Phenol and Salicylate Sensitivities: How Foods Impact Your Child’s Behaviour and How to Fix the Root Cause
December 21, 2021
The amount of diets circling around out there is overwhelming. How do we even begin to determine which diet is best for our children’s symptoms? Diet is one of the most important parts of a healing journey, but there’s so much information out there that it's difficult to sift through which one is best.
That’s why I wanted to share an interview from the Autism, ADHD and Sensory Processing Summit with Julie Matthews, CNC. Julie takes us through why dietary intervention is necessary for our children, how to better understand dietary needs and we dive deeply into phenols and salicylates.
Did you know you can get unlimited access to interviews like this one and 90+ more expert interviews and masterclasses in the My Child Will Thrive Knowledge Vault? You can learn more about the Knowledge Vault and our special offer for year long access here.
You can also sign up to listen to all the speakers in this year’s summit for free here. You’ll hear from other experts just like Julie!
- Julie’s story. (4:06)
- More about the gluten-free, casein-free diet. (7:05)
- What to do after the gluten-free, casein-free diet. (9:11)
- Why phenols and salicylates can be troublesome for our kids. (11:38)
- Symptoms you might see if your child is having a reaction to phenols or salicylates. (14:27)
- What’s the first step if it seems there are sensitivities to these? (16:50)
- How we fix our children's ability to process these foods appropriately so they can add them back in. (22:20)
- How to support the methylation, transsulfuration and sulfation pathways with nutrition and other interventions. (24:15)
- What oxalates are and why you may need to consider a low oxalate diet for your child while you heal their gut. (29:53)
- Julie’s approach to adding foods back into the diet. (36:07)
- Other types of diets parents might look into with their practitioner. (41:29)
- The questions you should be asking your practitioner and how to find the best fit for you. (46:08)
Resources and Links
Julie’s book – Nourishing Hope for Autism
Articles Related to Phenol and Salicylate Sensitivities: How Foods Impact Your Child’s Behaviour and How to Fix the Root Cause
More about Julie Matthews, CNC
Julie Matthews is a Certified Nutrition Consultant specializing in autism and related disorders for fifteen years. Her dietary guidance is backed by scientific research and applied clinical experience. Her work and award-winning book, Nourishing Hope for Autism, have helped people around the world to make food and nutrition choices that aid the health, learning, and behavior of those with autism, ADHD, and other developmental delays. She presents at leading autism conferences in the US and abroad and is on the scientific advisory board for USAAA (U.S. Autism & Asperger Association) and the Autism Nutrition Research Center. She is the co-founder of Nourishing Hope and BioIndividual Nutrition Institute, and the creator of Cooking To Heal, a “how to ” nutrition course and cookbook for those following specialized diets. Julie has a private nutrition practice in San Francisco, California, and supports families and clinicians from around the world with her nutrition learning tools and professional training courses. Visit http://NourishingHope.com and http://BioIndividualNutrition.com
00:01 Tara Hunkin:
This is My Child Will Thrive and I'm your host, Tara Hunkin, nutritional therapy practitioner, certified GAPs practitioner, restorative wellness practitioner, and mother. I'm thrilled to share with you the latest information, tips, resources, and tools to help you on the path to recovery for your child with ADHD, autism, sensory processing disorder, or learning disabilities.
My own experiences with my daughter combined with as much training as I can get my hands on, research I can dig into and conferences I can attend have helped me to develop systems and tools for parents like you who feel overwhelmed, trying to help their children. So sit back as I share another great topic to help you on your journey. A quick disclaimer before we get started.
My Child Will Thrive is not a substitute for working with a qualified healthcare practitioner. The information provided on this podcast is not intended to diagnose or treat your child. Please consult your healthcare practitioner before implementing any information or treatments that you have learned about on this podcast. There are many gifted, passionate, and knowledgeable practitioners with hundreds if not thousands of hours of study and clinical experience available to help guide you.
Part of our goal is to give you the knowledge and tools you need to effectively advocate for your child so that you don't blindly implement each new treatment that comes along. No one knows your child better than you. No one knows your child's history like you do or can better judge what is normal or abnormal for your child. The greatest success in recovery comes from the parent being informed and asking the right questions and making the best decisions for their child in coordination with a team of qualified practitioners in different areas of specialty.
Today's podcast is sponsored by the Autism, ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder Summit. In order to learn more about the summit and to sign up for free, please go to www.mychildwillthrive.comsummit.
2:10 Tara Hunkin:
Hi, welcome back to the My Child Will Thrive Podcast. I'm Tara Hunkin and I'm excited to bring to you today an interview I did with Julie Matthews for the Autism, ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder Summit in its entirety. I wanted to do this because we discuss a topic that is of great interest to many parents - the specifics around how you may notice that certain foods impact your child's mood and behavior. So we're going to dig into that topic in particular, talk about phenols and salicylates - what they are, why they have the impact sometimes that they do on our children and what you can do about it.
So without further ado, I want to present to you the entire interview from the Autism, ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder Summit. If you enjoy this interview and want to hear more from the summit, you can go to mychildwillthrive.com/summit and sign up for free. And also as always, I encourage you to subscribe and rate and review the podcast so that more parents like yourself can find the information they need to help their child thrive. Enjoy the interview.
