updated 7:00 PM UTC, Oct 22, 2014
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Woman Says Change In Diet Cured Daughter’s Autism

Woman Says Change In Diet Cured Daughter's Autism

( 4UMF NEWS ) Woman Says Change In Diet Cured Daughter’s Autism:

Katherine Reid, a Bay Area biochemist with a daughter who was autistic, believes she may have found an antidote to the neurodevelopment disorder – and it’s as simple as changing a person’s diet.

Well, actually, more like blowing it up.

Because there is no Food and Drug Administration-approved medical treatment for the core symptoms of autism, people have turned to homeopathic remedies, probiotics, invasive therapies and alternative diets.

It has become increasingly popular for parents of children with autism or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder to turn to gluten- and casein-free, or dairy-free, diets in hopes that it will make a difference.

But Reid’s diet is different. She thinks what it comes down to, at least for some people with autism, is permanently eliminating just a single chemical compound known as monosodium glutamate, or MSG – an ingredient many people associate with Chinese food.

Actually, Reid said, the chemical is in nearly every processed food imaginable, but it only appears on food labels as MSG about 1 percent of the time. Instead, MSG is sometimes labeled as flavor or flavoring, soy protein, barley malt, pectin, corn starch or yeast extract, Reid said.

“We’re getting an abundance of MSG,” she said. “It’s in 95 percent of processed food. And we don’t need it in our diet – ever.”

While there is no science to back up many of her claims, Reid said the most convincing evidence to her is the results she saw in her daughter. At age 7, Brooke is completely cured, Reid said. And from all outward appearances that seems to be true.

Research is sparse

Dr. Robin Hansen, professor of pediatrics at UC Davis and a developmental behavior pediatrician who recently led a study for the university’s Mind Institute, said it’s fairly common for parents to seek out alternative treatments for their children with autism. Nearly 7 percent of the children with autism they studied were on gluten- and casein-free diets.

“We don’t have a lot of diet research to look at, because these studies are difficult to do,” she said, describing the trickiness of monitoring a child’s food intake in a double-blind study. “And no one has done an MSG study. But what we do have doesn’t show a marked difference even with children with gastrointestinal problems.”

Still, she wouldn’t dissuade parents from trying as long as they make sure the diet is balanced and to keep in mind that it’s a big undertaking.

For Reid, the journey was long, difficult and often heartbreaking, but ultimately a victory that persuaded her to quit her high-paying job and help other parents with what she learned, establishing the Fremont nonprofit foundation Unblind My Mind.

It started when Brooke was 2. Reid and her husband noticed that their daughter, the youngest of five, couldn’t make human connections, had severe communication problems and threw tantrums that lasted for hours. She also had digestive issues and constipation – all hallmark signs of autism.

Reid told herself Brooke would grow out of it. Her husband, Paul Sauer, wasn’t so sure. A cellular biologist, he began plugging Brooke’s issues into search engines and perusing websites. One night he came home with information he had printed off the Internet about autism.

“Brooke displayed every characteristic on the list,” Reid said. “I could check every box.”

Looking for answers

They went through all the traditional channels, starting with their pediatrician. Their doctor agreed that something was wrong but didn’t know where to direct them. So they hired a psychologist to test Brooke, and the results showed that she was moderately autistic with some severe learning disabilities, Reid said.

“She was in her own world,” Reid said. “Her actions were repetitive, like doing a puzzle over and over again for hours. And she exhibited signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder. She couldn’t stand going home in the stroller on a different route without having a screaming tantrum.”

They enrolled her in a special-education preschool and tried to come to terms with the fact that their daughter would probably never function normally.

Reid began reading autism blogs and going onto online bulletin boards, gathering as much information as possible on what more she could do. What she found was that some parents were having success with diet, specifically cutting out gluten and dairy.

The MSG factor

She tried it with her daughter for six months and Brooke improved – a little. Then she saw something about how one parent was cutting out foods with MSG. It seemed odd to Reid.

“I remember thinking, MSG?” she said. “Who uses that anymore?”

Quickly she determined that it was in more foods than she could count. Desperate for results, she told her husband she wanted to try the diet. He was dubious. Already their household had been divided on the gluten-free, dairy-free diet – with most of the family opting to eat more conventionally.

But the more Reid researched, the more it made sense. She said she found plenty of studies that showed that many Americans suffer from glutamate imbalance. Glutamate is a chemical messenger that transmits signals between neurons and other cells in the body. Glutamate is needed for learning and functioning.

Reid believes that when there is too much glutamate in the body, it causes neurological disfunction. This theory is shared by many scientists. But Reid takes it a step further, believing that a diet filled with MSG can add to the imbalance, or make it much worse.

Dr. Sanford Newmark, who practices integrative medicine at UCSF’s Osher Center and specializes in treating autistic children, says there are no scientific studies to back up her hypothesis. But he would be willing to try it because he has seen results from gluten- and casein-free diets.

“There is so much we don’t know about autism,” he said. “And there is no way to know who will respond and who won’t.”

Results from diet

Newmark said that a third of his patients respond significantly to diet and another third see mild improvement. For some reason some people can’t break down gluten or casein in the gut and it winds up going into the bloodstream, he said.

“There’s a huge connection between the gut and the brain,” he said, adding that autistic children who suffer from gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation, often see the best results from the diet.

As far as the MSG-free diet, other than Reid’s experience Newmark said he has seen no evidence that it works.

“While it’s not normal for kids with moderate autism to be cured by 7, it’s not unheard of,” he said.

But there is no harm in trying, he said. “If you actually ate just fruit, meat, vegetables, beans and whole grains and not processed food, it’s a more healthful diet.”

Dr. Antonio Hardan, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and an expert on the neurology of autism, said, “I believe that we have to be open-minded about new approaches to treating autism.”

But he too echoes Newmark’s words that Reid’s diet is not scientifically tested and warns that changing an autistic child’s diet could have serious consequences. One of the traits of autism is picky eating, he said. Doctors believe it may be related to sensory issues such as texture, smell and taste.

“By limiting something they like, you could be making life in that household impossible,” he said.

Just timing?

He also wonders if Brooke Reid’s recovery might have been a coincidence to the diet.

“For 100 years we didn’t have processed food, but we did have autism,” he said. “But despite the lack of scientific support, it might be worth considering in light of the good response of some types of seizures to the ketogenic diet.”

The ketogenic diet – a high-fat, low-carbohydrate regime – has successfully been used to treat epilepsy in children.

But Reid said she has her own proof. She sees it every day with her Unblind My Mind foundation.

“Out of the 75 cases of diagnosed autism I’ve worked on, 74 drastically improved within five weeks,” she said.

And then there is Brooke.

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