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Nutrition case study: Asperger’s syndrome

When I first met Callum he was 8 years old and had just been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. He was emotionally labile, struggled with basic social communication, was very anxious, he also had food intolerances. His parents were concerned that he wouldn’t be able to cope in mainstream school as he was hugely sensitive and dis-connected.

Many of the keys to Callum’s current health issues were found in his early years. His had a normal birth and during pregnancy his mother was generally well, but admitted to being stressed due to the miscarriage of her first pregnancy just three months before conceiving Callum. The baby from the previous pregnancy was affected with a fatal chromosomal abnormality which pointed to possible issues with methylation or zinc deficiency. Up until falling pregnant for the first time Callum’s mum had been a vegetarian for 15 years. By her own admission she said she had a poor vegetarian diet that she felt wasn’t balanced.

Almost immediately after his birth Callum suffered with colic and reflux. He slept poorly and had explosive bowel movements. His condition worsened when his mother took antibiotics. She was advised to continue breast feeding but after just a few days she could see Callum’s digestion and discomfort worsening and so decided to give formula whilst taking the antibiotics. Calum’s reflux worsened and explosive stools turned into constipation on the cow’s milk formula. He developed slight rashes and his breathing was laboured at times. Callum began on soya milk formula and did a little better on it.

Developmentally he seemed switched on – he would recognise symbols and numbers and loved to look at books. But he didn’t crawl until he was 11 months and didn’t walk until he was 17 months. He potty trained late and still suffered occasionally from loose stools. His parents, with hindsight, noted that he didn’t always respond to his name and he was rigid in his behaviours. He went through a period of refusing food after being weaned on solids, feeding was always laboured and he needed coaxing to eat. He had heightened sensitivities to touch and sounds. He would have to be held at bedtime in order to sleep and dressing was difficult as many fabrics and labels were uncomfortable for him.

It was school who highlighted his difficulty with change, social communication but above all his anxiety and lack of emotional control.

We identified particular foods that Callum should remove from his diet. This was a difficult decision for his parents because his diet was very limited already. He didn’t eat dairy and would only eat a limited number of foods. It would take time but eventually Calum’s list of accepted foods grew from 5 to over 20. He now is more willing to try many foods and eats sauces, gravies, meat and many other foods he found unacceptable before.

The removal of gluten from the diet saw the biggest change in Callum’s behaviour. He became more aware, less ‘spaced out’ and generally more connected.

Initially it was hard to use supplements to help Callum because he wouldn’t drink anything with supplements added or didn’t like the taste of some of the child-friendly ones. Eventually, we found some that he liked and when he was a little older his parents taught him to swallow capsules. albeit mostly small ones. This opened up a number of possibilities for supplementation. It also meant he could take supplements to help him feel less anxious.

We could see that Callum really needed some probiotics to restore gut flora. His Organic Acid Test had indicated a high level of clostridia and yeast overgrowth which was likely a result of exposure to antibiotics through breast milk – interestingly these were the only antibiotics he had ever had. However, he wasn’t able to tolerate even small amounts of single strain probiotics without a significant increase in his symptoms of autism. These flare-ups would affect his ability to manage the school day and so we couldn’t move forward with the probiotics at this point.

A word about testing, like many children with high anxiety and a low pain threshold – blood tests were not a possibility for Callum, he also wasn’t keen on submitting a stool sample, so we worked with those methods that offered an easy way to collect samples – urine, saliva and hair.

Our breakthrough came with lab testing. We identified pyroluria and MTHFR mutations suing urine and saliva samples. Most people with MTHFR mutations struggle to include the crucial B vitamin support that their body needs and Callum was no exception and so this is something we are looking at implementing further down the line.

We concentrated on the pyroluria by supplementing P5P and liquid zinc initially for absorption purposes. I should say that the presence of pyrrole disorder cannot be remedied simply by giving zinc and B6 often the damage done by these deficiencies needs to be remedied too using the right nutritional protocol. However, the zinc was a huge breakthrough for Callum, after around 6 months he was able to tolerate some level of probiotics. His anxiety has lessened considerably as has his emotional lability.

Our work together continues but so far so good. Callum has just started mainstream secondary school, he has settled well without any major anxieties and is making new friends. He has reduced his ATEC score to just 6. We use an ATEC form to assess progress during nutritional therapy and with a score as low as 6 it is unlikely Callum would fall within the range for an autism diagnosis these days. His initial ATEC score was over 80.

Author: Sarah Hanratty

Sarah is a specialist practitioner at the Brain Food Clinic. She has a degree in Nutritional Medicine and is a certified Gut and Psychology Syndrome Practitioner. Sarah helps people to overcome physical and mental health issues using bespoke nutritional protocols.

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