3:27 Tara Hunkin:
Welcome back everybody. I want to welcome to the Autism ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder Summit, Julie Matthews. She's a certified nutrition consultant and has been working in the field of autism and diet for many years. She can tell you a little bit more about that. Welcome, Julie.
3:46 Julie Matthews:
Thank you. I'm just really excited to be here.
3:49 Tara Hunkin:
So we're going to dive in today to a topic that's important to all parents and also one that's of a great mystery to most of us when we're getting started with our kids. But before we do that, can you just tell us how you got into doing this type of work and working with kids on the spectrum and with ADHD?
4:06 Julie Matthews:
Yeah, absolutely. I feel like in a way, my story is a little unique in that I don't have a child on the spectrum. I got involved from very, very, very early on in my nutrition studies. I met a dad who recovered his children from autism. And when I discovered that you could do something about it, that these children were really sick, they were really suffering, they needed a lot of help.
And there wasn't, this was 15 years ago. So there wasn't anybody doing it. He said to me, we need people that work with children with autism full time. And I feel like he's my guardian angel, because he did die of pancreatic cancer very suddenly a number of years ago. And I used to see him at every conference and his name was Michael Lang and he used to own Brainchild Nutritionals.
And so he had a huge influence on my life. I feel like it was a bit of divine intervention and I guess combined with my personality of if somebody is suffering and they're the underdog, I guess I'm the one that's going to help. So I feel very passionate about sharing this message for parents, because I feel a lot of times their story doesn't get heard very much. And I really liked to be able to be there and to do that and to share this really important topic with people that are looking for answers.
5:21 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah, well that's great. And I know you've been, it is unusual to find someone that's working exclusively with this type of disorder. So that gives you lots of insight obviously clinically working with these kids so we're going to tap into that today. And I also know that, and I mentioned in your intro that you also teach practitioners as well, as well as parents in a couple of your programs that you've created.
5:48 Julie Matthews:
Absolutely. I love, I mean, since the beginning, obviously I've been working with parents and helping them, supporting families, but I also love working with practitioners because when I train, whether it's a nutritionist or a doctor or whatever it is, they're going to help hundreds, if not thousands of people, and I've been doing this kind of in my own office, I mean, certainly I've been speaking and other things like that, but I've kind of been gathering this knowledge for a really long time and it feels really nice to take somebody and kind of get them up to speed very quickly.
6:25 Tara Hunkin:
That's fantastic. So what we're going to talk about today is sort of beyond the gluten-free casein-free diet. So a lot of parents know about that diet and how it can be helpful to their child, but then they sometimes hit a bit of a block wall and they know that they've got to go a bit further, but there's so many different options and we need to know why these different options work or how they work and so I think we're going to dive into that today. So if you want to start off by maybe introducing people who haven't heard about the gluten-free, casein-free diet, what that is and then where you'd go from there.
7:05 Julie Matthews:
Sure. So the gluten-free, casein-diet is a diet that removes gluten, which is the protein found in wheat and rye and barley, and a bunch of very common grains that most people eat multiple times every day. And the protein in dairy, which is casein. And so these two foods have a lot of problems. They're very inflammatory. They can create a lot of immune system reactions that can really irritate the gut.
They can cause autoimmune type reactions. They are very inflammatory and can create opiates and opiates are those things that you find literally in morphine and heroin, those are opiates. And we have opiate receptors where those drugs fit. But the foods, if they're turned into opiates, will fit in those same receptors. So it's basically like the same compound.
So if your child's eating these foods and they're not able to break them down properly, their digestion isn't working, their enzymes aren't sufficient and their gut is inflamed and allowing proteins through that. They shouldn't get through. You have a lot of inflammation, a lot of systemic problems, including the potential of creating these opioid compounds, which can make people feel spacey and irritable and all sorts of things.
So I think, one of the reasons that a lot of people start there is that so many people have a problem with these foods and it's a fairly simple, straightforward diet to do. And it provides so much help for people that it's often a really good place that people will often start when they're looking at various special diets.
8:43 Tara Hunkin:
So where do you typically go then after that with the clients that you work with, because they will get to a point where that has been helpful, but there's next steps. And I know in your book, which I have right here, and I highly recommend to parents to get, it walks you through a whole process of how to go about customizing a diet, but what do you typically do after they've introduced the gluten-free casein-free diet to, to take it further.
9:11 Julie Matthews:
Yeah. So then I would look and see what's still going on. So the nice thing about a stepped approach for dietary intervention is that you can remove foods little by little. You don't overwhelm anybody too much with too many concepts, and then you can see what improves and then you can take it from there.
So that's the nice thing about trying the gluten-free, casein-free diet. You might find that 70% of their really significant symptoms improve like diarrhea and maybe irritability or whatever it might be. And then that gives you a sense of what is remaining and where do I want to go from here?
So what does the diet look like in its current version and what symptoms does the child still have, and then see where you might take it next. Now, the one caveat I would have to say about that is that Dr. Sid Baker has a really wonderful quote. I think it's called the two tack theory. Where if you're sitting on two tacks, the removal of one tack does not produce a 50% reduction in your pain and no amount of aspirin is going to help. And that's the same thing with two diets. If you are sensitive to two sets of foods and you remove one set of food, you might see, like I said, a really wonderful decrease in symptoms, but you might not see anything until you remove both of them, like the two tacks.
