Most Current Research on Natural Treatments for Autism and ADHD
Hello everyone. This is my second blog from the conference I attended by the Medical Academy of Pediatric Special Needs (MAPS) in Atlanta, GA.
I found this topic particularly interesting and wanted to share some of the current research on biomedical treatments for Autism.
Being a Naturopathic Doctor I am constantly asked about the science behind the types of treatments I utilize. The science and research behind supplements and diet. Biomedical treatment and functional medicine is a new and upcoming field of medicine. There are many different types of practitioners looking to learn more about these treatments as they focus on the underlying cause of a medical condition. Not treating the symptoms of the disease. For example, instead of treating constipation with a medication, let’s find out WHY the person is constipated in the first place and treat that underlying reason.
When I attend these conferences, I am sitting next to all types of medical practitioners. Cardiologist, neurologists, pediatricians, psychiatrists, osteopaths and of course naturopathic doctors. We all have one thing in common. To learn a different approach in medicine, to learn about the possible underlying causes of health conditions, to treat them using SCIENCE BASED approaches with the least harm, and to focus on preventative health care. That sounds exactly like the principles of naturopathic medicine.
1. 120 children with autism were assessed for gastrointestinal symptoms and psychiatric symptoms. 42.5% of children met the criteria for functional constipation, the association was stronger if the child had anxiety.
Ferguson, et al. 2016 Autism research, in press.
2. 230 preschoolers were included in this study. A significantly higher percentage of ASD patients (37.4%) vs typical development controls (14.8%) had GI symptoms (constipation, gas, bloating, pain). These researchers suggest GI problems should be assessed, especially in children with anxiety and/or externalizing behaviour problems (tantrums, anger, aggression etc.
Fulceri, et al. 2016. Dig liver disorder 48(3):248-254
*In my practice almost all of the ASD children I see have gut issues. And I have noticed the worse their gut issues, the worse their anxiety and aggressive/tantrum behaviours. Dr Alibhai
This was a great study that looked at the possible relationship between the gut flora and mood.
3. These researchers state “the composition of the microbiota largely determines the levels of tryptophan and serotonin in the brain. “ Morris, et al. 2016. Mol Neurobiol, in press.
- Tryptophan, serotonin and GABA are calming, happy brain chemicals (neurotransmittors). They are largely determined by the health of your gut and gut flora. This study looked at this relationship in further detail. Medical research to support treating the gut to heal the brain!!! Dr. Alibhai
4. This study measured vitamin B12 methyl and adenosyl B12) in the frontal cortex (post mortem) in 43 subjects, which included 12 Autistic children. They found vitamin B12 levels were more than 3X lower than age matched controls. They also found lower methyl B12 was associated with elevated homocysteine levels and low glutathione activity.
Zhang, et al. 2016. Plos ONE, 11(1); eo0146797
5. This study looked at blood samples from 565 children aged 3-17. Children with ADHD and ASD had lower DHA, EPA and AA (all essential fatty acids) compared to controls. Children with ASD had lower levels of DHA, EPA and AA than children with ADHD.
Parlette, et al. 2016. PlosOne11(5); e0156432
6. Frye and Rossignol have done a great job in this research article outlining some evidence for treatment in the following areas for children with ASD: epilepsy, neurotransmitter function, sleep disorders, metabolic abnormalities, abnormalities in folate, B12, biopterin and carnitine metabolism, mitochondrial function, immune system and gastrointestinal disorders.
Frye and Rossignol, 2016. Clin Med Insights Pediatr 10;43-56.
7. This study looked at a total of 870 ASD patients and 782 healthy controls. They found blood levels of Vitamin D (25OH) was significantly lower in ASD group compared to controls.
Wang, et al. 2016. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 25(4);341-350.
Mazahery, et al. 2016. Nutrients 8(4):236
8. A double blind , randomized clinical trial on 101 children with ASD received either digestive enzymes or placebo. After 3 months the group receiving digestive enzymes had significant improvement in emotional response, general behaviour and gastrointestinal symptoms.
Saad, et al. 2015. Clin Psychopharmacol Neurosci 13(2); 188-193
*I routinely test my patients for low digestive enzyme function using the comprehensive stool test. I see many improvements in the child’s behaviour when adding digestive enzymes to those with low enzyme function – Dr. Alibhai
9. This study looked at the effects of a gluten free diet on gastrointestinal symptoms and behaviour in children with ASD. ½ the children (40) were placed on a GF diet, the other ½ (40) ate a regular diet. After 6 weeks, the GF group showed significant improvements in gastrointestinal (gut) function and behaviour. The researchers concluded that a GF diet may be effective in controlling gastrointestinal symptoms and ASD behaviours.
*many parents report great benefits to the child with Autism after removing gluten from their diet. Changes include better behaviour, improvements in language, focus, eye contact and more. I suggest trying a GF diet for a minimum of 3 months. If you do not notice a difference in your child’s behaviour, gluten may not be a problem for them. You will never know until you try. –Dr. Alibhai.
There you have it. A summary of some of the current research presented at the MAPS conference. I think it is reassuring to both parents and medical practitioners there is some scientific research to support the use of diet changes and supplements as a part of a comprehensive treatment plan for their child with Autism.
Autism is a complex condition and treatment involves many pieces to the puzzle. Behavioural intervention is key and absolutely necessary. However I don’t think we should ignore body biochemistry. The better a child’s cells are functioning, the better a child’s gut is working, the better a child’s immune system is functioning, the cleaner their diet is, their brain will work better! Many parents of the children I work with on the spectrum report their child responds better to behavioral intervention once they worked on biochemistry. Even simple changes such as reducing sugar or removing junk food from their diet resulted in better improvements in behaviour with intervention.
I hope I have motivated some of my readers to consider biochemical interventions for their child. I have seen some amazing improvements in many areas of development. Call us today and let’s get started!
Yours in health,
Dr. Tasreen Alibhai, ND