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Stage 1: Food. Harmful or helpful?

The importance of a balance diet is essential for any human body. Unfortunately, for the autistic child, food can be a challenge in many aspects. From sensitivities to texture/taste, absorption/digestion problems, leaky gut issues, and problems with constipation and's hard, if not impossible to get all the nutrients needed within their bodies. But these issues cannot be ignored because a healthy GI tract is the most importance part of a healthy body. It allows nutrients to enter our vital tissues and provides a barrier to keep toxins from entering the blood stream. The body was born to innately know how to heal itself and to eliminate toxins within the body. But if the body is working “overtime” due to environmental factors such as allergens in the air, food sensitivities, enzyme deficiencies, pesticides in food, heavy metals, artificial flavors and/or coloring the body may need a catalyst to find "digestive balance". Let’s take a closer look at the process of human digestion and how some people who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders and others who fall into the category of “digestive imbalance” and how it effects the body.

Special Diets

****Before starting a supplementation program on the Autism Biomedical Approach, many children may initially need to be on a special diet that focuses on the removal of proteins called "gluten" and "casein", what is currently called the "gluten free/casein free diet". Depending on your child's needs, some diets are more suitable than others. Contact Developmental Crossroads to see what diet, if any, best fits your child's needs. 

The Process of Digestion

Digestion is basically a process of breaking down big food particles into individual molecules tiny enough to squeeze through the intestinal lining into the bloodstream. Your body uses mechanical (chewing) and chemical (such as enzymes) means to do this. From the moment your thoughts begin to envision your favorite food, or as it reaches the table and you are just about to put it in your mouth, gastric and salivary juices are produced, preparing itself for the process of digestion.

The Mouth: Mechanical and Chemical Break Down

Your teeth break food down food particles into smaller ones, increasing the surface area through which the chemical food processors--enzymes, can penetrate food. (As we travel down the tube, you will notice that names of enzymes are a combination of the suffix -ase and the nutrient they work on, such as lipase digesting lipids, proteinase digesting proteins, and lactase dissolving lactose.). Chewing allows the fiber that holds the food together to brakes down so that the digestive enzymes have easier access to the contents inside. The saliva already flowing in anticipation of eating surrounds the broken-down food such as bread, which is a carbohydrate with the first digestive enzyme, salivary amylase. Amylase breaks the chemical bonds between carbohydrate molecules, changing them into smaller sugar molecules. These are now free to be broken down even farther, if necessary. Even the fat in the food gets a head start on digestion while it's in the mouth by receiving a small amount of fat-digesting enzyme called lingual lipase. Saliva also lubricates the food, making food such as peanut butter slip-and-slide down the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth and the stomach.

Stomach: Food Processor and Purifier

When it enters the stomach, the mush from the mouth gets mixed. The stomach is your body's mechanical and chemical food processor. The lining of the stomach secretes gastric juices, including hydrochloric acid (essential to have a ph of about 1.5), which dissolves the food, a protein-splitting enzyme called pepsin, and a fat-digesting enzyme called lipase. Like fruits or vegetables pureed in a blender, the food is churned and mixed with the digestive juices until it resembles thick soup. This glob is called chyme.

For comfortable digestion to occur, the stomach lining should secrete just the right amount of Hydrochloric acid at the right time - no more, no less. Hydrochloric acid is strong enough to eat through meat and potent enough to kill most of the harmful bacteria that may be in food. So the stomach not only digests, it disinfects. It is the body's food processor and the body's food purifier due to the harsh acidic environment of a pH of about 1.5-2. Yet it does not destroy all the bacteria we ingest. Some of the bacteria that are able to survive the harsh conditions in the stomach eventually take up residence in the intestines.

Small Intestines: Secretion and Absorption

As the chyme, the food mush, enters the small intestine, the most important part of digestion - absorption - begins. The first part of the small intestine is called the duodenum. More digestive processes occur in the duodenum than in any other part of the intestinal tract. Secretin and cholecytokinin released from cells in the duodenal epithelium in response to acidic and fatty chyme with a pH of about 2 present when the pylori opens and releases gastric chyme into the duodenum for further digestion. These cause the liver and gall bladder to release bile (helps break down fat), and the pancreas to release bicarbonate (bringing the pH up to about 6.5) and digestive enzymes such as trypsin, lipase and pancreatic amylase into the duodenum as they are needed to reduce the acidic of chyme.

In order for food to become a nutrient within your body, it has to get through the intestinal lining and into the blood stream. As the food moves down the intestinal disassembly line, it passes by stations where it gets secreted by digestive enzymes that further break down the proteins, carbohydrates, and fats into molecules small enough to seep into the bloodstream.

The lining of the intestines is more like a plush carpet than a smooth sheet. Here's why. Trillions of microscopic projections, called villi, grow out from the cells of the intestinal lining. This increases the cell's surface area, thus increasing the contact between the food and the cells. The more contact these cells (and their rich blood supply) have with the food, the more nutrients can be absorbed. The intestinal lining is only one cell thick which is necessary as it is easy for nutrients to enter the blood stream, but it is also easily malformed causing a condition called Leaky Gut Syndrome.

Water Balance and Elimination: Colon/Large Intestines

By the time the food consumed goes through a ten-hour journey through the small intestines, most of the nutrients have been absorbed. What is left over will now enter the large intestine, or colon. Little digestion occurs in the colon, since it has few villi and low levels of intestinal enzymes. The colon is not just a passive waste collector and eliminator. The first vital function of the colon is to regulate the body's water balance. As the waste from the food passes through the lower part of the intestines and enters the colon, it absorbs excess water from the food and furnishes it to the body. Healthy water balance in the colon leads to healthy stool patterns.

Note: If, however, the waste matter lacks water, the colon fills the stool with water to prevent constipation.

The rhythmic contractions of the colon move waste material (called feces) into the last five inches of the large intestine, called the rectum, where the final waste products are eliminated. Normal passage of feces or stools (called defecation) occurs when the nerves lining the rectum sense the presence of feces that need to be evacuated. The presence of feces in the rectum stimulates a reflex (called the defecation reflex) which causes the muscles of the abdomen and upper rectum to contract and the muscle encircling the anus to relax, allowing easy passage of stools. This reflex is very efficient as long as fiber, drinking enough fluids, and eating small abouts of fat (fat slows intestinal transit) and allowing the autonomic nervous system to do it’s job.

The body innately knows how to do this. But if there is an abnormality in any step within the process of digestion, toxic substances may be produced, food sensitivities may develop and unwanted chemicals may enter the blood stream causing havoc in the body.

Contact Developmental Crossroads before trying any new diet/supplement.