So, I guess it depends on the person and where they are. So in terms of not complicating things for too much, if you do a diet strategy and you don't see anything, it doesn't mean you're not on the right track, but sometimes you'll remove something and you might need to remove something else before you really see the results you want.
So anyway, the stepped approach is nice for people that are new to it. So you're not overwhelmed. You can kind of see what helps. If you take out 47 things all at once and they get a lot better, you have no idea what helped and you don't want to stay on a diet that removes 47 things forever. So the staged approach kind of helps you figure it out as you go.
11:12 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah. So with that in mind, let's talk about phenols and salicylates, cause that's usually where parents start to hear that's the next terminology they start to hear. Why are those particular types of compounds that are in some foods, as well as in chemicals that are in foods that we eat and get exposed to. Why are they so troublesome for these kids?
11:38 Julie Matthews:
That's a really great question. Actually, this was really first discovered, I would say in the seventies, by Dr. Ben Feingold here in San Francisco. He discovered that these phenol compounds can create hyperactivity among a whole host of other problems, like irritability, aggression, sleeping problems, all sorts of things. When someone isn't able to biochemically process the substances and what some of the work of Rosemary Waring and others found was that children with autism have a deficiency in a biochemical pathway called sulfation.
And sulfation is one of the things that processes these salicylates and phenols and various compounds. And so when actually it, Rosemary Waring discovered that for people with autism, but there's a lot of very similar underlying condition of biochemical factors in these various conditions. In fact, when I first started studying, my first paper wasn't on autism.
When I met my mentor, it was actually on ADHD, but in the first five minutes, he had two kids that recovered from autism and he started going to autism, autism, autism, and I was totally hooked. But the point there is that the underlying biochemical imbalances are fairly similar. They're just different individuals with different severities and different combination of factors that might cause one person have one thing and one to have another.
So a lot of the principles, if I say autism it's often, principles can be very helpful for a variety of different neurodevelopmental disorders. So when we look at it, we see that these individuals have problems with sulfation. We also know if we can do a little bit of chemistry lesson, upstream from that biochemical process, you need methylation and transsulfuration to be working.
How do we know based on enormous amounts of work with Jill James and others, that methylation and transsulfuration do not work very well, also in people with these types of neurodevelopmental disorders. So you have this combination of maybe it's genetic polymorphisms and just an inability for the biochemistry to handle it. Then you add these foods and now you get a reaction that other people don't. In fact, they're very healthy foods, things that are found in berries and grapes and apples and spices, and all sorts of really wonderful, almonds, all sorts of really wonderful foods. But if your biochemistry doesn't handle them, instead of being nourishing and providing lots of wonderful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, for you, they can be very inflammatory and create a whole host of behavioral and other symptoms.
14:19 Tara Hunkin:
And what types of symptoms do parents typically see when their child's having a reaction to phenols or salicylates?
14:27 Julie Matthews:
Yeah. I mean, a few of them that I mentioned are like hyperactivity is a big one. So red cheeks, red ears and hyperactivity are kind of like the most classic ones. If I see that, that's my huge red flag for me, but not everybody gets all of those. Sometimes people will have trouble falling asleep at night, or really energized at night or very aggressive, irritable.
I had one child that was incredibly aggressive. He wasn't even on a GFC of dieting, he was on a specific carbohydrate diet, but it had salicylates in it and he was having aggressive episodes multiple times, every single day. His mom was getting very worried. Well, it turns out that for him, the salicylates were the compounds that made a huge difference.
And once she took those out, then the behavior and the aggression completely disappeared, and his mother was very worried about him. You can imagine all of the concerns that come with when he gets bigger and stronger, what would happen if you don't get that aggression under control. So that's shows you how powerful sometimes these foods can be and also, how empowering the intervention of diet can be to helping parents have tools to help their kids.
Now, typical food sensitivities, you can see a delayed reaction, it can be a longer period of time. How does that differ with phenols? With phenols, it can be either. Usually I see very quickly, sometimes it might happen five minutes after they ate it.
Sometimes it's while they're still sitting and eating the meal, sometimes it's within an hour or two afterwards. Sometimes it's the same day. It's often more immediate. Although some people tend to be the types that, it will build up over some time. So you might not see it right away and you might need a little bit of time if they eat it three or four days in a row.
Now you see it. But typically the difference is that with sensitivity, sometimes it takes a lot of exposure over time, whereas sometimes with salicylates and phenol, phenolic compounds, that can happen very immediately.
16:40 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah. So let's say parents are seeing those types of sensitivities or it's expressing in their kids. What is the first step for them?
16:50 Julie Matthews:
Ah, okay. So if they're seeing those behaviors show up, have they identified that it's salicylates and phenols yet? Okay. What are the first steps? Well, that's a really great question. So there's multiple approaches. I mean, firstly for me, I would look at taking out the offending foods and taking some of the burden off the biochemistry and giving their body a chance to kind of calm down a bit and maybe build up some of these reserves.
We can talk a little bit later about how we can help improve that ability to process these. But to me, the first step would be removing the foods that are causing the problem and then going from there. Now that's a simple thing and not such a simple thing, depending on the extent for which you want to remove these.
So there are a few compounds, so there's phenols, and then there's other sorts of related types of compounds broken down by similar pathways. So salicylates are a natural type of phenol. They occur in a lots of the things I just mentioned, apples, grapes, berries, spices, cinnamon, those types of things. But then there's also other phenolic compounds like phenolic and means.
