Survey links autism with digestive problems, intestinal inflammation

Published on July 22, 2010 at 1:06 AM · No Comments

Autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the world. With 1 child in 91 facing the disorder, the diagnosis is more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined.

“Many of our children are enzyme deficient”

Autism and Digestion: The Surprising Link

A new survey by Enzymedica and the Enzyme Research Group (ERG), links autism and digestive problems, and suggests diet modification and dietary supplements as successful tools for families facing the diagnosis.

While autism is generally considered a neurological disorder, the new survey reminds us that autistic children face additional health challenges, including 80% who report digestive difficulty, sensitivity, or intestinal inflammation.

Survey Participants Tout Special Diets for Autism

Food sensitivities and cravings are widespread in the autism community. The ERG survey found that 35% of children craved sugary treats, 30% dairy, 25% wheat and 32% junk foods; and cravings were not mutually exclusive.

Interestingly, the craved foods also caused the greatest digestive reaction. Lactose, gluten, casein, and phenol were the top reactive contenders in children on the spectrum.

  • 70% currently follow, or have tried, a restrictive diet
  • 52% gluten-free
  • 55% casein-free
  • 44% eliminate artificial flavors and additives
  • 70% use digestive enzymes and probiotics

Since even healthy foods can cause problems, supplementation can be used to prevent nutritional deficiency. 80% of parents said they offer dietary supplements in some form, typically in combination with a special diet, to soothe and support healthy digestion, and reduce dietary sensitivities.

Healthy Digestion Requires Digestive Enzymes

Our body uses enzymes to enhance digestion and turn the food we eat into energy. Produced throughout the digestive tract, and available from raw foods and supplements, these enzymes include amylase for carbohydrates, lipase for fats, protease for proteins, and cellulase for fiber.

"Many of our children are enzyme deficient," writes Elizabeth Lipski, Ph.D., C.C.N., a board-certified clinical nutritionist in her book, Digestive Wellness for Children. "These deficiencies can play a pivotal role in the development of childhood disease." Lipski has over 20 years experience working in the field of holistic and complementary medicine and views enzymes as the body's workhorses.

"In children, enzyme supplements have been used successfully to treat food allergies, gastroenteritis, asthma, and other illnesses, and research on enzymes for children is promising," she continues.

Like healthy bones and muscle tissue, our enzyme producing organs rely on good nutrition to fuel production. Physical stressors and inflammation are also implicated as a component in compromised enzyme capacity, and these conditions are common with autism.

The ERG researchers found a statistically significant 80% of autistic children experience digestive disturbances related to certain types of food, with dairy topping the list. 57% said dairy is the culprit, and wheat was second in line with 43%.

Autism Breeds Picky Eaters

"Many children on the spectrum are unwilling to eat a sufficient quantity of raw, unprocessed foods," declares Kristin Selby Gonzalez, Director of Autism Education for Enzymedica, herself the mother of a son with autism. "It's unfortunate because these healthy foods naturally contain the enzymes and micronutrients needed to support a healthy intestine and aid digestion."

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