What Lyme & Autism have in common will surprise you

When speaking with children who are chronically ill, it can be difficult to understand what is causing their symptoms. Children, naturally, might not know how to accurately describe their pains or illness. When there are multiple symptoms, it can be even more challenging as they grow and change so quickly. For children with autism or other language disorder, they may be limited or unable to communicate why they feel the way they feel. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Lyme disease are examples of what seem to be entirely different diseases, but they share an overlap of symptoms. While autism is usually seen as a developmental disorder and Lyme disease and infectious disease, the two have more in common than you might think. There are interesting connections between the two, especially when diagnosed in children.

Symptoms shared by both Autism and Lyme:

  • Neurological symptoms that include difficulty with communication and confusion, disorientation, muscle twitching, sensitivity to light, brain fog, and delayed development.
  • Psychological problems that impact behaviors, obsessive-compulsive disorder, an increased sense of doom, anxiety and outbursts.
  • Physical health issues such as muscle weakness, arthritis, and rashes.
  • Gut health issues including food allergies, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

These symptoms are common features of autism and Lyme disease. Coincidentally, many of these symptoms are also displayed in auto-immune disorders. Tests for Lyme can be misleading, as they have a poor accuracy. A specialist is always needed in order to get a better sense of other treatment options because both autism and Lyme can have long-term issues. However, there are treatments that benefit Lyme and autism alike. Focusing on gut health has been an important part of treatment for both conditions. This is because we are seeing the benefits of specific diets in patients with autism and/or Lyme. Nutritional support strengthens the integrity of the intestinal membranes, balances the billions of bacteria in our gut and improves digestion and elimination. All of this help support the immune function of the gut, which ultimately affects brain function. An effective nutritional protocol would support the immune system, reduce symptoms, calm the nervous system and strengthen the body’s ability to fight infections. Autoimmune conditions such as autism and Lyme disease benefit greatly from proper diet and lifestyle modifications. Removing casein, dairy, sugar, processed foods and gluten from the diet will allow the body to heal and aid in the detoxification process, naturally. Reducing environmental factors like external and emotional stressors are extremely important for both Lyme and ASD. Stress responses increase the load on the immune & nervous system, which can lead to exhaustion and further relapse into symptoms. Identifying these triggers help you to work around them and eventually train your nervous system to create new patterns and get rid of the old ones. Autoimmune conditions have very unique impacts on the immune system, especially Lyme and autism. Consider speaking to a specialist about your symptoms, especially if they mimic other autoimmune conditions. And never be afraid to get a second or even third opinion, as it may be necessary in order to get to the root of problem.

Table Full of Food

Autism Spectrum Disorder & Food Allergies

Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a group of symptoms that affect proper brain development, resulting in learning disabilities and or emotional difficulties. ASD may affect the way children communicate, along with multiple physical problems with the immune system, motor skills, and digestive health. Most children with ASD have many food intolerance/sensitivities resulting from compromised gut health. This inflammatory process is borne from an unbalanced microbiome in the gut and the inability for the body to tolerate specific kinds of foods.

Gut health is critical, especially with ASD. The gut has a separate nervous system that is called the enteric nervous system. It’s made up of bundles of nerve cells and fibers that interact with the community of bacteria that keep your immune system functioning properly. Gut health plays a major role in mental and physical well-being. We are currently seeing more mental health issues being impacted because of the foods we eat and a lack of beneficial bacteria in our gut.

Avoidance of certain foods can contribute to improved behavior and overall health for those with ASD. Try to avoid or minimize the consumption of packaged products or processed foods. And while this is not always possible, be sure to read labels carefully and be prepared to make phone calls to manufacturers to get specific questions answered about what is actually in each product consumed.

While every child is different and each case is so unique, I do have some general guidelines as to what foods should be avoided in order to see an improvement in overall health and behavior with ASD.

  1. Anything involving casein or dairy. This includes cow’s milk, yogurt, and even some non-dairy cheeses.
  2. Gluten and most grains can cause more inflammation and exacerbate an already problematic digestive system.
  3. Artificial colors and dyes are known to contribute to hyperactivity and can contribute to behavioral changes in children. They are often found on ingredient lists as a color followed by a number on them. Such as Yellow #5 and Red #40.
  4. Sweeteners and artificial sweeteners should be avoided. Also, any sweeteners derived from corn. Corn sweeteners have multiple names and can include cornstarch, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrin, maltodextrin, fructose, glucose and many more. If there is a sweetener in a food and the label does not list the source, it is likely from corn.
  5. Avoid most fruit juices, as they are high in sugar.
  6. Any products with soy in them.
  7. Vegetable oils, as they are often mixed with soybean oil.
  8. Caffeine and stimulants.
  9. Foods high in Phenols/ Salicylates & Nitrates/Nitrites. This includes berries, tomatoes, plums, oranges, chili powder, cloves, apples, vinegars, raisins, pickles and cured meats.
  10. GMOs, MSG, and non-organic foods.

