When it comes to autism, there are some visible problems that parents often see in their children, such as behavior, motor skills, or learning development.
However, some “invisible” problems can be behind the visible problems. A few of these invisible problems are chemicals in the body that those with autism tend to struggle to produce on their own.
In this article, we’ll dive into three of those chemicals, why it’s important, and how we can improve the body’s ability to produce chemicals or how to supplement with it.
3 Chemicals People with Autism Struggle to Produce
The first chemical that we’ll look at is serotonin. This chemical is extremely important for things like mood regulation, sensory processing, appetite, aggression, sleep, and brain development.
There have been many studies backing up the differences in serotonin levels in children with autism and those without. One study found that 30 percent of people with autism have lower blood levels of serotonin.
What can be done to Improve Serotonin Levels?
Improve Gut Health
One way to improve serotonin production in children with autism is to improve their gut health. This would help because it’s estimated that 90% of our serotonin is produced in the digestive tract, and those with autism tend to have poor gut lining and abnormal gut bacteria.
A review of multiple studies on gut microbiome and autism showed that treating children with ASD from a microbiome angle is a promising avenue for treatment strategies.
On top of this, a study using mice that had their gut bacteria manipulated showed that using a strain of good bacteria fixed their leaky gut and reduced their autistic symptoms. Then by altering the microbes in their guts to match other mice who had autism brought the autistic symptoms right back.
Here are Three Tips for Improving Gut Health in those with Autism
1) Remove Gluten
One study found that a subset of autistic children showed heightened reactivity to gluten. When gluten is broken up into smaller pieces in your gut, these fragments cause the release of zonulin, which then tells your the lining of your gut to become looser. This is particularly a problem for those with autism because of their already damaged gut lining.
2) Remove Casein
The next food that can cause problems is casein. Casein is a protein found in dairy and has a very similar makeup to gluten. Autistic children who remove casein from their diets appear to do better than those who don’t.
3) Add a Probiotic
A probiotic is just a good form of bacteria that is healthy for our bodies. We want to increase the good bacteria while decreasing the bad bacteria.
A probiotic is a great way to go about getting good bacteria into the body. Bio-Kult is a good brand to look for, but many others on the market meet our needs. You should work with your physician to find the right probiotic as well.
If you’d like to dive deeper into improving gut health to improve serotonin and stereotypical autistic symptoms as well, I’d recommend looking into the GAPs or Paleo Diet.
Deep Touch Pressure to Improve Serotonin
Another way to improve serotonin release in the body is through deep touch pressure or DTP.
DTP is simply gentle weight that is distributed throughout the body. This can come in the form of hugs or massages, but other great options include weighted blankets, weighted vests, or weighted lap pads .
Between improving the gut health and taking advantage of DTP, people with autism can generally get good results through the improvement of serotonin levels in the body.
Melatonin is another chemical in the body that those with autism have a hard time creating on their own.
Melatonin is extremely important for sleep. It is released in the evening before bed and is a signal to your body that it’s time to get sleepy and head to bed. Without melatonin, those with autism have a harder time falling to sleep.
How to Improve Melatonin Production
One way to improve melatonin is to follow the above advice on improving serotonin. Serotonin is actually a required building block for melatonin, so simply improving serotonin should help improve melatonin as well. Using a weighted blanket in bed is a great way to help the production of serotonin and melatonin before bed.
Supplementing with melatonin is also a fairly safe way to improve melatonin in the body. One study found that melatonin improved sleep for adults with autism and another found that it improved sleep for children with autism.
Both studies noted that there were no found side effects for supplementing with melatonin.
Other good practices for improving melatonin levels are to avoid screens two hours before bed and sleeping in pitch dark rooms. The blue light from the screens blunt melatonin production, and melatonin produces better when there is no light in the bedroom.
Glutathione is our bodies natural powerhouse when it comes to removing toxins from the body. It plays a key role in other processes as well, but children with autism tend to have trouble removing waste from their body, so this a place where they could use a little help.
The problem with glutathione is that supplementing directly with it doesn’t seem to help much.
However, supplementing with the building blocks of glutathione has proved to be a way to work around that issue, which we’ll dive into below.
How to Improve Glutathione Production
The first thing we can look into is supplementing with N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC). NAC is typically an asthma remedy, but in one study children with autism who supplement with NAC over 12 weeks showed an 80% reduction in ABC Irritability subscale scores compared to the group who didn’t.
Next, and an easier one to supplement with is whey protein. Whey protein is derived from dairy, so it may be best to go with goat whey protein to avoid problems with dairy and casein. I recommend this one.
The reason you want to supplement with whey protein is that it replenishes glutathione by providing the precursor cysteine. This makes it a great supplement to help support glutathione when it comes to increasing metabolism and strengthening the immune system.
The last building block to add is sulfuric foods. It has been shown that when your sulfur amino acid intake is low, your glutathione levels drop.
Here’s a quick list of foods to consider adding to the diet to improve production of important chemicals:
- Bok Choy
- Brussels Sprouts
- Collard Greens
- Mustard Greens
There you have it! Three chemicals that those with autism struggle to make on their own and what can be done to help improve them.
Like we mentioned before, it’s best to work with a doctor when implementing these protocols, as they can help get the dosing right for supplements.
If you have any questions, please let us know in the comments!