Should a child with autism spectrum disorder experience acute behavioral changes, seemingly associated with changes in diet, practitioners should consider testing the child for allergies and food intolerance,” researchers say, “Given the possible risks associated with a strict GF/CF diet in developing children, including nutritional deficiencies and poor bone development, the researchers suggest limiting the use of GF/CF diets to autistic patients who have tested positive for a food allergy or intolerance to gluten or casein. Parents considering a GF/CF diet for their children should consult with a registered dietitian to help design a diet plan and supplement regimen that will meet their child’s growth and developmental need."
My part two to this report will be in my next submission. Please come back to read the rest of this remarkable, yet controversial topic that is in headlines everywhere today.