Today I’m talking to Julie Matthews about a very timely topic since it is autism awareness month. Autism is the top child and health crisis in the US that now faces 1 in 81 children and actually 1 in 54 boys. This number is up from 1 in 10,000 cases in children reported in 1980.
Julie Matthews in an internationally acclaimed autism nutrition expert, conference educator and award winning author who inspires hope and healing for children and families around the world. Julie Matthews is a certified nutrition consultant specializing in autism spectrum disorders. Her award-winning book Nourishing Hope for Autism and her work are based in scientific research and an understanding of the biochemistry of autism spectrum disorders and the role of nutrition to aid healing and relieve symptoms of autism. She presents at the leading biomedical conferences in the US and abroad. She is a nutrition editor of the Autism File Magazine. Julie has a private nutrition practice in San Francisco, California and supports families and clinicians from around the world. You can find out more about Julie at nourishinghope.com. You can also purchase her book there as well as several online courses, which I am sure we will talk about through the show.
Julie, welcome to the show!
Julie: Thank you Evelyne.
Evelyne: I am so happy you could be here today. Julie, yesterday you sent out a newsletter and shared something very interesting: that it should actually be called autism action month rather than autism awareness month. Can you share why you said that?
Julie: Yes, as you know, April historically has been, and still is, autism awareness month. However, many parents and myself just feel that this falls short. Yes, we need to be tolerant of people with autism and yes, people need to know that autism is out there, but to me that it is just the tip of the iceberg. What people really need to know is that there are things you can do about autism. There are things that can support and be helpful for reducing the symptoms. This is something that isn’t talked about enough. So a lot of parents and various practitioners have been frustrated. We don’t just need awareness that autism exists; now we need to take action. We now need to share with people the science.
Parents need to realize there are things they can do, and that it is not just a lifelong permanent condition. So I propose autism action month. Parents can share their stories about how diet and nutrition have helped them. People have someone to speak with about the various things you can do, outside of some of the therapies and things that are talked about now. So, already a bunch of wonderful stories have been shared on my blog and people are talking about what you can do. I think that is more powerful than just being aware that autism exists. Because parents are frustrated that we can talk and talk forever, but people need help and that is what I am proposing.
Evelyne: That’s awesome. So how did you get into this?
Julie: It is really interesting. I feel like it was the universe. I was studying nutrition and was curious why so many children had ADHD today. I was wondering if it had an association with all of the artificial additives and things. As luck would have it, I met a man who had two children who had recovered from autism. I didn’t know anything about autism.
I was actually studying ADHD. This was well before most people had heard of it or even knew about some of the diet things. I found out there is biochemistry we already understand, there are diets that are already well established by parents and science that are helpful. All of this stuff was out there and yet nobody knew about it. That was just the passion and catalyst for me to pretty much dedicate all of my studies and my practice to understanding everything I could about autism.
Evelyne: That’s amazing. So today the show is called Nutrition for Autism and ADHD, and you say that what applies to autism also applies to ADHD. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Julie: Sure. I mean they are different conditions, but some people would consider many of these developmental delays and various challenges, like ADHD, on a similar spectrum. I don’t think we really need to argue about their official definition and all of that. I think the point to it is that when we look at what is underlying these conditions, when we look at what is underlying autism, we see a lot of inflammation and we see a lot of gut issues and nutrient deficiencies.
When we look at ADHD, we see a lot of similar things. We see underlying contributors and we see underlying biochemistry that is often similar. We see that people with autism often have hyperactivity and inattentiveness, just as the ADHD people do. We know that these two conditions will often run in families together. So, when we look at them, we see a lot of similarities and what is helpful for one condition is often helpful for the other condition. I am generalizing, but that is a lot of where this came from for me. It started with the ADHD topic, and then realizing that I really think a lot of developmental delays often stem from a similar group of underlying causes. They can be very different for different conditions, and very specific, of course, to the individual.
Evelyne: So let’s get into some of those causes. Generally, what could be some of the potential causes? How much does genetics play a role? Is it related to mom’s health during pregnancy or the environment? Can we go through some of those?
Julie: Yeah, sure. I think you hit on a lot of interesting topics there. So, you know, everybody is kind of looking for the one cause and the one cure of any sort of illness. But in the case of autism, that has never panned out. Personally, I feel the reason for that is there is not just one cause and there is not just one contributing factor, or one toxin, or anything like that. It is a combination of genetic predisposition with environmental assaults that together plays a role. Because when you look at studies of identical twins, all identical twins don’t have autism, so it can’t be purely genetic and it can’t be purely environmental.
There are times when I think the environmental piece is the main factor, but not everybody that has the same environmental exposure will get autism. I feel that is partly because of the genetic vulnerability that might set somebody up to be more damaged by something that somebody else might be able to handle better.
