Can Food Allergies Cause Autism?
Many parents and professionals agree children with autism are more likely to have food allergies and sensitivities. This supports the theory that children with autism have underlying impairments of the immune system. Parents of children with an autism spectrum disorder are encouraged to consider and evaluate the role food allergies may play in their child’s symptoms.
There are many ways to test for allergies to food and other substances. An allergist can test by blood, skin pricks, endoscopies or even x-rays. Similar to food allergies, it is common for children with autism to experience allergic reactions from environmental triggers, food coloring or preservatives. An allergist can test for all types of allergies and should. Many parents test for food allergies by implementing an elimination diet.
The most common food allergies are to wheat, rye, oats, dairy products, citrus fruits, peanuts and any other food a child is exposed to early in life and repeatedly, as this constant exposure can result in an allergy or sensitivity being developed.
The physical reaction to food allergies can vary by child and may be dependent upon the severity of the allergy or sensitivity. The most common symptoms are nasal and respiratory congestion, acting ‘spaced out’ or out of focus, bed-wetting, stomach aches, hyperactivity, gastrointestinal disturbances, increased hypersensitivity to sensory input, depression, behavioral meltdowns and in some cases tics. Many parents report their child’s seizures are directly related to food allergies also.
Beyond allergy testing, parents can determine if a child has a food allergy through an elimination diet. Often, children will crave what they are allergic to and this may hold a clue as to what food can first be removed from the diet.
Parents should remove the food completely from the diet and maintain that diet for at least two weeks. The body needs time to adjust to the new changes. After a few weeks, parents should introduce the food removed back into the diet by having the child consume it on an empty stomach. If there is an allergy or sensitivity symptoms will appear immediately or within 24 hours at the latest. It is recommended to remove one food at a time, watching for reactions upon the child ingesting it.
Parents will find that many dietary interventions used to treat autism exclude the most common foods children are allergic to. For example, the Gluten and Casein Free diet removes grains and dairy (in addition to being in other foods that are also removed). There are other diets that remove sugars, which can contribute to other gastrointestinal issues, so dietary interventions are an ideal way to also eliminate possible allergens or triggers of autism.
Supplementation of needed nutrients, probiotics and other components can be used to further boost immune health and functioning. Children’s immune systems are assaulted when exposed to allergens, so strengthening the immune system will help the child’s body recover faster.
Food allergies are a main contributor to the symptoms of autism. For the children who suffer from these, having the allergens removed provides great relief and progress. This is one treatment parents can pursue and follow up with a physician while changes are being made. Parents and professionals will testify to the positive changes parents will see and children will feel.
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