Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are neuro-developmental disorders that affect the brain, causing varying degrees of social and behavioral challenges. Because I am based in the UK I have realized that many people here do not know about functional medicine for autism, or the functional medicine approach towards addressing the symptoms and underlying imbalances associated with ASD and ADHD. For that reason, I thought I’d write this long article explaining functional medicine for autism in general more specifically my D.A.R.I.N.G.ApproachTM to ASD which is a tried, tested and trademarked method for anyone who falls anywhere on the spectrum and is looking for a natural, non-invasive treatment for autism, ADHD and anyone with autism spectrum disorder and associated co-morbidities.
What is Functional Medicine for Autism and ADHD?
Functional medicine for autism is a personalized, systems-oriented approach that seeks to identify and address the root causes of any health condition by focusing on understanding the interconnectedness of the body’s systems, including the gut, immune function, and neurological health.
Rather than simply treating the surface-level manifestations of autism spectrum disorders, functional medicine aims to restore balance and function to the body as a whole. In other words, functional medicine addresses the body ‘systems’ not just ‘symptoms’ of ASD and ADHD by considering the individual’s unique biochemical makeup and genetic predispositions.
One of the key connections within functional medicine is the relationship between gut function and overall health. Research has shown that gut imbalances can contribute to symptoms associated with ASD and ADHD, making it a crucial focus within the functional medicine approach. You may also have heard about the ‘gut-brain axis’, which is another crucial area to focus on in relation to which nutrients do or do not cross over into the brain and affect its neurology.
Functional Testing for ASD and ADHD
Functional testing plays a pivotal role in identifying underlying imbalances in both adults and children with autism. Exploring gut function tests and organic acid testing can provide valuable insights into the physiological factors contributing to ASD and ADHD.
Organic acid testing is particularly significant in functional medicine, as it can reveal metabolic imbalances and nutrient deficiencies that may be contributing to the symptoms of ASD and ADHD. These tests aid in pinpointing the specific areas of dysfunction that need to be addressed through targeted interventions.
The tests I use in Barefoot Medicine are non-invasive. This means that all the tests are either stool or urine tests that can be done in the comfort and familiar surroundings of your own home rather than in a GP surgery. For anyone with young children who need testing, I can order nappy liners if it is easier to collect urine samples that way.
Causes and Imbalances in Autism and ADHD
The impact of gut health on cognitive function in anyone on the autistic spectrum cannot be overstated. Disturbances in the gut microbiome have been linked to behavioral and cognitive symptoms commonly seen in ASD and ADHD.
Inflammation and oxidative stress are also significant factors in the pathophysiology of autism and ADHD. Understanding and addressing these imbalances through a functional medicine lens can offer new avenues for managing the symptoms and improving overall well-being. However, in my experience, people on the autistic spectrum are often not amenable to dietary changes, so in the D.A.R.I.N.G. ApproachTM to Autism programme I offer advice and constructive solutions about how to overcome that at whatever pace is most likely to work, because incremental change is more likely to have lasting positive benefits.
Toxin exposure, including heavy metals and environmental pollutants, has been identified as a potential trigger for neurodevelopmental disorders, making it crucial to explore and mitigate these sources of toxicity within the context of functional medicine for autism. While there has been considerable challenges in getting all the toxin testing done over the last 3 years, I have a relationship with excellent laboratories that can do most of the key tests.
Treatment Plans and Nutritional Approaches
Functional medicine emphasizes the development of personalized treatment plans for children with autism and ADHD. These plans take into account the unique biochemistry of each individual, tailoring interventions to address specific imbalances and deficiencies.
Nutritional deficiencies are common in individuals on the autistic spectrum, and functional medicine approaches seek to rectify these imbalances through targeted dietary interventions and supplementation. The use of omega-3 fatty acids and gluten-free, casein-free meal plans has shown promise in managing the symptoms of autism and ADHD.
By addressing these nutritional components, functional medicine for autism empowers families, carers and service users with ASD and ADHD to understand mroe and better optimize their health and well-being, potentially leading to improvements in their cognitive and behavioral function.
Detoxification and Nutritional Support in Functional Medicine for Autism
Understanding the detoxification pathway in autistic children and adults is critical in addressing their unique needs from a functional medicine perspective. Effective detoxification is vital, not just in terms of having a healthy gut and good bowel movements, but also with regard to cellular detoxification. Again, this is addressed comprehensively in the D.A.R.I.N.G. ApproachTM to Autism.
Nutritional support is integral to restoring neurotransmitter function in anyone with autism spectrum disorder whether there is a formal diagnosis or not. By addressing nutritional deficiencies and imbalances, functional medicine strategies can help rebalance the intricate network of neurotransmitters, potentially mitigating symptoms associated with these disorders. This is done using the organic acids test which gives me a clear breakdown of how the nutrients are being metabolized and a 3-day stool analysis that shows whether the body is actually absorbing those nutrients or if there are opportunistic infections in the gut that are hindering the process, or if the detoxification pathways are functioning correctly.
