Autism is a complex biological disorder involving simultaneous and interrelated dysfunction of the detoxification, immune, digestive and neurological systems.
Gluten-Free, Casein Free Diets
While dietary strategies may not appear to be doing much in the short-term, the long-term benefits can be outstanding. Many parents have claimed a high degree of success from dietary strategies to reduce the symptoms of ASD. According to researchers from Penn State a gluten-free, casein-free diet may lead to improvements in behavior and physiological symptoms in children diagnosed with ASD.
“Research has shown that children with ASD commonly have GI [gastrointestinal] symptoms,” said Christine Pennesi, medical student at Penn State College of Medicine. “Notably, a greater proportion of our study population reported GI and allergy symptoms than what is seen in the general pediatric population. Some experts have suggested that gluten- and casein-derived peptides cause an immune response in children with ASD, and others have proposed that the peptides could trigger GI symptoms and behavioral problems.”
“Gluten and casein seem to be the most immunoreactive,” Klein said. “A child’s skin and blood tests for gluten and casein allergies can be negative, but the child still can have a localized immune response in the gut that can lead to behavioral and psychological symptoms. When you add that in with autism you can get an exacerbation of effects.”
“If parents are going to try a gluten-free, casein-free diet with their children, they really need to stick to it in order to receive the possible benefits,” she said.
Detoxification and Immune Systems
In the body of an autistic individual, portions of the detoxification system, as well as specific metabolic processes become dysfunctional, leading to a diminished ability to completely break down certain foods. When analyzed by sophisticated scientific instruments, a portion of these partially digested substances are shown to resemble morphine (yes, morphine). These neurotoxins (opioid substances) leak out of the digestive tract, into the blood stream and attack the brain/nervous system, producing the symptoms and complications associated with autism. Diminished levels of critical substances such as glutathione (resulting in oxidative stress) keep this process in place.
Recovery of autism requires:
– Stop the production of neurotoxins (opioid substances)
– Reduce or eliminate oxidative stress
– Heal the nervous system
In October of 2001, a team of clinicians and researchers led by William Walsh, Ph.D. then at the Pheiffer Treatment Center, affiliated with the Health Research Institute now of Warrenville, IL, made available a scientific study entitled “Metallothionein and Autism”. Metallothionein is a protein that is critical to the process of detoxification of harmful substances, particularly heavy metals and toxic chemicals.
The paper describes a study of 503 patients on the autism spectrum vs. aged-matched non-autistic patients. The conclusion of this study was that “most autistic patients exhibit evidence of metallothionein (MT) dysfunction and this dysfunction may be a universal characteristic of autism-spectrum disorders”.
Translation: the detox systems of autistics are impaired.
Walsh also concluded that “MT dysfunction and autism may result from the intersection of two factors: (a) a genetic defect involving marginal or defective MT functioning, followed by (b) an environmental insult during early development which disables MT.”
According to Walsh’s paper, once MT becomes compromised, a host of other dysfunctions occur, including:
–Detoxification of mercury and other toxic metals
–Development and functioning of the immune system
-Development and paring of brain neurons
-Regulation of zinc and copper levels in blood
–Prevention of yeast overgrowth in the intestines
–Production of enzymes that break down casein and gluten
–Response to intestinal inflammation
-Production of stomach acid
-Taste and texture discrimination of tongue epithelia
-Hippocampus function and behavior control
-Development of emotional memory
Walsh’s paper continues: “Examples of biochemical factors which can disable MT proteins include (a) severe zinc depletion, (b) abnormalities in the glutathione redox system, (c) cysteine deficiency, and (d) malfunction of metal regulating elements (MRE’s).”
Glutathione is frequently mentioned in biomedical discussions of autism due to its critical role in the detoxification pathway. Glutathione is produced by a metabolic process known as the methionine cycle. Important work has been performed describing the most vulnerable parts of the methionine cycle. This cycle starts with methionine and is supposed to end with glutathione. However, because this metabolic process has been disrupted in autistics, little or no glutathione is produced. Indeed, oxidative stress, or low levels of glutathione have been described as a hallmark traits of autism.