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Dietary Intervention Step One for Children With a Suspected Neurodevelopmental Disorder

Since we have already discussed general nutrition tips that apply to all children (see ‘Good Nutrition is the Cornerstone of Treatment’). Lets move to specific nutritional interventions that may be helpful for children with a neurodevelopmental disorder.
Feingold Diet:
One that may be useful is the Feingold diet. This was originally developed for children with ADHD but really applies to any disorder in which hyperactive behavior is a symptom. This can be tried without any lab testing and should be used as an elimination diet. One part of the diet involves removing all artificial sweeteners, flavorings, colorings, high fructose corn syrup, msg, and some specific preservatives from the diet. If you recall we talked about avoiding this in the general nutrition section as applicable to all children. The second part of the diet includes a list of about thirty foods, which include different fruits, vegetables and condiments, which should be eliminated. The foods listed are actually healthy so it is not the original product that is the problem. The trouble arises as these foods and the artificial products are being processed in the body in preparation for excretion. If these steps are deficient in any manner the middle products of the process can build up in the system. They are then available to travel to the brain and cross the blood/brain barrier. These middle products fit nicely into receptors in the brain that are stimulatory and can cause hyperactive behavior. This process is not deficient in every child but since the intervention requires no testing and no out of pocket expense it should be tried in every child for at least four weeks. If after four weeks of vigilant avoidance you notice no difference in behavior then your child does not have that problem and you can return to normal consumption of those food products, minus all the artificial products.
Gluten Free/Casein Free Diet:
We are going to continue discussing nutritional interventions and look at one of the more commonly used diets for children on the spectrum. If you have a child with autism you have most likely have heard or read something about the Gluten Free/Casein Free diet. The descriptions have probably been anywhere from ” amazing difference ” to ” did not notice a difference at all”. This diet requires removing gluten, the protein in wheat and other grains, and casein, a protein in milk from the diet COMPLETELY for at least six months. This diet, just like any other intervention in medicine, will work for some and not others and it important not to proceed with unrealistic expectations.
There is confusion, even among parents with autistic children, as to why this diet may be helpful. There are two main reasons for restricting these food sources. The first is based on an inflamed and dysbiotic gastrointestinal tract. This dysbiosis will often include a yeast overgrowth. When there is dysbiosis and inflammation the connections between the cells lining the gastrointestinal tract start to allow food particles to enter before they have been completely broken down. This is known as leaky gut. These food particles, in the case of proteins, are called peptides and they are brought into the blood stream in a larger segment than is usual. These peptide fragments then travel through the body and eventually make their way to the brain. Once there they happen to fit very nicely into the same receptors that opioids, like oxycontin, use when they are affecting the brain. This is not the only example of this as we mentioned during our last discussion. Phenols from foods wreck havoc the same way by fitting nicely onto the same receptors for adrenaline. As you would imagine providing substances that target opioid and adrenaline receptors is not desirable and will produce some unwanted behaviors. This will include hyperactivity, emotional instability, and cravings for the foods that cause those effects. Just like an addict who needs a fix a child with this problem will seek out the offending foods for the pleasurable feeling they get from eating it. For many children on the spectrum this mechanism is the reason why avoiding these foods should be attempted while at the same time taking care of the inflammation and dysbiosis. It is important to remember that the gluten and casein peptide fragments look similar and they can fit interchangeably into the receptor so it is necessary to remove both of these foods to truly see if it helps.
The second reason these foods can cause problems is that the immune system is actually mounting a response to the protein portion of the food. This is evidenced by elevated antibodies to gluten, gliadin and casein that are seen on blood tests. This means the immune system is inappropriately using its resources against an ingested food. These allergies are …