And these are typically more in things like proteins that have been processed in some way, a fermented slow, cooked, something where it's releasing these types of compounds and then there's other sort of related, but slightly different things. So there's different diets that address them. There's the Finegold diet that looks mostly at salicylates. There's the fail safe diet that looks at salicylates, amines and glutamates.
And then there's what I do, which is a combination of all of those different types of things, depending on what the person needs. So I might have seven different strategies for how I want to remove them and how I want to test them back based on the individual person. But so people can find that, like you said, in my book, they can find more details on how I might do it. Or a practitioner might look at training with me and getting all those details. But for people that are new, I don't want to overwhelm them. I'd say you could start with either a simplified approach, like a Finegold approach or a more comprehensive approach, like a fail safe approach.
The benefit to the simplistic approach is it's less overwhelming, there's less foods to remove and that makes it easier to implement. The challenge to that is similar to the two tack theory, which is that if you don't get all the food compounds out, you might not know if this is the right approach. So some people might not see any benefit because the Finegold diet is a reduced list of foods.
The fail safe diet has a much larger list of fullest salicylates that they removed plus the amiens and the glutamates. So I'd say that those are two approaches that parents might want to consider. And also for me, when I'm working with a client, it depends on the family and the child. The child is a super picky eater, and these are some of their favorite foods, I might just remove a few of those foods and pick the shorter list first and then proceed from there and see if I need to make it more restrictive or something else later.
Other people that have dabbled around and they're not getting results and they're not seeing what they want and they're kind of real go-getters and they can make it happen because their child is less picky, more compliant. They might go straight for the bigger list and then test it back after that. So two different approaches.
20:11 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah. Well, and as you teach, and as we know, doing it, the way that works for your particular child and family is the most successful in the end. Because if we don't actually apply it, then it doesn't work at all. So when you're talking about the, obviously the two different diets, we'll put some links below to both the Finegold and the Fail Safe resources. Do you find that parents come to you and say, but now my child is eating only a few foods because they've gotten down to so little that we've pulled out so much?
20:50 Julie Matthews:
Yes. Now that doesn't usually happen so much. If I'm working with a family, I'm usually guiding them so that as we take out foods, we make sure there are foods to add. So there's things like rutabagas that most people in America really haven't heard of very much. I would encourage putting that in. Whereas maybe if a parent was out on their own, they might not realize that. So I don't find that so much when I'm working with a family, but I do see it all the time when people come from outside, into my practice and they're eating, I've had people eating three things when they came to see me, that is a big problem. The more restrictive, sometimes you need to be restrictive.
And that's really, to me, the million dollar question, how do you restrict exactly what you need to, but not more than you need to, because when you restrict more than you need to, you get potential nutrient deficiencies, you get a very limited diet and the body is being exposed to the same food proteins over and over and over again, making it more likely that they become sensitive to them, which is why I think some people, they remove things and they feel better. Then they remove more things. They feel better. And then they keep, then they get more reactive to the few things in. So they remove more, they remove more until they have no food left. So it is a balance to figuring out what do I really need to remove, but how do I not overly restrict?
22:09 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah. Well, so that sort of leads us into the question of how do we fix our children's ability to process these foods appropriately so they can add them back in?
22:20 Julie Matthews:
Exactly. I think that that's a really key point because I find that with a lot of diets, I'm not picking on any one per se, I think just generally. If we have a diet and has these subscribed rules, then we do these rules and people get better. And we think, great, this is their diet. This is the diet that they need, but we never kind of think about, well, why aren't they tolerating these foods? Is there something about the gut? Is there a pathogen that is depleting the nutrients in that pathway, which is what can happen with phenols. Is there some deficiency upstream, somewhere in the pathways? What is going on and how can we adjust it? And so for me, it's looking at how I can improve these pathways? How can I provide nutrients to build up those pathways and the pools of nutrients available?
And now, can I get rid of anything that is going to be depleting those, the nutrients in those pathways, like, for example, the pathogens and healing up the gut and all those different types of things. And both of those things are important and sometimes when people focus on the diet, they don't think about, well, how can I get off the diet? But then other times people think, well, I don't need to diet at all. I'll just work on the pathways. And I think that there is some balance again, between the two of those. I think what I found most often is that I needed to do both with most of my clients where I found that they've done best when they do both and then figure out when to adjust the plan as you go.
23:56 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah. So what are the, I mean, obviously we've talked about that there are methylation transsulfuration and sulfuration pathways that are impaired. So what can we do to support those pathways in particular while we're trying to also then heal the gut?
24:15 Julie Matthews:
Yeah, well, so, sulfation is basically taking sulfate and attaching it to various substances and doing all sorts of things from detoxification to the integrity of the gut, to the digestive process, getting kicked off, to all sorts of important neurological systems and things. So it's very important and it needs sulfur. And so well, one of the challenges that we find is that sometimes people don't tolerate large amounts of oral supplementation with sulfur.
There might be a variety of reasons for that. So I tend to find that Epsom salt baths and the other ways of improving sulfate will build up that pool and give them more availability to that. There are people that do well with sulfur foods, particularly, and there are some people that can tolerate the sulfur supplements, but I tend to like the transdermal forms, whether it's a bath or a cream or something, because Epsom salt is magnesium sulfate. So that sulfate provides that portion. And then lots of kids are deficient often in magnesium, so that's also a nice kind of add on as well.
