When I was pregnant, I read all of the most popular pregnancy books, and I never saw a chapter called: “What to do when your child is diagnosed with autism.” They must have left those chapters out of my books.
It would seem that when your child receives a diagnosis of autism, you are suddenly expected to have a special degree in developmental disorders if you want to understand what the professionals are talking about. Honestly, I have been training in autism treatment for over 4 years now, and I still have a hard time pronouncing some of the language used in the mainstream press and books on this topic. My guess is that many of you are like me and you did not go to medical school. You just want to understand enough of the basic terminology so that you can help your child.
That brings us to the topic of enzymes. Before my son was born, the only thing I recall hearing about enzymes was that they were in my laundry detergent and household cleansers. But as I have come to see, enzymes are also a part of human biology. I soon learned that the application of enzymes for autism is a lot more complicated than getting grass stains out of your jeans. To make this easier on you, I am not going to explain how enzymes work with words I can’t even spell. Instead, I am going to talk in mom-friendly terms and just give you the basics you need to know to help your child.
These are substances that break down the food we consume. They make it possible for us to absorb nutrients and eliminate waste. Digestive enzymes are produced by the body and can be taken as a supplement. A digestive enzyme is a great place to start when incorporating enzymes into your plan of action.
What are phenols?
It is important to know that phenols are in almost all foods we eat, however, there are certain foods that have higher levels of phenols in them. Some foods that are higher in phenols are things such as (but not limited to): bananas, chocolate, cheese, apples, grapes, and tomatoes. Phenols are also in a lot of the fruit we eat.
How do phenols affect children with autism?
Some children may experience:
- Laughing at inappropriate time (at night or when something is not funny.)
- Strange rashes that appear on the body
- Up and down behaviors and moods
- Self stimulatory behaviors
- Night wakening
- Difficult or irregular stools (with constipation, diarrhea or undigested foods.)
- Physical symptoms such as red ears and cheeks, and dark circles under the eyes.
How are phenolic compounds detrimental to individuals suffering from phenol sensitivities?
Some experts believe that phenolic compounds can become “trapped” within the body’s metabolic cycles, affecting our various detoxification pathways.
Is there any treatment?
While it may be possible to reduce one’s consumption of the phenols and salicylate compounds found in food additives such as colorants and flavorings, phenols are relatively omnipresent in all plant-based foods. In addition to the dietary restrictions, a digestive enzyme supplement containing xylanase specific for phenol digestion may help reduce symptoms.
Are there any websites that talk about phenols and diet?
Why enzymes for Autism?
While I cannot speak for all children diagnosed with autism, I can tell you that many of the children I come into contact with, including my son, have digestive issues. I provide my son with what I believe to be the cleanest and best diet possible, and yet his body really needs supplemental enzymes for optimal digestion. Perhaps his body is unable to produce enough enzymes by itself. Regardless, he has greatly benefited from the supplemental enzymes I give him in conjunction with the dietary modifications we have made. This became particularly clear to me when I learned that the vitamins and nutrients in his diet cannot be properly absorbed into his body and brain without enzymes to break them down and prepare them for assimilation.
What is the connection between autism and digestion?
Current research has showed that the brain and body influence one other in countless ways. I believe like many others that there is a brain-gut connection. As a mom, it makes sense to me that when my child’s digestive system is not working properly he will feel poorly and act out, to make this fact known. I know from my own experience that if I am feeling ill, it is generally difficult to concentrate and process new information. More importantly, I become cranky as indigestion affects my behavior and how I cope.
My belief in the brain-gut connection was reinforced after my son’s blood tests, when I was informed that when he eats certain foods, substances are released into his blood that severely disrupt his brain function.
To understand how the brain-gut connection works, it might help to relate the experience to something that you are familiar with in your daily life. Think about how you feel when you consume a glass of wine. Do you think your brain is affected by the wine? Of course it is. Each and every substance we put into our bodies has a direct affect on how we function and feel, whether it is food, drink, or medications.
If the body makes enzymes, why supplement?
Some children on the autism spectrum, like my son, do not make a sufficient amount of enzymes to facilitate optimal digestion. When you see a child experience cramping, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, it is a clear sign that something is not working properly.
*Note to parents: look at your child’s poop patterns. Look at the consistency, the color, and if there are food particles remaining. These are signs to help gauge the effectiveness of your child’s digestive process.
If I supplement enzymes, does that mean my child’s body will stop making them?
No, your child’s body will not stop making them. You are simply giving your child’s body a break, reducing digestive stress. Keep in mind, it takes up to 80% of our body’s energy to digest our food. So many of our children, my son included, are working hard in other ways to rid their bodies of toxins. Reducing the stress on our children’s digestive systems can be enormously beneficial to aid detoxification.
Can I use enzymes as an alternative to any special diets?
I do not recommend using enzymes as an alternative to dietary modification. I have seen with my own son that when I combine diet and enzymes, it brings the best of both worlds together.
Some diets to consider are: the Gluten Free / Casein Free Diet, the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, the Body Ecology Diet, and the Feingold Diet. For more information on these diets check out the following websites:
Are all enzymes created equal?
All enzymes are not created equal. Here are some things to consider when evaluating an enzyme supplement: Is the product a broad spectrum enzyme? Does it address different pH and temperature ranges? How are the ingredients in the formula measured? (Some companies measure their product in weight, which tells you nothing about the potency of the ingredients.) Lastly, I encourage you to investigate the manufacturer. I prefer buying supplements from a company that has a high level of integrity and takes pride in their products.
Tips on how to give your child enzymes if they do not swallow capsules:
Twist open the capsule and mix it with a small amount of water or juice, depending on what diet your child is on. Stir and have your child drink it down before the first bite of food. With digestive enzymes you will be giving the product with food, and for therapeutic enzymes you will be offering it on an empty stomach.
If your child resists taking enzymes in liquid, try opening the capsule and mix it in applesauce, pear sauce or whatever is allowed on their diet. Give it to your child all in one bite. You can do this with both digestive and therapeutic enzymes.
*Note to parents: When using any method, which requires opening a capsule, you may see some irritation around your child’s mouth. This is not something to worry about and it has an easy solution. The cause: generally, such irritation is the result of the enzymes breaking up dead skin cells around the mouth. The remedy: put a small amount of olive oil on a washcloth and dab your child’s lips and the corners of the mouth. This will act as a barrier.
About the Author
Kristin Selby Gonzalez is the Director of Autism Education, Enzymedica and Executive Director for Cause Relations, Enzymedica. Kristin is an Autism Diet Specialist and Sensory Integration Specialist and Mother of Jaxson, Diagnosed with Autism. Follow Kristin on Twitter @KSelbyGonzalez.
Autism: What the Exprts Know – Autism Resource Booklet provides you with hope, inspiration and practical tools that you find useful.
Topics discussed include:
- Autism What The Experts Know
- Holistic Treatments for Autism
- Understanding the Biomedical of Autism
- Pathways to Recovery
- Gluten-Free/Casein-Free Diet
- The Specific Carbohydrate Diet
- Enzymes and Autism
…. much more!