Every child has their own specific needs, so I recommend working with a healthcare specialist who can help you figure out which foods may be most problematic for your child. The ASD journey is challenging for both parents and children. Realize that each day is a nurturing and rewarding experience. Take time to care for your child and yourself. This will improve the health of your whole family.

Liquid Mercury

Mercury & Autism

Autism is complex. Complex enough to contain a wide spectrum of possible symptoms or issues. This is the reason that it is called Autism Spectrum Disorder. Our understanding of it is still fairly new, but we are beginning to develop a clearer picture about its root causes and how our environment and society affects it. Researchers have been looking into whether certain heavy metals or pollutants are also having an effect on ASD.

Mercury is considered as one of these pollutants and is being looked at its’ possible link with Autism. In a study conducted by Janet K Kern, David A. Geier, Lisa K. Sykes, Boyd E. Haley, and Mark R. Geier, published in the September 2016 Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology, the study compiled many other researchers’ work on the link between mercury and Autism. Relevant data was also collected from over 90 other studies between 1999 and 2016. They looked at the different impacts that mercury had on brain health, including autoimmune activation, oxidative stress, and neuroinflammation; all activities in the brain that contribute to the development of Autism.

The study found that “74% of studies support a link between mercury exposure and a diagnosis of ASD.” This number is important, because “the compilation of the evidence indicates that children with ASD are more susceptible to mercury than typically developing children, and that is reflected in significantly different levels of mercury, or biomarkers indicative of mercury, in the brain, blood, urine, baby teeth, hair, and nails.” This study adds an extra overall perspective to the “vaccines and ASD” controversy.

Autism Speaks, a national advocacy, policy, and research group centered on Autism, states that more research is needed to clearly examine the possibility of a relationship between vaccine use and the prevalence of ASD. Their website mentions that thimerosal, an ingredient used in vaccines, is a synthetic form of organic mercury. This early exposure through thimerosal in vaccines, advocates say, may be the reason for such prevalence in ASD rates. Although vaccine manufacturers started to eliminate or reduce thimerosal in vaccines in 1999 (except certain flu vaccines), many of these vaccines contain aluminum, which may be equally as harmful as mercury.
Reducing the potential developmental impact on children through mercury exposure is an important step toward recovery. Alternate versions of vaccines are mercury free, though caution is necessary because of the possibility of other potentially developmentally damaging ingredients in them. Understanding where mercury is used in household items can reduce the potential risks. Items such as thermometers (non-digital) are potential hazards. A detailed list can be found at the Environmental Protection Agency’s website here:

Mercury is linked to Autism, through a comprehensive analysis of over 90 studies. The argument of how much mercury is damaging is still ongoing, but awareness of the potential risk is the most important point. In making decisions regarding exposure to mercury and other toxic metals, your knowledge, and that of your medical practitioner, can be valuable.

Small child not speaking

Why Isn't My Child Speaking Yet?

Sean E. Heerey ND, MA, CCC/SLP

Many children meet all of their developmental motor milestones on time. They roll over, sit up and walk with ease and have the skills to explore their environment. They can play with toys, open boxes, kick balls and entertain themselves with a variety of objects.

Some children have all these motor skills and seem to understand basic commands and questions, but appear unusually quiet. Some children have a few words like “mama”, “dada” and “milk”. Perhaps other children have a few more words for some common objects like “dog” or “blanket” or approximations of family member’s name, but that’s it. Where are the words? When a child is late to talk it could just be a passing developmental phase. However, it may also be a symptom of speech and/or language disorder. It could even be a more serious disability such as autism spectrum disorder or other intellectual disability. This is not the time to panic. Instead, it is time to take action.

Consulting with a health care provider is great place to start. Hopefully, that professional will tell you to get your child evaluated. Many parents have told me that their health care provider told them to wait. It is a win-win situation when the child gets an appropriate and timely evaluation. Parents get to express their concerns about their child’s development and receive information on how to help their child. Countless numbers of parents have told me that they spent hours online researching why their child did not talk only to have more questions than answers.

In a 1993 study, Rhea Paul Ph.D. showed that 50-70% of late talkers at 2 years old end up catching up by age 3, with respect to vocabulary growth, with no clinical intervention. While language delay may resolve on its own, I do not recommend that parents wait. The Department of Early Intervention in your county can get the process started. It is better to be safe than sorry and early intervention may help facilitate better language sooner so that your child has better communication with you, family and their peers.