So that's one thing and then working on all the other parts of the pathways, so what else do they need? They need folate and B12 working well and if they have certain genetic polymorphisms, they might need more of these or certain forms of them. And then when we go down into transsulfuration, we need B6 and zinc and magnesium, all sorts of other things as well. And so really I think working on nutrient status and then working on the gut and any sort of so-called dysbiosis or pathogens or things are some of the key things that I have found that helps people reduce that intolerance that they're having, and improve their tolerance.
26:13 Tara Hunkin:
Do you find that there is a gut healing protocol that you prefer over others? There's a lot of diets out there that talk about addressing that. Is there a particular approach that you like to take with your clients?
26:29 Julie Matthews:
There isn't and actually, this is why my training arm is called bio-individual nutrition, because what I really discovered in my 15 years of doing this is that there is no one approach that works for everybody. And it really requires figuring out what is going on for them? Is it an assault that they had when they were born, where they got antibiotics during labor and that kicked off the whole cascade, maybe they got some dysbiosis issue? Is it something that happened, something genetic? Do they have some family history of certain intolerances to certain foods? What is it for them and trying to figure that out.
So I find that there is no one diet that is the right diet for the gut, and there is no one supplement or set of supplements that is the key for everybody. And that's what I think makes it a little, sometimes more complicated, but much more effective in the end for parents that stick with it, put their detective hat on, really try to get to the bottom of what might be going on, get some expertise, maybe some testing, work with some people. You don't need to do that necessarily from the very, very beginning, but if you're really, if you were someone that's been doing this for a little while, that might be a really good thing to do, which is to figure out what's going on for your child.
How do you address those very specific needs that they have so that they're able to improve and maybe heal the gut. And ,we didn't talk about when we talked about going beyond GFCF, maybe at some point we can just touch on a host of the half a dozen or dozen other diets that are out there that actually are all wonderful diets.
In fact, that's why I wouldn't say that there's one diet, because I found that like a specific carbohydrate type diet or GAPs diet works really great for some kids wonderful for some kids, whereas it doesn't work well for others, but they might really do well with like a low phenol diet like we said, or a low oxalate diet. I've had people that have been on a GAPs diet for a couple of years.
And when they went off GAPs and went to oxalates like that was their thing. So I'm not saying one is better than another. I'm saying that they all, the reason that they become popular is because there's truth to all of them. They help a segment of the population with a specific thing they have going on. Then what you have though, is that people that will say this diet helped my child, do this diet! This diet that you have to do, this is the one diet that helps everyone. If you don't do this diet, your child will never heal. Those messages are so disheartening to me because it's just not true.
29:13 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah, it's a really good point because it is frustrating to parents who get the wrong messages. Like they haven't done that diet correctly, and that's why it's not working for them. There's a lot of guilt that plays into that and they're trying so hard to follow something so strictly, and it also, I think, often gets people a little too focused on being so strict with certain things.
There's a fine line between the two things. So you did mention oxalates, can you just because that's something that's come up a lot lately. And I think a lot of people don't understand what oxalates are and why they can be problematic and where they even come from.
29:53 Julie Matthews:
Yeah, this is a really good one because this one, this diet was something that we only ever thought of oxalates for kidney stones for many decades, really, at least in the world of medical research and things like that. And then Susan Owens, just a brilliant researcher who actually taught me pretty much everything I know about sulfation and I met her because of my mentor, Michael Lang, so it all comes together.
She, I would like to say she sort of discovered that people with autism were having issues with oxalates and then she helped get some research done and found out, lo and behold, yes, actually oxalates can be quite a significant issue in autism. And so oxalates, like we normally think of for kidney stones, are very painful, they're very inflammatory, but they don't just happen for people that have kidney stones. In fact, in the study they did on people with autism, they excluded anybody from the study that had anything going on with kidney issues. So when they found high levels of oxalate, these were in people that didn't have any current history of anything going on with kidney.
So that's really very, I think, fascinating and really helps us to see there's something going on here and what is it? So in a quick nutshell, oxalates can do well, two things, oxalates can come from the diet or oxalates can get generated inside the cell. And if you've got low sulfate, it can get into the cell. If you are deficient in certain nutrients, you can produce it in the cell. If you have leaky gut, you can leak through the gut into the bloodstream and therefore now be available for getting into the cell. Once it gets into the cell, it can affect mitochondrial function. So this is a big deal.
And we've known from the work of Dr. Frye and Dr. Rossignol that mitochondrial dysfunction is really quite significant and common in people with autism. So there's a lot of pieces of the puzzle I feel like are coming together after these decades of these wonderful researchers doing this research. And so for some people, for whatever, for any of those reasons I just described, they might have an issue with oxalates.
And again, I do hear lots of rumors about oxalates as well. Like, oh, you don't need to worry about oxalates, you just need to heal the gut. You don't need to worry about oxalates, you just need to deal with all these kinds of things. I don't think we can simplify it down to let's just dismiss this whole thing and work on something else. Sometimes that might be the key, but very often it's more complex than that.
