My friend Kari Fletcher, who is very cool, agreed to write this article for the Adopt America Network as we support adoptive families. Adopt America doesn't mind if I share them with you... and I don't think Kari does either.
Note: If you are looking for a really good FASD speaker, Kari is awesome!)
“FASD is more than ‘just’ brain damage. We sometimes forget that prenatal alcohol exposure has damaged not only our children's brains, but their digestive tracts as well.” ~ Diane Black, Ph.D. , adoptive mother of children with FASD.
While much has been written about the damage prenatal exposure to alcohol can cause to a developing fetal brain, recent research has also focused on damage to digestive and immune systems and on promising nutritional interventions.
Children with neurological differences need optimal nutrition in order to function at their best. However, damage to the digestive and immune systems from toxins such as alcohol, repeated infections or antibiotics may cause “leaky gut syndrome” and a typical American diet may not be meeting their nutritional needs.
Sometimes a trial diet eliminating gluten (the protein in wheat, rye and barley) and casein (the protein in milk) is recommended to help heal the digestive and immune systems.
Gluten and casein are difficult proteins to digest and in addition to contributing to the damage to the intestinal walls, causing constipation, diarrhea and poor absorption of nutrients, these proteins are thought to have an effect on behaviors as well.
The theory is that some people do not completely digest gluten and casein and fragments called peptides are left behind. These fragments cross through the permeable intestinal wall (“leaky gut”) and enter the bloodstream, eventually crossing the blood brain barrier and having an opioid effect on the brain. Autism and schizophrenia are two disorders that have been linked to this opioid effect on the brain and therefore, behavior.
A gluten and casein free diet is certainly not a cure for FASD but it may be worth considering for digestive and immune system concerns, and it may even reduce some challenging behaviors! Some families have found that children with FASD who follow a gluten and casein free diet have improved health, better regulated moods, fewer sensory challenges, and improved focus.
An elimination diet can be challenging, especially for adoptive families of children who experienced food deprivation or have strong survival skills toward food (“hoarding” or “stealing” food). Adoptive families should focus on attachment first.
• Consult with a physician, nutritionist, or therapist before making any significant dietary adjustments.
• Put the entire family on the diet, not just the child. Food preparation is easier, and the whole family approach promotes a sense of team and togetherness.
• Strictly avoid gluten and casein for at least 3 to 6 months to see its benefits.
• Milk alternatives, like rice milk, often contain calcium and vitamin D, but supplements may be useful.
• Gluten and casein free does not mean healthy. Pre-made GFCF foods may contain added sugar and fats. Homemade options are less expensive, healthier, and more family friendly.
• Children with FASD may have other food sensitivities, so keep a food diary.
The gluten and casein free (GFCF) diet can be challenging, especially in the beginning, but some families have found the benefits to be well worth the challenge!