Autism and Food Intolerances – And finally

foodIn a previous article I mentioned a girl who became seemingly ‘drunk’ after eating carrots and a boy who, after ‘scoffing’ a whole packet of chocolate and orange biscuits became really hyperactive.  Seemingly strange behaviours you might think and yet they are reasonably common amongst children on the Autism Spectrum as many parents will tell you.

So in the final lap of this dietary journey I’d like to introduce you to the possible cause of such behaviour: which lies two specific natural chemicals: phenols (sometimes called phenolics) and salicylates.

Phenols are found in most foods – with man-made versions also being used in common non-foods like toothpaste, hair dyes, medicine, and disinfectants.  Salicylates provide plants with protection from diseases and chemically are very similar to the man-made chemical commonly known as Aspirin.

Both can have a beneficial action in some people and yet, for some people with autism, both can be problematic. How so? The answer came in the 1990s when a parental group called Allergy-induced Autism (AiA) suggested that the various changes associated with the late-onset autism that affected their children could be the final stage of a slow and almost invisible illness.

Their concern was that,  although the onset of the autism was generally accompanied by various physical symptoms,  the latter were generally ignored.  But because many of the families involved had members with a history of various allergic disorders including asthma, eczema, hay fever and migraine, they decided to ask researcher Dr Rosemary Waring from Birmingham University in the UK for her help.

To their surprise she and her colleagues found that, unlike age-matched controls, the children with autism had low levels of plasma sulfate: which helps trigger the production of hydrochloric acid and pepsin and prompts the release of two hormones – cholecystokinin and secretin.

They also found that some children with ASD had a deficiency of phenolsulphotransferase-P (PST-P), which leaves the body unable to process phenols, salicylates and chemicals of all kinds from food colorings and artificial flavorings to preservatives as well as to heavy metals. All of which certainly explains why some such children are intolerant of a variety of foods.

The symptoms that originally concerned the parents included:
• A dramatic change in diet with the child becoming intolerant to certain foods whilst craving others and/or an excessive thirst.
• Pale complexion; red face/ears, especially after eating. Dark rings under the eyes. Dry skin.
• Sweating excessively (especially at night).
• Bad catarrh.
• Diarrhea; bloating; stomach pains.
• Asthma; eczema; urticaria (nettle rash), an allergic reaction to some substance (often food).
• Temperature rises for no apparent reason.
• Hypoglycemia and possible petit mal epilepsy.

Other noteworthy symptoms of phenol intolerance include hyperactivity, aggression, headaches, head banging or other self-injury, inappropriate laughter and an inability to sleep at night: things which are often considered to be part of the child’s autism.  Meanwhile reactions to salicylate-sensitivity often include difficulty breathing, wheezing, headache, nasal congestion, stomach pain, change in skin color as well as physical signs like hives, skin rash or urticarial or swelling of hands/feet/face.

The reactions compiled by the AiA suggest that some children are sensitive to both phenols and salicylates.  So if you think your child might be affected by such things the simplest route is to take a look at the Feingold Diet, developed by the late Dr. Feingold.

Originally aimed at those with asthma and eczema its effect on behavior was noticed in the 1960s: a time when Western diets became saturated with food dyes and other additives.  Such effects led to its widespread use with people with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder as well as those on the Autism Spectrum.

While many dyes and additives have now been removed from our food phenols and salicylates remain.  The Feingold Diet aims to eliminate them replacing them with similar foods – something that happily, still leaves a wide selection of foods to choose from.

To find out more about The Feingold Diet go to  

While my next article will contain the link to your FREE copy of The Food Detectives Guide we’ll be moving away from dietary and digestive matters to take an in-depth look at  a different type of treatment. I do hope you’ll join me.

 Autism and the sixth sense Steady on!

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About Stella Waterhouse

Stella Waterhouse first came across autism in the late 1960s when she met three very different children, all of whom shared the same diagnosis. She began researching autism in 1990 and is a published author of several books including A Positive Approach to Autism which attracted good reviews from such well known autism experts as Donna Williams and Paul Shattock OBE. She has also authored a series of concise but informative books for parents and teachers, and is currently completing her forthcoming series The Autism Code.

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