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In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we have asked Beth Secosky, a health coach who specializes in working with families of autistic children and adults, to share tips with our readers. Beth helps parents implement health strategies that will reduce or eliminate some of the symptoms of autism. By improving symptoms, the autistic person can live a more normal life – and the family can too.
 
 

As a Health Coach, I have found that many times the diet can have a significant impact on multiple health issues, and no where is this more apparent than with people with Autism.  Many people with autism have experienced digestive discomfort.  These symptoms can have a serious impact on quality of life for both the person with an ASD and the caretakers. The following article will discuss the symptoms of digestive discomfort in autism, review the science behind digestive health-related autism symptoms and explain how you can reduce or even eliminate these symptoms without medication.

 

Symptoms

Some people on the spectrum have obvious digestive symptoms. In severe cases, this happens multiple times a day. Others experience painful, unrelenting stomach aches. Other people on the spectrum have severe digestive conditions that are more subtle. Bloating, burping, and gas may seem mild, but they can be symptoms of severe gastrointestinal upset. Perhaps the most common symptom of digestive distress in autism is pain.

 

However, because people on the spectrum are sometimes low or non-verbal, their pain may go undiagnosed. How can you determine if there is pain when a person is non-verbal? One common symptom of digestive pain is seeking pressure in the abdominal area. For example a child might lean over the arm of a chair to exert pressure on the abdomen. Self-injurious behaviors are also a symptom of severe pain.

 

Causes

This is heavy stuff, and I promise that I will move next into hope and healing next. First, I need to explain the cause so I can explain a solution. People with autistic digestive symptoms have an imbalance in their gut flora. Typically, we have a positive balance of beneficial bacteria vs. pathogenic bacteria in our digestive track. However, when the pathogenic bacteria outnumber the beneficial bacteria, the digestive system becomes diseased. NPR has a great video on-line with the science explaining the importance of a healthy gut flora (the microbiome).

 

Healing Treatment

The good news is that pathogenic bacteria can be starved out, and beneficial bacterial can be restored leading to reduced or eliminated digestive symptoms and healing of the digestive track. Let’s start by reviewing how to feed the beneficial bacteria. Probably the most common way to feed beneficial bacteria is to use probiotics — found in your local health food store. Choose a high potency,high quality probiotic containing 40 billion CFUs or more. Some experts suggest that you choose a refrigerated probiotic. Make sure to ask a clerk at your health food store if a refrigerated probiotic in the store was also shipped and stored in a refrigerated environment as those probiotics that are constantly refrigerated seem to be the most effective.

We’ve talked about how to replenish the beneficial bacteria. The other half of the equation is to starve the pathogenic bacteria by reducing (or better yet) eliminating its food supply. Pathogenic bacteria feed on two types of carbohydrates, disaccharides and polysaccharides, which are found in sweet and starchy foods. By eliminating these types of carbohydrates, we can begin starving the pathogenic bacteria. You may be thinking, “Wait a minute, these are the only foods my loved one will eat.” You’re right. Most people on the spectrum are drawn to starchy and sweet foods and sometimes refuse other types of food. Let’s spend a minute here and acknowledge that the thought of persuading a person with autism to avoid sweet and starchy foods might be the most overwhelming task you can think of.

I’ve worked with many families who have children with autism and related conditions, and they started out overwhelmed about how they could ever change their child/loved one’s choice of foods. With information, support, and encouragement, every family has been able to significantly reduce or eliminate sweet and starchy foods. They have been surprised that making the change has been easier than they expected, and every child has experienced marked improvement in their symptoms. For one example of a child who has experienced remarkable improvements in digestive and autism symptoms, see “Hunter’s Story” on my website. Hunter describes his experience with autism before and after using a gut healing protocol like the one I have described in this article. For Hunter’s Story, see https://bethsecosky-public.sharepoint.com/research-and-articles.

 

For Hunter’s Story, see https://bethsecosky-public.sharepoint.com/research-and-articles

Where Do I Begin?

Perhaps, the most helpful thing you can do is find a doctor who is trained in restoring a healthy gut flora. There are a number of doctors in our region who have this training. Some of them are trained specifically in autism. An unbalanced gut flora also causes nutritional deficiencies. These same physicians are trained in balancing nutrients. One of the things I do is help my clients find a physician who is compatible with their family.

Secondly, get started with a probiotic. It is important to start with a low dose (a quarter to a half of a capsule) and gradually increase the dose. Physicians recommend you work up to between one and three probiotics per day. The reason for working up slowly is that as probiotics kill some of the pathogenic bacteria, those pathogenic bacteria die and release toxins. Those toxins can cause flu-like symptoms, a temporary worsening of digestive or autistic symptoms, and other symptoms. So, keep your initial dose low and slowly increase the dose over time.

 

The last step is to start starving the pathogenic bacteria by reducing (or better yet eliminating) sweet and starchy foods. To learn more about how to starve pathogenic bacteria, see Breaking the Vicious Cycle by Elaine Gottschall and Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. You can find both books on Amazon or order them through your local bookstore. My website also has a wealth of information including research, articles, and videos about the role of the gut in autism and more. You can find several recorded interviews with Dr. Campbell-McBride there. Scroll to the bottom of the page for the interviews with her.

https://bethsecosky-public.sharepoint.com/research-and-articles

I know these recommendations may seem overwhelming. There is a lot of work to be done, but seeing improvements in your loved one’s health can be one of the most gratifying things you can do. Take it one step at a time, and reach out for support. I am passionate about helping families who have a member with an ASD, and I offer a free support group on the 2nd Thursday night of each month.

For more information on the support group, see

https://bethsecosky-public.sharepoint.com/Pages/support-group.aspx

 

The Best News!

The best news is that not only does reducing/eliminating bowel symptoms bring relief to people who may have suffered with digestion symptoms their entire life, it can also significantly reduce autistic behaviors and improve speech. If you are interested in learning more about how you can help your loved one heal his or her digestive disturbances and reduce autistic symptoms, contact me for a complimentary health coaching session. In the coaching session, I will provide you with information, advice, or whatever will help you on your journey so you can see how my coaching can help you improve your loved one’s quality of life. There’s no charge, it’s over the phone, and there is no obligation.

Contact me at 919-828-8221 or beth@bethsecosky.com to schedule your complimentary session.

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