Calling all parents of children with ASD - nutrition top tips to promote calm
Having looked at the clinical picture of autism in my previous post, and what it may look and feel like, it is important for me to address how nutritional interventions can make a difference. I’m not interested in offering reasons to you about how & why your child may have autism. I know you are well researched, are giving 200% of your devotion every day to your child and are potentially beating yourself up about how things could have worked out differently. Stop It! Stop that now! Guilt is always going to be the side-serving of parenting, the truth is there can be so many factors that can affect the presentation of any condition and there is never one single causation, and so for me, the key is how we can make a difference to those symptoms that are causing concern and presenting difficulties for children and families out there.
I am yet to see a child who is on the autistic spectrum that doesn’t have a degree of digestive issues. This can present as being flatulent to food intolerances, frequent stomach cramps and overgrowths of yeasts, bacteria and/or parasites. There is a theory that this correlation is intrinsically-linked to the development of autism. In real-life, the practicalities of dealing with digestive unrest and disorders are uncomfortable, limiting and often painful. In my clinic, we always start with digestive health and work towards optimal functioning by using a variety of nutritional and lifestyle techniques. Neurological and digestive disorders are commonly connected; not surprising when you consider that the digestive system nerve cells (enteric nervous system) develop directly from the central nervous system in utero.
In order to improve digestion and its functioning, then the key focus must be on nervous system. In ASD this is of course obvious and relevant, but my point here is there is no clinical point of addressing one without the other.
In my clinical experience, anxiety is present ubiquitously across society and has so many manifestations (I’ll leave that for a blog post another time), so this is no different for ASD children, especially considering that there is huge anxiety around social norms and expectations in these disorders. Anxiety is often a feature of children on the spectrum and can present in so many ways, such as sleep disturbances, difficult /uncooperative behaviour, repetitive behaviour, emotional outbursts; often made worse in social and unfamiliar situations. By helping to calm and relax the nervous system, we are shifting the individual out of fight or flight conditioning and therefore aids digestion, anxiety-related symptoms and mood.
There are a number of different nutrients we can focus on to achieve this. Here are some top tips to aid child’s anxiety levels:
- Probiotics – the microbiome forms part of our second brain; it synthesises vital nutrients, provides immunity, breaks down and assimilates nutrients to name a few.
- L-Theanine – this is an amino acid that in protects brain cells and promotes cognitive function. Research points to it crossing the blood-brain barrier and aiding in reduction of physical and mental stress.
- B vitamins - these are essential nutrients heavily involved in energy production, nervous system health and detoxification. We have much higher losses during times of stress, therefore a higher daily demand to maintain ordinary processes within the body.
- Magnesium – this is a relaxant that turns nerve signals off, causing relaxing effects on muscles and relieving tension. Again, much higher levels are needed during times of stress and additionally, this is an important electrolyte for hydration; further improving cognition and well-being.
- Lavender & chamomile – these are well known herbs for relaxation and calm. Think teas, baths, vaporisers...
- Tryptophan – this is an amino acid (from protein) which is part of the serotonin (feel-good hormone) equation. Without this, serotonin manufacture is insufficient. We need serotonin to feel contented and happy, but also to promote healthy sleep cycles by inducing melatonin (sleep hormone) production.
- Vitamin D – we are learning so much about the sunshine hormone. Recent studies have shown a correlation between low vitamin D levels and ASD. Low Vitamin D levels are associated with low mood, anxiety and poor cognitive function, not to mention hormone dysfunction and poor bone health.
- Consider good sleep hygiene & healthy bedroom environment.
- Reduce use of electronic devices.
- Be mindful of food and drink choices around tea and bedtime – reducing stimulants and promoting calm with foods.
- Remove offending foods, by keeping food diary for your child noting any significant digestive and mood changes.
- Promote feelgood hormone activities within the family – cuddling (when acceptable for the child; weighted blankets can often be an acceptable alternative), familiar and calming aromas, relaxing baths, bedtime stories, meditative CDs and soothing music and songs.
I hope this whistle-stop tour of some ways nutritional intervention and considerations can help children with ASD feel better adjusted and prepared for daily challenges life can present to them. With a few key tools we can help them to shine in this ever-confusing world we live in. Of course, each child is an individual and there is no one approach that works for all, but by taking these considerations on-board and adjusting a plan to suit that child’s sensitivities, particularly sensorial relating to foods, we can slowly build trust and resilience. In practice, the true challenge for me in these cases is the practicality of making the adjustments necessary within a strict daily routine and apprehension over change and newness. However, through some years of practice and challenges, I have found there is always a way! It’s about listening to the child and family and thinking laterally. I never say never.
If you find this information useful, you are interested to hear more, or have any questions please comment or message me.
Thank you for your time, and for being the parent that your child deserves. You are special!