Mention Paleo to people and they may picture cavemen eating a chunk of meat and Crossfit enthusiasts. My observation, however, is that the Paleo-type diet is evolving alongside some medical diets, all of which are being constantly refined to be a diet that most closely matches what humans were designed to eat.
Who cares? Many of the people who are sick with chronic, autoimmune, inflammatory, and neuro-inflammatory illnesses and the people who care for them. And the number of these people who are looking for answers is growing.
Autism has been defined as a behavioral illness, or a psychiatric illness. But, for many of us working with patients with autism, we see these patients as having a systemic illness. This systemic illness presents with the behaviors that define autism, as well as with gastrointestinal illness, autoimmune illness, multiple food allergies and sensitivities (including gluten sensitivity), neuro-inflammation, nutritional deficiencies and toxin overload.
During the previous century, many parents and researchers who were working with children with autism found that changing the diet to one that excluded gluten and casein was helpful in many cases. Further dietary interventions included the Feingold Diet and the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). The Specific Carbohydrate Diet is notable as being very similar to the present Paleo diet. These 2 "diets" developed from different ideas and different disciplines, but end up incorporating similar foods. While the Paleo diet is evolving to be a functional diet, the diet humans are designed to eat; the SCD diet began as a diet designed to help the GI tract heal.
It appears that a root biochemical/physiological malfunction that leads to autism is mitochondrial dysfunction and the associated insulin resistance. It may come as no surprise to many that this also appears to be a root cause of many degenerative diseases we see in adults. With the increasing popularity of the Paleo-type diet, an increasing number of people are finding improvements in these degenerative diseases. Just follow Dr Terry Wahls and Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D. (a.k.a. The Paleo Mom) to see the science behind these improvements. It appears that this type of diet is much lower in inflammatory foods, inflammatory chemicals (added dyes, preservatives) and with organic food, also lower in agricultural toxins.
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet was designed to address GI tract inflammation from the perspective of sugars and carbohydrates. By eliminating foods that contained significant amounts of disaccharides, an imbalanced gut flora (microbiome) was not being overfed and a healthier gut environment was created, allowing the gut to heal. However, in creating a diet to these specifications, one eliminated grains and most legumes, almost mirroring a Paleo-type diet. Another key feature of SCD, was in beginning with very easy to digest foods, from a very short list. Foods are gradually added, watching for signs of intolerance, and the ability to digest the added foods.
Both SCD and Paleo can be ketogenic, focusing on adequate protein and saturated fats to support healing. Ketones may improve brain function in the face of insulin resistance.
As people incorporate a Paleo-lifestyle as part of their overall health improvement plan, they are focusing on many of the same issues that we in the autism recovery community have also focused on.
- Reducing intake and exposure to toxins as this can contribute to mitochondrial damage and insulin resistance, as well as the other effects on the endocrine system and the role in cancer development.
- Replacing nutrients needed for healing and maintenance.
- Supporting the elimination of toxins from the body.
- Retraining muscles to function properly.
- Retraining the brain to function properly.
Doctors with an Ancestral approach to health and healing, are redefining diseases. Chronic diseases are no longer considered to be irreversible. Again, this mirrors what doctors with a "Biomedical" approach to autism have been doing. For these doctors, autism is not considered to be irreversible. Doctors working in both Ancestral health and Biomedical autism treatments do acknowledge that recovery is a process and the lifestyle changes must be maintained. However, these lifestyle changes appear to be how we were meant to eat, move and function as humans on this planet.
As health professionals within these two "disciplines" converge and share information, we have the potential to do much more than as separate entities. Those working in Ancestral health recognize the benefit of real food, organic as much as possible, and incorporating a non-toxic lifestyle. These components appear to be critical for health restoration, whether in autism or other chronic illnesses.
The other, perhaps most important concept for both groups, is the realization that our health as humans, is directly tied to the health of the planet. We must work to heal the planet to have any hope of healing ourselves. From the earth come the nutrients and elements that nourish and build our bodies. The toxins that have been released into the environment are now accumulating in our bodies. The intricate web of life supports life forms from the microscopic to the top consumers. This web is required for life as we know it.