Autism is often discussed in connection with special diets, food and eating challenges, and other health issues including the great GI debate (here’s the counter-argument on the lack of connection between GI concerns and ASD).
So it is with careful consideration that I share this next research discussion. A study was released in 2012, suggesting that autism may be “linked to the typical American diet” (FIHRI, 2012). The study itself is interesting and provides plenty of ‘food for thought’ (please excuse the horrible pun). As with any study, it is important to consider the lead researcher of the study and any agenda that may be presented. Although the lead researcher , Renee Dufault, has been associated with the U.S. Public Health Service and the Food and Drug Administration in the past, currently she is listed as a founder of the Food Ingredient & Health Research Institute. Additionally, an online biography suggests that she was “encouraged to retire” from the FDA. She is also a licensed special education teacher.
Dufault’s prior research findings suggest that High Fructose Corn Syrup contains trace amounts of Mercury, and asserts that such amounts may be related to the increase in behavior disorders and learning disabilities noted recently. (Link is to the published study). The current study attempts to create a model of nutrition, environment, and genetic factors may interact to contribute to outcomes for children in the United States.
Disclaimer:Information is shared on the research team, as available, to help professionals and parents carefully consider the findings of this study.
Key Study Points
- Genetic and environmental interactions may be affected by dietary factors influencing outcomes and expression of genes (i.e., whether or not the genetic factor is noted in an individual).
- Mercury has been found in high fructose corn syrup and is allowable in trace amounts in some food coloring in very small quantities (1 part per million).
- Children with autism may have a Zinc deficiency that impairs their ability to eliminate heavy metals (i.e., Mercury).
- Pesticide exposure may impair development for children, with some evidence suggesting exposure prior to birth also has an effect.
- Wheat and corn are dietary staples that may be contributing to this exposure, as they are highly consumed, including corn used to manufacture high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners.
- The researchers suggest that exposure to toxins including high fructose corn syrup, mercury, and pesticides in combination may reduce neural plasticity and impair learning in children.
- As consumption of sweeteners has increased over time, so has the rate of children diagnosed with behavior disorders, learning disabilities, autism, and ADHD.
My Opinion of Findings
- The study provides an interesting perspective.
- Generally maintaining a more healthy diet, with fewer processed foods, is recommended by healthcare professionals.
- The concept of mercury being present in sweetener and other foods is an interesting one and is worth reading about.
- I am not trained as a toxicologist, nor do I have experience with FDA guidelines. The study is highly technical and I am not able to accurately assess findings due to my lack of background. That said, it’s interesting to consider that diet while pregnant and diets of children may be influencing symptom presentation of those who are diagnosed. Especially when you consider the often self-restricted diets of children with behavioral needs and those with autism diagnoses.
- The concept of diet and autism is clearly not new; however, limited evidence exists to support the elaborate (gluten, casein, soy-free) diets that are often recommended.
- The idea of adhering to a more natural diet, rather than cutting out specific products may be more manageable for families, safer, and could potentially be more affordable (i.e., shopping at local markets for produce, limiting processed foods/sugars).
Overall, the findings are an interesting perspective on the hypothesized relation between autism and diet. It is important to be thoughtful in the research we allow to impact our daily lives and the lives of children. My opinion currently is that I may not be able to fully analyze the technical components of the study, but generally providing children with a less-processed diet and nutritious foods is not likely to hurt!
Are more natural dietary changes a good idea over GF/CF/SF diets?