|It is now well established by modern science that many common symptoms of autism are influenced by physiological conditions. That is, what’s going on in the body—biochemically—is affecting the functioning of the mind. One very common influence is yeast.|
It’s likely you’ll think of yeast overgrowth in terms of the itchiness that results from a yeast infection; however, few people are aware how serious a yeast overgrowth can be to their health. Moreover, yeast has been implicated by the autism biomedical community as a possible factor in autism, and children with autism routinely present with an overgrowth of yeast in their bodies.
Yeast exacerbates gut inflammation and leaky gut, and stresses the immune system. It also emits toxins that enter the bloodstream and can travel to the brain, causing “spaciness” and inattentiveness. Yeast can have wide reaching effects on children with autism, so what can we do to alleviate its impact?
Several factors are at play. Reduced immune function (common in children with autism) influences yeast overgrowth because when the body is weakened it can’t identify and kill off yeast. Bacterial infections are more prevalent when immune function is poor, resulting in excessive application of antibiotics, and when antibiotics are used to combat infection, they kill off all bacteria in the body—including the good bacteria that keep yeast at bay.
Our western world is prone to high rates of candida, and many in the autism biomedical community believe that the earlier a child is exposed to yeast, the harder it is for the immune system to recognize it as a pathogen that it needs to fight. The The battle is even more difficult if we fail to arm ourselves against yeast overgrowth. As a culture, we consume virtually no fermented foods that supply the good bacteria that naturally combat yeast. We also receive multiple rounds of antibiotics, often starting at a young age, we use antibacterial soaps to kill everything bad (and good!) on our skin, and we feed our children a diet rich in the sugar and refined carbohydrates that feed and perpetuate yeast growth.
Additionally, a child’s experience at birth will affect their yeast levels. Since a large number of mothers battle candida, and a child’s first exposure to microbes is from the mother during vaginal birth, many children start out with an overexposure to yeast. Common health histories include having been exposed to antibiotics during delivery (for example, if these are given to moms-to-be with group B strep), having taken antibiotics frequently during early childhood, a history of thrush, diaper rash, and other signs of yeast, or their mother having a history of antibiotic use or yeast infections.
Testing for Overgrowth
It’s important to become familiar with the signs of yeast overgrowth (see sidebar), and to keep in mind that it may extend to your entire family. Dad may experience “jock itch” or gout, while mom, or a teenage child might have more intense and difficult hormonal (and mood) shifts. Cholesterol levels can increase, and anxiety, depression and blurred vision are not uncommon.
Most conventional doctors rarely test for the presence of yeast, but there are tests you can ask your physician about. Stool and urine tests are most common. Stool testing identifies yeast overgrowth by culturing it in the stool to detect its presence, while an organic acid test (OAT) detects biochemical markers for yeast in the urine, and can identify yeast that may be missed in culturing stool. There are also immunoglobulin markers that can be tested in the blood.
Dealing With Diet
Stemming from her own personal experience, Karen Hubert counsels families with autism and physicians on yeast overgrowth and healing. She had a debilitating experience from yeast that mirrors what’s often seen with children today. As children with autism often have difficulty expressing how they feel, it can be helpful to learn from an adult who can share the symptoms experienced from yeast overgrowth.
Karen found relief from dietary changes, and these are key, since many medications and herbs don’t completely eradicate yeast. Yeast feeds on sugar, so an effective yeast diet avoids sugar (and refined carbs that turn into sugar), even in the form of fruit, as well as yeast and vinegars that feed candida. Some yeast diets also eliminate starches.
Focus on Fermented Foods
Overall, consume plenty of probiotic-rich fermented foods to help balance and heal the gut. These are a delicious and powerful tool in addressing yeast overgrowth—rich in live beneficial bacteria (for example, yogurt containing lactobacillus acidophilus), they don’t kill yeast per se, but they do crowd out yeast and don’t allow it to take control again.
Most children with autism have difficulty with dairy products, so choose non-dairy options. Coconut-milk yogurt, coconut-water kefir, kombucha, raw sauerkraut, kim chi, or other cultured vegetables, are good casein-free choices.
Please note that falling completely off the wagon and consuming tons of sugar can perpetuate yeast, especially for those sensitive to yeast, so remain vigilant with your diet even if you feel the yeast is gone.
Ace Your Antifungals
Spices including cinnamon, cloves, and coriander, as well as the Indian spices asafoetida and ajwain seeds, are potent antifungals, and although most vinegar is off-limits on a yeast diet, aple cider vinegar’s antifungal and alkalizing properties, as well as its live cultures, make it a good choice.A variety of foods have antifungal properties and eating them helps combat yeast and helps keep yeast in check. Coconut oil contains caprylic acid, and many other antimicrobial agents but
should be consumed in its raw, unheated state for best results. Garlic is a wonderful antifungal, as is ginger—which is a little more palatable for children (I love adding it to homemade sauerkraut).
If your doctor is familiar with antifungal medications and herbs, he or she may suggest a prescription medication or an herbal regime. Some parents and physicians prefer trying natural remedies first; others are more experienced with using medications like Nystatin and Diflucan.
Herbs and other supplements that kill Candida include medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, uva ursi, caprylic acid, grapefruit seed extract, Oregon grape root, Saccromyces boulardii, and enzyme products. Choose a doctor who has experience treating yeast and can make sure your child is being properly monitored.
Try a Special Diet
Further dietary approaches for yeast include:
–SCD/GAPS Diet The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) and the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Diet are diets that avoid disaccharide sugars and starches. When not readily digested, these two substances become food for yeast.
By consuming monosaccharide sugars that don’t require further breakdown, the single sugar molecules can absorb quickly and are not available to feed yeast in the same way as other diets. For these reasons, and because children with autism are known to be low in carbohydrate digesting enzymes, SCD and GAPS can be helpful diets for yeast overgrowth. Interestingly, because of only consuming monosaccharides (no complex sugars or starches), the fruit sugars consumed are typically tolerated on this diet more than others, but still need to be consumed in moderation.
–Low Oxalate Diet Oxalates (the same substance that cause kidney stones in certain people) are a problem for some children with autism. Whether due to high consumption of oxalates in the presence of a leaky gut, or because of genetic reasons, a portion of children with autism have high oxalate levels. These oxalates are inflammatory to tissues including the gut, and can inhibit gut healing and perpetuate yeast overgrowth. Of further interest, certain forms of yeast (for example, aspergillus) create oxalates and certain probiotics (such as oxalobacter formigenes) break it down—illustrating the interconnection of microbes and oxalates. The low oxalate diet has been helpful for many children with autism in general, and particularly for reducing yeast levels.
Yeast Can Be Serious – And Can be Addressed
Karen Hubert’s story teaches us how debilitating yeast can become—but that despite its severity there can be a road to recovery. For children with autism, who often already have decreased immune function and detoxification, yeast can be particularly problematic. But there are useful approaches to combat and get rid of it, and they begin with simple changes to diet.
Autism mothers should take particular note, remembering to take care of themselves and their health. If you are battling yeast, it might be zapping much of your energy, clear thought, and good mood.
By knowing how to identify yeast, following a diet to support eradication, and partnering with your (holistic, biomedical, or open-minded) doctor, you can beat Candida and get your child and your family on the road to good health.