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Category: Diet and autism

Is There a Connection Between Sugar and Autism?

Is There a Connection Between Sugar and Autism?

Most elementary school teachers will confirm that there is a link between sugar and behavior but now scientists are looking deeper into that correlation.

Researchers at The California Salk Institute observed behaviors in pregnant mice that were fed a diet of high glycemic foods versus a diet of low glycemic foods. The mice in the study were specifically bred to demonstrate symptoms of autism.

High-glycemic foods produce a rapid rise in blood sugar and tend to be rich in simple carbohydrates such as sugar (potatoes, white bread and short-grain rice). Low-glycemic foods don’t produce such a blood-sugar spike. They include foods high in protein (nuts, beans and meat) and complex carbohydrates (whole grains and vegetables). Low-glycemic diets have long been recommended for people with diabetes, to help keep blood sugar on an even level.

Though their diets differed, the two groups of mice consumed the same amount of calories and maintained similar weights. After the pregnancy and the pups were weaned, the groups were maintained on the same diet and researchers tested the behavior and brain development between the two groups.

All the mice in the high-glycemic diet group demonstrated autism-like behaviors. They avoided contact with new mice placed near their chambers. They repeated actions with no apparent purpose and groomed excessively. By contrast, the mice in the low-glycemic group showed an overall reduction in their autism-like behaviors. They spent more time near new mice and less time performing repetitive behaviors such as excessive self-grooming.

Researchers continued to look for the differences between the two groups and found that the mice fed the high-glycemic diet had far lower levels of doublecortin- a protein associated with newly developing neurons. In addition, the mice on the high-glycemic diet showed more evidence of gene activity associated with inflammation and higher numbers of microglia (immune cells in the brain).

There is a great deal of research in support of sugar producing chronic low levels of inflammation and more recent studies have implicated inflammation during pregnancy with an increased risk of autism, although most of these studies focused on inflammation during pregnancy. Some researchers have proposed that the chronic inflammation produced by sugar is why diabetes during pregnancy increases the risk of autism in offspring.

Although much research still needs to be continued, a low-glycemic diet is generally considered healthful. Focus Formulations products address this issue by having very little if any sugar added to their products and they are engineered to address nutritionally deficient needs in autistic children. Autistic children often have nutrient imbalances either due to metabolic deficiencies or limited diets and it is prudent for families to work with a nutritionist for the optimal health of your child.

Allergies and Autism

Allergies and Autism

Springtime brings warmer temperatures, longer days and beautiful blooming flowers and trees; but along with all of nature’s beauty springtime is often the time when we see a rise in pollen and a rise in the sneezing and runny noses. Allergens send the body’s immune system into overdrive, leading to allergy symptoms such as sneezing, and itching when exposed to environmental allergens. Food allergies or sensitivities usually result in GI symptoms. Allergies are also frequently seen in children with autism; could there be a link between allergies and autism?

First, let’s make the distinction between intolerance and an allergy. An allergy causes an immune system reaction that affects numerous organs in the body. It can cause a wide range of symptoms and in severe cases it can be life-threatening. In contrast, intolerance symptoms are generally less serious and often limited to digestive problems. A classic example of intolerance is the inability to digest lactose (milk sugar) resulting in GI distress including stomach pain, bloating and diarrhea. Anaphylaxis is an extreme example of an allergy where there is a whole-body response that can be life-threatening and must be treated quickly.

Food allergies are extremely common in children with autism with approximately 1 in 13 children having a food allergy and 1 in 40 reporting a life threatening food allergy. Food allergies are one of the main causes of ADHD according to a 2001 study in the Lancet. It is also recognized that allergies to chemicals, molds and other environmental agents can also cause behavioral changes.

Food allergies can, in fact, produce inflammation throughout the body. Food allergies result from a strong immune response to a food, and the resulting inflammation can involve multiple body systems. With classic food allergies, this immune response involves a particular antibody, IgE (immunoglobulin type E). Another inflammatory food response that is appearing more frequently is eosinophilic esophagitis. Eosinophilic esophagitis is not a classic food allergy but the resulting inflammation produces changes in the cell lining of the esophagus which can lead to a difficulty is swallowing. Avoiding the offending foods allows the esophagus to heal, along with the rest of the GI tract.

The gut is integral to the immune system and the brain and will react immediately when exposed to an offending agent. Avoidance of the allergen and incorporating antioxidants into the diet may assist in decreasing inflammation associated with food intolerances in children with autism. Focus Formulations products can help with dietary deficiencies associated with autism. Our products contain antioxidants to calm inflammation and combat the effects of oxidative stress while supplying the needed nutrients for healthy learning and sleep.



Children are picky eaters in general but children with autism can be REALLY picky eaters. Children with autism tend to have limited diets, choosing foods with only certain colors, textures, or tastes. Choosing only bland food or having very little variety can severely limit a child’s nutrient intake.

A nutrient rich diet is imperative for our bodies to function at an optimal level and for children to develop and grow physically and mentally. Here are five dietary facts that you need to know about diet and autism:

1. Supplements: Researchers have found that supplements and special diets for children with autism commonly result in excessive amounts of some nutrients and deficiencies in others. Parents will generally try and supplement a poor diet by giving their children vitamins. One researcher found many of the children were consuming high levels of vitamin A, folic acid and zinc while not getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Low calcium intake may contribute to the unusually high rate of bone fractures seen in children with autism.

2. Essential Fats: Deficiencies in essential fats are common in children with autism. Some children with autism have an enzymatic defect that removes essential fats from brain cell membranes more quickly than it should. This results in a greater need for essential fats than the average child. Supplementing with Eicosapentaenoic Acid, one of several omega-3 fatty acids (EPA) is helpful and it may also improve behavior and mood.

3. Metabolic Deficiencies: Three metabolic impairments are frequently associated with autism; methylation, transulfuration, and mitochondrial function. Metabolic deficiencies may increase susceptibility to oxidative stress and impair immune function, resulting in higher rates of allergies, GI problems, and behavioral patterns associated with autism.

4. Allergies: Removing certain foods from the diet may produce relief for many children with autism. The gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet is very common and many families have found relief and improvement with this diet. If your child cannot effectively breakdown certain proteins it can create inflammation in the gut resulting in GI issues. Elimination testing for certain foods can be done at home and is less invasive than allergy testing. Eliminate the particular food/foods for 2-4 weeks and then slowly introduce one new food at a time every few days. Keep a journal throughout the elimination and reintroduction periods to determine which foods are tolerated and note any symptoms.

5. Sleep: Who knew sleep can affect your body’s metabolism? Sleep is commonly disrupted in children with autism, yet it is critical as this is the time the body performs reparative functions, detoxification and metabolic processes.

A healthy diet is essential for all children, but even more so for children with autism due to GI issues and malabsorption issues. It is critical for your child to receive the key nutrients needed for growth and development. The ideal diet to support metabolic pathways and optimum development would be rich in vitamin B12 and antioxidants. This requires consumption of eggs, meats, and highly colored fruits and vegetables. The best way to improve your child’s diet is to work with a nutritionist who can help you include a broader variety of foods in the child’s diet.

Leave a comment below and let us know what works for your picky eater and what you have done to improve your child’s nutrition. We would love to hear from you.