So when we look at some of the genetic factors, we can look at pregnant moms. There are studies out there for certain genetic variants, like MTHFR, or some of the other genes that affect folate metabolism. We see that the risk of autism is less in those moms who took a prenatal than in moms who didn’t take a prenatal. It can also be broken out by different genetic conditions. I do think there are some factors that involve prenatal health and prenatal nutrition and genetics, and then there are a lot of environmental factors, whether it’s pesticides, heavy metals, or all sorts of different ways that we get toxins. The thing that’s interesting about toxins is that they don’t only damage us, but they can damage our DNA also which means that subsequent generations may have more and more challenges. And as we see, over the last 50 or 60 years, we see, what seems like more challenges today. So I think that toxins play a role not only in the environmental component, but also, even possibly in the genetic component.
Evelyne: Speaking of toxins, this is something I noticed that comes up each show and something that I am passionate about is talking about toxins in skincare. I feel like we talk about it a lot, but we haven’t really shared a solution. As I mentioned to my listeners in my first show, I work for Thorne Research. I know you know the company. It’s a supplement company and Thorne has an organic, or mostly organic, skincare line that’s free of endocrine disruptors.
Thorne is sold through healthcare practitioners: doctors, and pharmacists, and other health practitioners. If you want to look into that, I actually posted a little blog today on elevateyourenergy.com. I posted our ‘NO’ list. We have a list of 30 ingredients that we don’t put in the skincare products. Even when you shop at the health food stores, you will get some of the natural and organic lines, and you will still find some of those toxic ingredients in them. So, ask your doctor to look into Thorne Organics. Ask you pharmacy and your health food stores to carry it. You can also order it through me; you just have to email me to get a code to order it from Thorne. That is firstname.lastname@example.org. I just wanted to share that because we keep talking about it, but I haven’t offered a solution, and I know of one.
Julie: I think you are right. There are so many toxins. Many people just assume that if it is on the shelf either in the grocery aisle or in the body care aisle that it’s got to be safe. More often, it is that a lot of these ingredients were grandfathered in before the FDA came around. Now you kind of have to prove that it is toxic before you can get it off the list. For example, you have phthalates on your list. Phthalates are known, in studies, to create developmental problems in boys.
Of course the one near and dear to my heart is that there is no gluten or wheat. I’m looking at your list right now and hoping we will talk about food stuff. We want to think about where our body care products might have food ingredients we’re trying to avoid as well as toxins.
Evelyne: When my neighbors are doing laundry, all I can think is, phthalates.
Julie: Yeah, I was talking to my husband about this the other day. Did you know they actually make toddler fabric softener? There is a person who used to be in our building and they just poured these things on the clothes. I was really surprised that people don’t realize. To them the smell smells good. This is partly because the smell influences your brain chemicals. But to me, I smell it and I think poison!
Evelyne: Yes. So continuing with environmental factors, I definitely want to touch on the topic of mercury. It is all over the news this week – the CDC study that says vaccines don’t cause autism. I just want to get your take on mercury in general, mercury in vaccines, and how that can be related.
Julie: Sure. Well, we know that mercury is one of the most toxic substances on the earth. We know that it is very toxic. I think mercury is something that we should all be careful and aware of, and obviously to some extent people know that.
But this brings up a big can of worms here. I am glad you brought it up though because there are a lot of people who say, “Oh, we can finally put to bed this topic of mercury and vaccines and all of that kind of thing.” My feeling on it is that mercury is a toxin, and it could cause some people damage. It could be a contributing factor. Some parents will tell you that they feel very strongly that their children had reactions. I think we have to look at the immune system, whether these children are able to handle vaccines, and if there is something different about their bodies. But I get frustrated by this idea that, “We have all of the information and we don’t have to discuss it anymore.” You know, I think this is where the frustration comes in because really people haven’t looked at vaccinated versus unvaccinated populations.
On the other hand, I’m really not here to spread any message one way or another about the topic because what I find is that you can always find studies that find one perspective or another. We could argue all day about which studies are right. In the end, I think it just derails the conversation from the fact that now the person has autism. Why they got it may be important for younger kids coming in or ways we can support people in the future, but right now this family is dealing with autism. So what can we do to ease their burden, to make their life better, to feel better, be healthier, and to reduce some of the symptoms. I think this is the part where food and diet is one of the big pieces of that puzzle. I like to stay focused on that, because otherwise we could argue all day and it really in the end wouldn’t affect what the person ate.
Evelyne: I’m curious, I thought it was so fascinating reading your book about all the pathways that aren’t functioning properly. So how come some kids can detoxify heavy metals, and I guess adults too, and some can’t? Why is that?
Julie: Well, some of that is the chemistry. When we look at children with autism, I see what I call three main areas they tend to have an impedance system or some sort of less-than-functioning system. These are detoxification, digestion, and the immune system, including inflammation and the ability to fight viruses and things like that. So, detoxification is one of those and there are probably many reasons for that. One, if you read my book, you will see that glutathione is really important for detoxification and metallothionein is important as well. Many of these biochemical processes require proper methylation and transsulfuration. What we found in some of the research of Dr. Jill James is that children with autism have a challenge with those processes, so they started looking into different research in that area. To me, those would be some of the underlying pathways that might be affected in terms of detoxification and that we know they tend to be deficient in.