Angry girl having meltdown

Are You Tired of Meltdowns?

You say the word “no”. You take the iPad away. You tell them to put the candy or toy back on the shelf. The result is catastrophic. A full blown meltdown with yelling, kicking, screaming and head banging. The whole store is looking at you. Nothing works to transition your child. It is alarming because it seems to happen on a regular basis.

Maybe it is homework time or any structured activity that requires focus and concentration. Your child starts out strong but then fades very quickly. There are lots of tears, broken pencils, arguments, ripped papers and all sorts of excuses to get up from the table and do something else. Much encouragement is needed to complete the assignment but 2 hours pass and only a small portion of the homework is complete. This is frustrating for the entire family because it happens every day there is homework.

I have heard the stories over and over and one of the most common factors that influence behavior is food. Theo Theoharides, MD, PhD at Tufts University has shown that some children with behavior issues have lots of mast cells in their brains, which are the same cells that are responsible for causing a runny nose of hay fever in people with allergies. So when these kids get exposed to certain foods, they don’t necessarily get “allergy” symptoms, but rather neurological symptoms such as tantrums, mood swings, sleep disturbances, cognitive impairment and poor focus.

Many children may be sensitive or intolerant of foods and NOT allergic. Conventional allergy testing only looks at immediate type reactions, such as hives or facial swelling, so often misses any delayed-type reaction that may develop over hours to days. This means that it can be difficult as a parent to figure out what adversely affects your child.

One mother told me about her son’s reaction to eating a piece of cheese after having been on a casein-free diet for some time: “After having my son avoid dairy for several months we decided to take a break from the casein-free diet. My son had a piece of cheese.

Through tears he told me that he had to close the zipper on his jacket just right. It took him 30 minutes to put on his jacket “. It was clear to her that even that small piece of cheese had adversely affected her son’s ability to complete a simple task.

The reality is that some food reactions are difficult for parents to observe, since they may take up to 2-3 days to appear after a food has been ingested. It could be milk, wheat, corn, soy or some other food like raspberries. Or it could even be a family of foods.

Even if a child does not eat a food in great quantity, sometimes only a small amount of a particular food is needed to upset the balance in the body.

If you at your wit’s end with the tantrums, meltdowns and outbursts, it may be time to find out if something your child is eating is the cause.

There are many ways to figure out which foods may be immune triggers, so it is important to work with a healthcare provider who is knowledgeable about food intolerances and sensitivities.

At our office, we utilize conventional and non-invasive methods to help figure out what bothers each person. Working with practitioners who offer a comprehensive approach to food allergies and sensitivities is most likely to help your child be healthier and happier!

Sean E. Heerey ND, MA, CCC/SLP

Young girl thriving with autism

Thriving with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism (technically autism spectrum disorder or ASD) is categorized as a group of disorders relating to brain development. These can affect social interactions, verbal and non-verbal communication, immune function, the gastrointestinal system, motor skills and coordination.

Symptoms of autism usually start to surface between 15-24 months, although signs may be observed in some children earlier. Most specialists will not diagnose autism until at least 2 years old, even if there are already signs and symptoms. Autism is known to primarily impact brain development from a very early age.

Autism symptoms are linked to many factors, including a lack of beneficial bacteria and environmental toxins that affect brain development. This includes the health of the mother during pregnancy and birth as well as genetic predisposition. When tested, most children on the autism spectrum do not have a balanced or normal gut flora. This further reinforces the case that a healthy immune system is vital for proper brain function & continuous development.

Autism is extremely complex. There is no one single method that works for everyone, as each case is very unique. However, there are a few general rules I suggest my patients follow that ensure optimal health:

1. Reduce your toxic & chemical exposure as much as you possibly can. This means choosing organic produce, fruit, pasture raised animal proteins and organic & chemical free personal care products. Also, avoid genetically modified food at all costs.

2. Foods to avoid or remove:

* Dairy, including cheese, ice cream, milk, yogurt and even vegan cheeses containing casein in them.

* Gluten and most grains as they can wreak havoc on the gut, causing more inflammation and worsening an already compromised immune system.

* All artificial colors and flavors which can cause behavioral issues or outbursts

* Sugar, fructose, corn, corn syrup, corn starch, sodas, juices

* Soy, soy protein, soy oil, processed vegetable oils

* Packaged and processed foods

* Caffeine and stimulants

3. Discuss and review vaccine ingredients and policies with your holistic practitioner or autism specialist before you decide on opting in or out of vaccines for your child.