32:46 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah. Well, and to that end, can you talk about some of the symptoms that the kids are suffering from if the oxalates tend to be an issue because they can be very uncomfortable?
32:56 Julie Matthews:
Yeah. Yes. So oxalates create a lot of pain.
Just like they create that intense pain when you're passing a kidney stone, they can create a lot of pain in the tissues. So I have a friend who's an adult, she's a nutrition colleague of mine. So she's not on the spectrum, but with adults, you can often ask them much more specifically, what does it feel like that you can't sometimes with kids and she would have this on the bottoms of her feet, this burning pain, like she was stepping on hot coals or shards of glass, very, very painful.
Other people have shoulder pain, hip pain, eye irritation that feels like sand in the eyes. And so for kids, they might not be able to tell you what's going on, but they might be rubbing their eyes a lot or they may be touching their genitals a lot because it's irritating or something. So with autism or even just kids in general, whether it's ADHD, sometimes they're not able to localize it or explain it, especially if they're a bit on the younger side. So we have to look at clues of their behaviors.
And I think that's one thing that also frustrates me a lot of times, we think that, oh, these kids, this is just a behavior of autism or sensory sensitivity or something when it might be a biochemical issue.
34:15 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah. I think that's a really good point. I mean, I think the more these practitioners you speak to that work with these kids, they are all explaining and a lot of speakers in the summit talking about how really that autism isn't a behavioral challenge, that there's all these underlying medical issues that are causing the behavior because these kids are so uncomfortable. So, like you said, not removing those foods that might be causing that discomfort, at least temporarily while you fix the underlying issues, is really not comfortable for the kids and you're going to see their behaviors improved quite substantially when you do that.
But going back to, again, like you said, it's a two-pronged approach or like Dr. Baker says, and I was fortunate to have a conversation with Dr. Baker the other day as well for the summit. And yeah, the two tack, I love that approach. If you don't do both, you're not going to get the results you're looking for.
35:10 Julie Matthews:
He's a brilliant and kind doctor, just amazing.
35:15 Tara Hunkin:
He is spectacular. So I was very fortunate to have a chance to speak with him as well. So after you do these things, what is your approach to adding things back in? So let's say someone's gone through the whole process of it and they could do it a lot of different ways. And I think when we were talking about it, we didn't get too into how to decide what to take out or take in the detective work. And we can talk a little bit about that probably at the end too. I often recommend, and I know you do in your book as well, that someone keeps a food, mood and sleep journal, so they can really do that detective work upfront. So let's say we've done that. We figured it out. We've taken some stuff out and we're going to add them back in. What's typically the process you recommend?
36:07 Julie Matthews:
This is another one of those things that if you follow a diet, one of the ones I mentioned, they will have their own set of re-introduction instructions.
But it's so funny you bring this up because just yesterday I was working with somebody, we're going to actually put a whole webinar together on this because it's so important to reintroduce them and then how to reintroduce them. There's different ways. Again, I think there are different ways than just, the standard kind of way often. Well, I guess there's two,
I guess there's two general approaches I can think of. There's adding a whole ton of everything back and seeing if you get a major reaction. See if you see something, the challenge is you might get a major reaction and I don't want the kids I work with having a major meltdown. I mean, that's not fun for anybody, but if you have somebody, I mean, it's an effective approach. You can see if you get better when you take them out. If you add them all back in, does it come back? But I think there's a subtler easier approach, which is to add them back in a little bit more of a reasonable portion size amount that might be a little bit easier to deal with.
So, some people add like I said, like six of the big ones back all at the same time, some people add one at a time back, they might go we're going into a 4th of July party and I know my daughter's really gonna watch strawberries and raspberries and blueberries. So let me see, does she tolerate them at all? Can I give her a couple? Does she tolerate none?
And so, I might do more of what I call a functional approach. Like I want this child to be able to function at this party and eat these foods and have a fun time. What is her particular threshold? And so that just requires some trial and error.
So to me, it's starting with small amounts and then seeing how much you can add. Which foods are tolerated because sometimes just won't be tolerated period. And some you can tolerate a certain amount and figuring out those things is important. And it's a little tricky because like we were saying earlier, sometimes it's a buildup, so they might handle four strawberries.
But if they have four strawberries, four days in a row, now they've got a reaction. So it takes a little bit of time to figure out where that is. And I think a lot of times people are often looking for like, I do wanna be able to go to that party. So maybe I don't need to have four strawberries every day, but I would like to have some on that one day. So, you can figure it out. It's not that hard. There's various approaches, lots of different strategies on doing that.
38:47 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah. So aside from taking the foods out, gut testing, what would you recommend typically?
38:55 Julie Matthews:
So if you're looking at the state of what's going on in the gastrointestinal system, of course there's diagnostic things that you can do, right. And most tests that a doctor is going to run are going to be looking for a diagnosable condition. And that's great if they find something that can be helpful. You can also go to a gastroenterologist and some people do that. So there's definitely a place for all of that.
But usually when I'm thinking about, okay, well, how do I figure out, how does the average parent kind of get a glimpse into their gut without doing all of those things? Or what if there isn't something like a sort of understandable diagnosis going on, how do you kind of figure out the state of what's going on in the gut?
