Can you briefly share your story?
I started to become interested in food when my youngest child was diagnosed with severe autism. Immediately after diagnosis, we started the typical protocol of behavioural therapy, which only manages symptoms. After some time we still felt desperate as the therapy was not working well. Grasping at straws, I turned to what I have always done as a protein chemist, I began to research and experiment. Soon, I was reading and hearing from many families anecdotally that they were having luck with the gluten-free and casein (dairy)-free lifestyle, otherwise known as GFCF. Parents were noting a wide array of improvements in eye contact and social skills. So, it was a combination of reading and talking to other families that led us to look into nutritional deficiencies. I had no idea the journey I was undertaking at the time!
What did you do first?
I increased the nutrients in my daughter’s diet through food and supplements along with removing gluten and dairy. Surprisingly, we noticed huge differences in a very short period of time such as eye contact, interest in social interactions and the melting of social boundaries. However, our daughter’s illogical behavioural tantrums persisted. These tantrums were the result of the slightest change in routine or expectations and resulted in breakdowns lasting hours at a time. The tantrums were so severe it meant she would require care for the rest of her life. Knowing diet worked for us before, I turned back to research where I could make further adjustments in my daughter’s daily diet in hopes of decreasing or eliminating the tantrums. I began to delve into the cause of her improvements by examining the actual proteins found in gluten and dairy. Soon I zeroed in on the structure of proteins containing an amino acid called GLUTAMAIC ACID.
Free glutamate or glutamic acid is a neurotransmitter essential to the human body and present in about 50% of nervous system tissue. It is vital to memory and learning and regulates other metabolic functions in the body.
This research led me to look further into food manufacturing and processing practices. Natural and artificial free glutamate can be added to any protein containing food. Gluten and dairy containing foods have an abnormal amount of free glutamate released after processing. And the double whammy is that GFCF (gluten-free, dairy-free) foods are often highly processed into products such as ultra-pasteurised milk, cheese, bread, crackers, and many other unsuspecting processed foods like canned soups.
What sources did you use to find this information?
With my background as a biochemist, I mainly researched articles by using Google Scholar and scientific journals. I started by searching free glutamaic acid along with terms such as neurological, dermatological and digestive disease and stress signals. Every time, hundreds of studies showed that free glutamate relates to a vast multitude of disease states like Alzheimers, ADHD, Parkinsons and diabetes. In fact, there are so many studies, that pharmaceutical companies now make glutamate blocker drugs such as Axura and Actonel that are typically used for osteoporosis and Paget’s disease. Scientific journals added to my online research led to more subjects such as behavioural and sleep disorders. The list of diseases just kept growing. I became a detective and started calling food manufacturers to uncover what was happening to the food during processing.
How did you alter your daughter’s diet initially?
It wasn’t perfect on the first try, but within days of removing obvious sources of free glutamate, we noticed incredible improvements. There was a massive reduction in anxiety and sleep improvement. Sensory disorders, sensory diseases because glutamate is related to all our sensory systems. It overstimulates sensory systems putting them in constant overdrive. Over a short time we noticed her calming down, her language improved (she understood us better and attempted conversation). Our daughter’s language delays took longer to catch up, but she began learning rapidly because her neural channels opened up. There was suddenly interest in interacting with people no matter the age. In fact, she became extremely social and interactive. All her sensory disorders and behavioural tantrums went away. Basically what had been happening before was the full glutamaturgic response: the neurons in the brain were being excited to death with excess glutamate. This obviously caused extensive damage and it took a great deal of time to restore those glutamate bonds and get back to normal functioning.
Wow. That’s pretty amazing. Tell us more.
I started looking into everything I was feeding my children. I discovered the secret to our success was actually company patents in food processing. So, I started going in to food manufacturing processes and patents and figuring out what food companies were trying to enhance. What I learned was most companies, either purposefully or not, were trying to release free glutamate because it optimises the ‘likability’ of food.
To fully understand what our daughter was going through, we did the diet, as well. Seasonal allergies, sinus pressure headaches, brain fog, increase clarity and energy, reduction in anxiety affected myself and our family. We were no longer as anxious or overwhelmed, and that is saying something because we have five kids and both parents work full-time.
How do you help children and families now?
Many autism clients have digestive issues: bloating, diarrhea, constipation (the nervous system stops signaling the body to remove waste). Glutamate metabolism is also highly related to microbial metabolism because microbes feed off of and use glutamate, too. With excessive glutamate, the microbes get addicted, or essentially hijacked, making normal body functions more difficult. And so, it starts the downward spiral.
What about fermenting at home? Should we stop?
It’s important separate industrial fermentation vs. home fermentation. Industrial fermentation (ie cheese) often goes through pasteurisation that kills all microbes. With kombucha and kefir, I personally don’t like the refined sugars used in the process. If the drink or food is readily given available sugars it won’t release important cofactors, which are the enzymes that break down cell walls. The goal is for the microbes to digest food, and then produce. By breaking apart fibres for humans to digests and known to support intestinal wall. Eating raw vegetables keeps microbes on their toes. If you do not provide microbes with fuel, they will stop producing. I encourage the probiotic benefits in fermented vegetables and herbs.
What else do you do at home?
At the beginning we supplemented with fish oils, magnesium, probiotics, B complex, and vitamin D. Now we don’t use supplements at all. We spent time thinking about how we can replace supplements with nutrient rich foods. For instance a handfuls of pumpkin seeds can replace magnesium. Kale, almonds, and many other foods are nutrient dense, as well. With almonds, there is often concern about phytic acid, which is considered an anti-nutrient. With a healthy microbial population, phytic acid is good for the microbial environment and it (releases phosphorus and nutrients). Keep introducing unsoaked nuts to give microbes the ability to get their full function back.
I started my non-profit Unblind My Mind because I was so unaware of what was happening to our food. I’ve enjoyed speaking at Ted on What Are We Eating? and Your EcoSystem on MSG, and I hope to continue doing more. Most importantly, I’m finishing my book that is due out at the end of the year. I hope to continue consulting with families, sharing our story, and empowering and enabling families to know in many cases there is a way to improve the lives and overall health of their children.
For more information on fermenting and the micro biome see Healthy Living Asia’s other articles