4. Add fermented foods to the diet. These contain beneficial bacteria that boost and strengthen the immune system and gut. If those aren't palatable, take a good quality probiotic instead.

5. Avoid heavy metals such as mercury fillings, lead in paints and fluoride in water. Avoid bottled water and use a filter for tap water. I recommend installing a whole house water filter by Aqua Sauna, if possible. Otherwise, there are many good countertop water filters available to ensure good quality drinking water.

I have been treating autism for many years and have seen remarkable advances in our understanding of it. While this is not a comprehensive list, these are good general guidelines to follow in helping your child on the spectrum heal. We understand how difficult it is to raise a child with autism and we welcome any questions or comments you may have regarding autism diagnosis and treatment.

Kimchi and fermented foods

Why You Should Eat Fermented Foods Every Day

Probiotics are critical for optimal health. They help maintain a healthy immune system which in turn keeps the whole body in good health. However, in addition to supplementing with a capsule or tablet, you can also boost your beneficial flora by eating fermented foods.

Fermented foods are loaded with billions of good bacteria. They help to sustain the balance between the good and bad bacteria. If you have dysbiosis, an imbalance of bad bacteria, you may experience a host of problems such as digestive issues, immune dysfunction, allergies, possible skin conditions, food sensitivities and chronic yeast infections, just to name a few.

Consuming fermented foods on a regular basis benefits you in the short and long term.

1. Fermented foods assist with B vitamin production, sleep regulation, proper circulation and nervous system function, and aid in preventing heart disease. Fermented cabbage is also a great source of Vitamin K2.  This is very important as it helps with blood clotting, bone health and brain function.

2. Fermented foods can be more easily assimilated than some supplemental probiotic pills. They support intestinal and digestive health by providing enzymes that help with the breakdown of foods. They allow your body to produce antibodies that strengthen your immune system and help fight off potential pathogens.

3. In numerous studies, it has been shown that without the proper amount of good flora, individuals are more prone to weight gain, sugar cravings and diabetes.

4. Fermented foods and probiotics are very beneficial for those with compromised immune systems, autism and autoimmune disorders. They can aid in reducing systemic inflammation by preventing toxins from passing through a weakened gut lining and entering the bloodstream. This also assists in mitigating the risk of food sensitivities.

Naturally Fermented Food Sources

Fermented raw yogurt, milk and cheese
Braggs apple cider vinegar

When you decide to add fermented foods to your diet, start off slowly. You can begin with a few teaspoons per day with each meal, then increase as you become more comfortable with it.

If you don't like store bought fermented foods, you can make your own. This way you can choose the specific foods you would prefer to ferment.

If you don't like the taste of fermented foods at all, you can always supplement with a high quality probiotic capsule or powder. Each individual is different and one size does not fit all in this case. One of my personal favorites to recommend is Probiotic Plus. It has worked remarkably well for many of my patients.
Also, don’t be afraid to experiment with different brands. You need to find the right one that works best for your specific needs.

Child looking away

Why Isn't My Child Looking at Me?

When a child makes meaningful eye contact for the first time it is a very special event. The bond between a parent and child strengthens. Some children give great eye contact in the first few weeks of life while others establish eye contact around three months of age. All babies are different in how they develop.

As children reach the 12 month level they are starting to use eye contact in different ways by looking at people and objects to make requests. Even if a child does not have any words they are communicating with eye gaze, gestures and different consonant-vowel combinations.

Some children give very poor or fleeting eye contact. If they look at you it is for a few seconds or they look to the side of your face. Many parents have reported that they feel as if their child is looking through them. Other children avert their eye gaze completely. Several parents have reported that their child used to have great eye contact but regressed near their 2nd birthday.

Your primary care provider can check this out and they can make a referral to a developmental optometrist. In most cases there are no vision issues.

Early Intervention providers (SLP, OT, and PT) can assess for delays and commence behavioral therapies.

3 ways to improve eye contact with your child:

1. Get on the floor and play with your child. Share an activity with them, e.g., ball play, container play, stacking blocks.
2. Bring objects or toys of interest to your eye level. When a child looks at you make a big deal of it, i.e., give lots and lots of verbal praise.
3. Remove milk and dairy products from the child’s diet. Many parents have reported sustained and prolonged eye contact from their children when dairy is removed from their diet.

If no changes occur after the aforementioned recommendations, then ask a Naturopathic Doctor to create an individualized dietary/nutritional and homeopathic plan to support your child’s development.

Sean E. Heerey ND, MA, CCC/SLP