Of course, it is not all down to functional testing, that is there to give the scientific insight and ‘facts’ only, but the crucial part of understanding what is going on is to work closely with families who are affected by ASD and gather the ‘anecdotal’ evidence which, in my personal view, is all too often overlooked in conventional healthcare.
Additionally, functional medicine approaches target the management of leaky gut and gut imbalances, recognizing the integral role of gut health in the overall well-being of individuals on the autistic spectrum.
Functional Nutrition for Autism
We cannot understand functional medicine for autism without properly examining the key role of functional nutrition for autism.
Everyone’s nutritional needs are different, but there are several basic concepts for treating autism naturally with food and supplements. The first is to ensure the detoxification pathways are working effectively, so this may require a Detox Meal Plan. For others it is more appropriate to have an anti-inflammatory meal plan to reduce inflammation as part of the detoxification process. Finally, once this has been optimised, it may be better to look at a Methylation meal plan because it is the methylation processes in the body that need as much support as possible in people affected by autism spectrum disorder. Whichever is right will be determined by the lab test results.
For some people, an important starting point is the Glutuen-Free Caseine-Free diet as that can make a huge difference to both digestion and behavioural factors. This is because of a complex process in the body that literally leads to morphine compounds being created as part of the digestive process so in sensitive individuals it will literally create behavior that is similar to someone who is taking morphone EG mood changes and constipation. Read my blog post about this topic to understand more.
Modifying Behaviour in ASD with Functional Medicine
This is a complex area with many potential causes, but I would like to draw your attention to one area that strikes me in particular. There is a lot of focus on ‘behaviour modification’ in conventional treatments, but as a functional medicine practitioner specializing in functional medicine for autism, I like to ask what is at the root of that behaviour. ‘Stimming’ is one area and ‘tantrums’ is another that particularly interest me in non-verbal people with ASD.
As a mother, I know that when a baby behaves in a certain way, it is because they have ‘croup’ or ‘wind’ and they need burping. This comes instinctively to most new Mum’s. Why, then, does this approach seem to change as a child gets older if they are unale to express themselves verbally or understand what is happening inside their body? If a healthy adult develops gastro-enteritis or is constipated and then doubles up in pain and cries out because it is hurting, would we try to teach them behaviour modification techniques to make them stand up straight and be quiet? Of course there are many times when behaviour modification is absolutely necessary, but given that it is so widely known that people with ASD have poor gut function, reduced peristalsis and perhaps a limited ability to express their needs,
I feel strongly that we should at least investigate whether the reason for the outbursts could be digestive pain. Perhaps this could also explain why they may be throwing themselves over the arm of a chair or onto the bed so that the increased pressure on the outside of the abdomen may be helping to push the stool through the digestive system? Just a thought….
Stimming – more common than we think?
Another way of looking at behaviour and ‘stimming’ is that very few people think of rapping their fingers on a desk or jiggling their foot when their legs are crossed as stimming, but that’s exactly what it is! After all, it is not designed to achieve anything or to get anywhere, but it is something that people do when they feel unsettled for some reason. Or what about if you have been on a long-haul flight or a long car journey and you want to get out of the car, stretch, yawn and move around to get your circulation going and move that excess energy build-up about a bit – do you think it would work if someone tried to make you get back into your seat and sit still by way of ‘behaviour modification’?
Having spent over 20 years in natural healthcare and specifically Traditional Chinese Medicine, I feel that it is very beneficial to address the concept of Qi as it is known in TCM, or Ki in Japan or Prana in India and in the Ayurvedic medicine traditions. It seems to me that it is only the Western world that does not recognize the importance of ‘energy’ and the impact of ‘Qi stagnation’ in mood, behaviour and wellbeing. Whilst it is often not safe to perform acupuncture on someone with ASD if they have limited understanding of, and likely an aversion to, the use of needles and even touch, I still feel that oriental medicine has a lot to teach us about this concept of ‘behaviour modification’ and potential alternatives.
Key Treatment Plans in Functional Medicine for Autism
In summary, all this means that we can go a very long way towards mitigating the undesirable aspects of ASD whether they are behavioural, physical or in terms of communication, by addressing the internal imbalances, nutritional deficiencies and pain which may underpin the outward manifestation of the symptoms of autism. Functional Medicine is ideally suited for disorders like autism because it is highly personalized, the tests are non-invasive and the solutions can be implemented at a time and rate that suits the person or family who are affected. It is with this in mind that I developed the D.A.R.I.N.G.ApproachTM to Autism.
If you would like to start on our D.A.R.I.N.G.Approach to Autism 4-month programme, please use this link to find out more about how it works or you can get started right away by using the booking link for functional medicine for autism.