Autism, more commonly known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a condition in which a person has cognitive changes that often begin at a very young age. These changes affect how the person interacts with the world around them. This is often recognized by how the person communicates and relates with other people. There is some consensus that certain symptoms can be observed beginning at 6 months of age and continue to progress up and beyond the age of 2 years. Some social difficulties might include:
– Seeming to be aloof;
– Little interest other people and in building friendships;
– Emotional connection is lacking; and
– Wanting to be alone.
Communication issues may include:
– Inability to self-express and understanding other people’s expressions;
– The use of odd, different, repetitive or imaginative words; and
– Not using physical gestures such as using their hands when speaking.
Secondary and common health problems exist in many children on the spectrum including:
– Gastrointestinal problems;
– Neurological conditions like seizures, ADHD & anxiety; and
– Sleep disturbances.
The reason ASD is defined as a spectrum is the degree of severity and differences in symptoms vary. As an example, people with Asperger’s Syndrome won’t have learning disabilities that people who are autistic have (Tidy, 2021).
Over the past few decades, the incidence of ASD has increased exponentially. While there are multiple scientific theories for the increase of prevalence of ASD, the most simple and likely is the diagnosing criteria has changed and incorporated more people than it did in the past.
Currently the prevalence of ASD is 1 in 54 children (Autism Speaks, 2021). This number is from the United States but is similar across the board in western countries. Boys are 4 times more likely to be on the autistic spectrum (Tidy, 2021).
ASD isn’t really well understood. There has been more information over the past few years as it is becoming more widely researched. One paper published in 2013 by Dr Pamela J. Compart lists multiple areas of potential contributors in the development of ASD:
– Nutritional deficiencies;
– Food sensitivities;
– Intestinal dysregulation through dysbiosis and leaky gut malabsorption;
– Immune imbalances, an oxidated state, mitochondrial dysfunction and systemic inflammation (brain and intestinal); and
– Oxytocin dysregulation (Compart, 2013).
Diagnosis & Investigations
Parents may start to notice specific tendencies between 6 – 12 months of age. If parents go to their frequent check-ups with their MD certain questions are asked to get preliminary information. Often if there is a concern or suspicion, the child may be referred to a specialist for further diagnosis.
Proposed Herbal Treatment
Central Nervous System Support
Bacopa monierri – An amazing herb with antispasmodic properties for the digestive, nervous and musculoskeletal systems. The bacosides in Bacopa have also shown to affect neurotransmitters, like acetylcholine, increasing the clearance of amyloid protein build-up (Urdaneta, 2018).
Fallopia japonica – Japanese Knotweed has been used as medicine for at least 2000 years but has gained some notoriety in the Lyme disease world. This plant is high in Resveratrol which in some studies have shown the ability to decrease pro-inflammatory molecules, help reduce neuro-inflammation, oxidative stress as well as suppressing mitochondrial dysregulation (Urdaneta, 2018).
Melissa off. – A favourite of many herbalists this plant helps with microcirculation, uplifting the nervous system and eases digestive complaints.
Avena sativa FOL – A calming anxiolytic, with a generous amount of nutrients. Avena s. has a softening touch to a nervous system that manifests with an excited tissue state.
Digestive System Support
Angelica archangelica – Angelica is a warming bitter. While the nervous system is often in an excited tissue state, the digestive system for people who have ASD often presents in the depressed tissue state, with cold and slow digestion.
Calendula off. – A strong anti-inflammatory in the digestive tract for gastritis and colitis, with tissue healing capabilities for ulcerations.
Chamomilla recutita – Known as The-Mother-of-the-Gut this plant helps relieve IBS symptoms including spasm, bloating and colic. This plant is amazing at keeping inflammation under control.
Anti-allergic/anti-inflammatory & Other Herbal Support
Camellia sinensis – Widely studied for the antioxidant effects of EGCG (epigallocatechin Gallate), green tea shows positive effects in: increasing inhibitory neurotransmitters, reducing anxiety by modulating dopamine and serotonin (Urdaneta, 2018).
Salvia miltiorrhiza – Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for cardiovascular support and circulation, there is growing evidence this plant is beneficial in cerebrovascular disease (Bone, 2007) and improving cognition is vascular dementia patients (Urdaneta, 2018).
Cannabis sativa – There is an ever-growing interest in the endocannabinoid system and what role it plays in the body. Research is lacking but the theory behind using CBD (Cannabidiol) therapeutically for: immunomodulation, neuroprotection and antioxidant support may prove beneficial for ASD (Urdaneta, 2018).
Ginkgo biloba – There is an abundant amount of research around using this plant for micro-circulation and the antioxidant properties it offers. By increasing micro-circulation Ginkgo helps to oxygenate cells, remove cellular bi-products and circulate nutrients.
New research is emerging regularly on alternative and complimentary support for ASD. When considering herbal therapies there are many factors to take in to consideration as each person is unique in their bio-individuality. Physical constitution, symptoms and personal experience will play a role in which herb is best suited. Herbal medicine offers something conventional pharmaceuticals can’t; a therapeutic application with little to no side effects.
David is a practicing Medical Herbalist in Victoria, British Columbia. He currently practices out of his Herbal Medicine Dispensary & Clinic in Esquimalt, BC. His passion is to help re-introduce the idea of sovereignty in health through herbal medicine.
– Autism Speaks https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism
– Autistic Spectrum Disorders – Patient.info Tidy, 2021 https://patient.info/childrens-health/autistic-spectrum-disorders-leaflet
– The Pathophysiology of Autism – Nov. 2 2013 Pamela J Compart MD https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3865380/
– The Ultimate Herbal Compendium, Warwick, Queensland (2007) Kerry Bone
– Plant based therapies for ASD – Kendy Eduardo Urdaneta, 2018 – https://www.genengnews.com/insights/plant-based-therapies-for-autism-spectrum-disorders/