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A Gluten-Free Diet Helps Manage Autism

The inability to correctly digest gluten can affect the severity of the autistic symptoms.

Many people who go to the Natural Pharmacy in Ocean, New Jersey, feel defeated by traditional medicine and hopeful that owner and pharmacist Eric Sauer can offer them a holistic solution. Natural Pharmacy Office Manager Nancy Filos can identify with these people because she used to be one of them.  

Nancy and her husband, Joe, learned that their daughter, Jessica, had autism when Jessica was 2 years old.   As a baby, Jessica wasn't responsive when someone called her name. She didn’t make eye contact with others and she played by herself. Nancy said they initially thought their daughter had an auditory condition and had her hearing checked.  

Doctors diagnosed Jessica with Pervasive Development Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified, a category of autism used to describe those whose symptoms fall outside other types of autism like Asperger syndrome.  

When Jessica got older, doctors put her on Concerta, an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication, to try to reduce the repetitive “TV talk” and improve her ability to focus.   They started her on the minimum dosage and then increased the dosage each time Jessica returned for a checkup. Nancy said they raised her dosage four times in one year.   The medication didn’t work though. The only thing it did was make Jessica look like she was sleeping with her eyes open.   “It made my bright girl who sings songs all the time unrecognizable. She was like a zombie,” Nancy said.  

Nancy and Joe continued the medication during a trial and error period of about a year, but they were getting frustrated.   They trusted their doctors, but at the same time they were watching the medication silence their daughter.  

“I could just see my daughter slipping away, and it broke our hearts. We wanted and deserved more. Jess deserved more,” Nancy said.   She began researching holistic options like homeopathic medicine. A friend recommended that she go to the Natural Pharmacy to see Eric. The Natural Pharmacy integrates traditional pharmaceuticals with holistic therapies to provide safer options with fewer side effects.   She made an appointment with Eric in 2008 when Jessica was 10 years old. She brought Jessica to the appointment so Eric could see her symptoms firsthand.  

Eric explained the importance of a gluten-free diet for children with autism because they are less able to tolerate gluten. The inability to correctly digest gluten can affect the severity of the autistic symptoms. Eric said autistic children need to heal their gut first to reduce the effects of the condition.   Eric also recommended an enzyme therapy plan for Jessica that included a protease formula to clean the blood, fish oil for memory, digestive enzymes to help the body better absorb nutrients and a probiotic to help heal the gut.  

Enzyme therapy helps in the digestive process and allows the body to better preserve its crucial metabolic enzymes used in detoxification, infection-fighting and cell repair.   Nancy said that within a week of putting her daughter on a gluten-free diet and an enzyme therapy plan, she saw a difference. Jessica did less TV talking, had better eye contact and focus, was more patient and was willing to be more social.  

“Eric taught me that you need to heal the body before you heal the child,” she said.   He helped Nancy wean Jessica off her medication and Jessica has been medication free since 2008. She is still on a gluten-free diet and an enzyme therapy plan. At 13 years old, Jessica continues to grow and become more self-sufficient.  

Every day she makes her school lunch, which includes Nutella on gluten-free bread, grapes, cucumbers or strawberries, a gluten-free dessert and a bottle of water. If she reaches for a food that contains gluten, Nancy gently reminds her that “Eric says no” to that snack. Nancy said that they allow Jessica to have treats, such as pizza on Fridays, and that her diet is probably about 90% to 95% gluten-free.  

“As she’s grown and developed and matured, I’m finding out what works and that doctors aren’t God and traditional medicine isn’t necessarily the best way,” Nancy said.  “God led me to Eric and then he gave me the foundation to help get Jessica better. I am forever in his debt for teaching us all how diet and enzyme therapy is the cornerstone for a better life.”   

She said that as Jessica is getting older and better understanding her environment she wants to be more of a participant. She doesn’t need the medication for that.  

Jessica reached a milestone earlier this year while at Disney World with her parents, her twin sister, Heather, and her brother, Morgan, 14.  

This year, the family’s third trip in the past three years, Jessica was able to go inside the T-Rex Café for the first time. In previous years, Jessica became too overwhelmed by the noise and stimulation inside the interactive family restaurant.  

This year though, Jessica eagerly anticipated the February 14 lunch reservation and then thoroughly enjoyed the dining and entertainment experience. Nancy said it made her cry. “It really was the most amazing Valentine’s Day gift I’ve ever gotten.”  

“I know that I’m doing well by her,” Nancy said. “Every time she looks me directly in my eyes and says, ‘I love you,’ it is positive affirmation that the course we’ve chosen is the right one. There is nothing more fulfilling as parents than to see all your children laughing and participating fully in life.”  

Learn more about the Natural Pharmacy at http://www.ericsnaturalpharmacy.com/.  

– By Jessica Braun   Jessica Braun is a writer and an editor at WholesomeOne. She can be reached at jessica.braun[at]wholesomeone[dot]com.