There has been emerging evidence that suggests there may be a connection between Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and food allergies. As many of us in the ASD community know, food sensitivities or intolerances are common in those with ASD, but how do they differ from other food responses, such as allergies?
It is important for parents to understand the differences between the food responses, so they can address them more effectively. Today, we will discuss the connection between environmental factors such as food intolerances and allergies and their role in ASD.
What Are Food Allergies?
We all know what allergies are, but most of us aren’t entirely sure what goes on inside the body to cause a reaction. Before we discuss a possible connection between allergies and Autism, let’s discuss how food allergies occur.
When someone has a food allergy, their immune system strongly responds to a type of food, resulting in immediate inflammation.
With “classic food allergies,” the body responds by producing an antibody called immunoglobulin type E, or IgE. When this molecule is released, other inflammatory molecules such as histamines can trigger familiar allergy responses such as sneezing, coughing, runny nose, watery eyes, congestion, and lethargy. In rare cases, more severe reactions include anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock
Autism and Food: Sensitivities & Intolerance
Autism Spectrum Disorder affects roughly 1 in 54 children in the United States. It can occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups and is typically diagnosed in children who show early signs of ASD, such as delayed language and movement, delayed cognitive or learning skills, and restrictive or repetitive behaviors.
Many children with autism experience difficulties with communication, so expressing pain or discomfort caused by food sensitivities or intolerance may not always be directly apparent.
If a child is experiencing sensitivity/intolerance responses to food it is a delayed response, which produces IgG antibodies. This makes it difficult to pinpoint a certain food or foods if the child cannot communicate their discomfort, it can become a stressful and frustrating experience, worsening their ASD symptoms. If your child has a food sensitivity/intolerance, they may display some of the following signs:
- Reduced social interaction
- Sensory-seeking or avoidant behaviors
- Picky eating
Food sensitivities and intolerances are typically identified through observation in an elimination style diet or with specific testing. This type of food reaction is also important to identify in order to address underlying gastrointestinal issues and chronic inflammation.
Somewhere between classic food allergies and severe reactions, there is another inflammatory food response that is more common in those with Autism called eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE). It involves different responses from the immune system, which result in chronic inflammation and can affect the cells lining the esophagus.
Here are some of the symptoms of eosinophilic esophagitis:
- Acid reflux
- Abdominal pain
- Difficulty eating or sleeping
Other Food-Related Issues in Children with ASD
Although we do not know the exact cause of Autism, we do know that it is likely the result of genetic and environmental factors, with food being the most significant environmental factor. ASD has also been linked to GI issues and dietary deficiencies, which is why some parents use nutritional interventions such as Simple Spectrum Supplement to bridge dietary gaps and improve gut health.
As we continue to study the relationship between autism and food allergies/sensitivities/intolerances, we do know that there are many known connections between ASD and nutritional deficiencies caused by chronic gastrointestinal issues, irregular eating habits or other food-related issues, like picky eating.
As we mentioned, GI Issues are also common in individuals with ASD. Researchers say the gut-brain axis (GBA) acts as a bidirectional means of communication between the central nervous system and the enteric nervous system. In other words, this means that the brain can send messages to the gut, and the gut can send messages to the brain, linking the emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions.
In the last decade or so, many studies have been conducted looking at the link between digestive health, food allergies, and Autism. So to answer the question, yes…there is a connection between food allergies and autism symptoms in children, but additional studies are essential for a better understanding.
If you think your child might have a food allergy, a pediatrician can help determine if any allergies are present. If allergies are present, it’s important that your child is getting appropriate nutritional support.
As you may know, Simple Spectrum Supplement was created to address dietary deficiencies and bridge any nutritional gaps that are commonly associated with ASD, such as picky eating, food intolerance, and food allergies.