And so there are what they call functional laboratory tests that a lot of doctors do, a lot of the doctors on your summit do, that are going to be looking more at kind of like, not just, is there a pathogen causing a specific thing, but how much good bacteria is in the body? How are these different markers of health? What do they look like? Are we seeing inflammation? Are we seeing reactions to certain things? Are we seeing maybe yeast or something else that might not show up on a traditional test?
So that's one thing a stool test can often provide us with a nice broad picture of what might be going on. Also an organic acid test can look at some things that also sometimes are more difficult to detect. Some pathogens don't colonize very well when exposed to the air.
So there's various other metabolites people might look for or different things. So those are some ways that parents might be working with their practitioner to get a sense of how their child's gastrointestinal system is doing and whether it might be something else underlying all of this that they might also want to be working on.
40:53 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah. And I think that's really helpful to know because there are a lot of testing options out there and it gets confusing really, really, really quickly for parents. So we've talked about obviously how to look for different signs and symptoms of these particular types of foods affecting your child. There are a lot of other diets out there, not just the low phenol and the Fail Safe or the low oxalate. Can you just touch quickly on what the other options are that parents will typically hear of above and beyond the gluten-free casein-free and how you typically look at those?
41:29 Julie Matthews:
Yeah, sure. So there's a variety of different grain-free diets out there today, a grain-free and starch free diet, things like the specific carbohydrate, the GAPs diet, the gut and psychology syndrome book by Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride. There's the paleo diet, there's low FODMAPs diets or, yeah, I guess different versions of the low FODMAPs.
A lot of those are going to address the different types of carbohydrates that are going through the system and different ones can be a problem for different people. So interestingly, the SD GAPs don't really remove all the FODMAPs, the FODMAPs don't remove all of the grains and things. So sometimes a combination of more than one diet can be helpful or sometimes, like we said earlier, just really pinpointing that specific right diet can be the way to go if it is just, so those can be helpful. What else is there? I mean, there's low histamine diets, which are, again, various versions of what we kind of talked about with the phenols and the Amiens. Histamine is a type of Amien.
And so that's something, boy, there's all sorts of different ones. I'm trying to think there's even more than that. There's ketogenic diets and low carb diets and auto-immune paleo diets and diets that remove lectins and purines, I mean, the list goes on and on, but for, and I talk about maybe a dozen different diets in my book, and I probably worked with maybe about 15 different diets to some level. But I would say that they're grouped into some major categories, which are the gluten-free and dairy-free diet, grain-free and starch free diets and then what I call some of these food chemicals types of things.
So food compounds and chemicals like phenols or oxalates or glutamates, or those types of things. And it's not as complicated as it really sounds. I mean, if I were going to look at it, oh, I can't forget the body cology diet. Of course it's a wonderful diet. And Donna Gates is another very, very intelligent practitioner author. And so, and that's going to deal more with yeast and getting lots of good fermented foods in and taking sugars out, which I think are just wonderful general great principles. So I'd say those are maybe some of them, and then there's all sorts of other things, right?
Like there's like low sugar diets, there's vegan diets, there's vegetarian diets. There's a variety of other things, not as much of a fan myself as some of the, particularly like the vegan diets, just because most kids, well, all kids absolutely must have B12 for the neuro-development or they can have permanent damage. So it's very important. So someone really needs to know how to do that diet well. Also protein is very essential for growth and repair and especially when you're a child and especially when you're repairing, you might need more than somebody else.
So it's not that I don't think anyone's diet is absolutely totally horrible. I mean, there's a diet that works well for everybody out there, but what I would say is that there's some I steer more towards and some I tend to stay away from more. So anyway, that's a broad brush of all the different diets, but I would say if I'm going to work with a child with ADHD or autism, or sensory processing or some sort of challenge, I'm gonna probably look at gluten-free casein-free first, because pretty much all the other diets remove gluten anyway. So we might as well start there.
Some of the other diets like SCD and GAPs and some of the low FODMAP, they don't necessarily remove all dairy, just certain forms. So I like to kind of remove all the dairy to get started and then you can kind of figure out from there how to approach it. Yeah. I guess I would say that those are some of the majors. I don't know if I missed anything that we want to talk about.
45:45 Tara Hunkin:
No, I think you covered them off, but what I will say is that, as I know, because you've been doing this for so long, that it doesn't seem complicated to you, but I know it seems very complicated to parents. So with that in mind, how do you find a good practitioner to work with? What sort of questions should parents be asking when they go and speak to a nutritionist for the first time?
46:08 Julie Matthews:
Great, great question. Okay. So let me go back to the, really briefly the fact that it's that can be complex and complicated.
So yes, it does. It's overwhelming at first. And I try to tell people that there is a steep learning curve. So at the beginning, there's a million things to learn and it can seem overwhelming, but very quickly you get a handle of all of those basics, and it's no more difficult to feed your child that diet than another diet.
And once you get the hang of it, you can start to figure out which foods and kind of work your way in. So you don't have to be a master at everything to start with step one. And in fact, I would call step one, none of these things. I would call step one, getting out the artificial additives, the junk, the pesticides, the GMOs, make a clean diet, something anybody can do without really changing their child's diet much at all. And that I think is very, very important.
So if parents are new and they are overwhelmed, small baby step-by-step changes, starting with taking out the junk, taking out the artificial stuff, adding in the good stuff, maybe little by little, or as you can take out the sugar. This doesn't, this is not like the first one to the finish line wins. This is a slow step-by-step process over time. So let's just, let's start with that. And then how does someone find someone to get help from?
Firstly, I think it's nice to be a little educated because then you know what questions to ask your practitioner. So if you have a sense of like, wow, I read the book and I'm thinking that, I'm looking at the symptoms and I'm looking at the food list. I think my child might have a problem, but I don't really know. I've narrowed it down to three diets and I don't know how to go to the next step.
That's where you might say, you might interview your practitioner and say, I'm thinking about the GAPs diet, the oxalates and phenols and I'm not totally sure which ones are my issues. Do you work with these? That alone, you will find a wealth of information because there's not that many people out there that work with those diets.
There are people now, there are lots of people that understand those terms if you throw them out, which is great. And I would take it a step further to do you work with these? Have you worked with these? Have you had success with these? What do you think about these diets? Because sometimes they'll just come around and tell you, oh, there's no,
there's nothing to that? And they might tell you like, okay, well, if I'm wondering if there's something to that and someone says, there's nothing to that, maybe that's not my person. So you can get a lot, I think, just by asking a few questions. And if you are a little bit knowledgeable, it'll really help you kind of figure out what you're looking for.
If you're not knowledgeable. Gosh, I mean, I think that even just in this conversation just now, they'll be knowledgeable enough to ask some questions. So hopefully I find a lot of the good practitioners out there will be happy to either talk to you first or answer a question for you at least so you're not just blindly going into this appointment.
You might also find out some data from their intake form. If they don't ask many questions about diet or if they're a nutrition professional, and they're asking mostly like height and weight and calories, and some of the basics, you might want to dig further and find out what their, sometimes just their beliefs about diet and nutrition will tell you a lot about how,
what diets they work with and what they'll do for, what they can help you with. So I would say that, and then that's for looking for a nutrition professional. Then, there are lots of different types of nutrition professionals and all of them can be helpful in different ways.
So there is registered dieticians and there's nutrition consultants and there's health coaches and they all have their ways of practicing. And getting some referrals from friends might be a really good way to go and ask your friend a little bit more. So friends says I'm totally into this one diet and you need to be seeing my practitioner, that practitioner might be into just that one diet. So you might want to find out a little more from your friend, get some scoop, but referrals, I think are one of the very best ways to get a sense of how some, what else someone's experience was with that person, because then you also get a sense of their bedside manner, for lack of a better term, or their personality and how you jive with them and stuff like that.
50:47 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah, it's interesting as I've been speaking to practitioners, obviously over the course of the summit, that the last point you made there is one that most of them make, which is that the relationship between you and whatever practitioner is it, it is so important because you want someone who's really gonna listen to you and that you get along with so you can figure this out together.
51:09 Julie Matthews:
Exactly. And you can be honest with them and you can feel free to share some of these important details. You don't want to be afraid to tell them that you haven't quite done everything a hundred percent because you don't have to be yelling at you. You don't, I mean, I don't want that kind of a practitioner myself, right? So you want to kind of know all of that. And also there was one more thing I was going to say about, oh, choosing a doctor.
So your doctor may not be the one that holds your hand through the exact diet you choose and the exact implementation of the diet, but in the same spirit, hopefully your doctor will be supportive of diet, generally speaking, so that you can go to them at minimum and say, I'm doing this diet and they can be supportive or hopefully speak semi-intelligently about that. Or maybe they'll say, oh, you're doing that diet. That's helpful. That might indicate something about certain biochemistry things.
Let's try this test or let's try this supplement. They may not have to be the expert in every single food that's in that category or all that stuff. But some way of bridging the gap is very helpful.
52:13 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah. I mean, that is a really good point because I think most parents that are at this point know that a lot of physicians and they don't get a lot of nutrition training and especially in specialized diets.
So finding one that understands why you're doing something and can be supportive and a bit of a cheerleader too, because I know most of the practitioners and the physicians that I speak to at least on this summit are huge supporters of diet being one of the first interventions, if not the first intervention.
52:42 Julie Matthews:
Yes. And that will tell you probably a lot about that doctor and whether you think they might be a fit for you.
52:47 Tara Hunkin:
Exactly. So moving forward, since we've had this conversation, where can people find you and more about what you do and more of the information that you share other than obviously we will make sure we link your book below the talk so that, because this is written for parents as well as practitioners. So it's definitely a must read. Where else can they find you?
53:15 Julie Matthews:
Well, if you want to know everything about autism that's on my website, nourishinghope.com. And I think that, just, this might be a good time to just say that's one of the reasons I named it nourishing hope is I want to impart the message onto parents that are listening, that there is always hope and that nourishing your child is going to help you continue to have more hope, right?
You have to start with some hope to believe you can change. You start to make some changes, you see some results, you get more hope, you take more action. And all of those things I think are really valuable. And so people can find all the writing that I do and all of my parents' learning and educational tools and things like that on nourishinghope.com.
And then for practitioners, I teach a special practitioner training for professionals, and that is at bioindividualnutrition.com and that's for any doctors, nutritionists, anybody that wants to learn how to use all of these different, special diets and nutrient support based on the very specific biochemical needs of the individual person. And we have a few, actually, not even a few, actually quite a few parents that decided, the kind of go getter parents. Parents ask me, can we do the training? Can we do the training? And at first I was like, well, it's just for practitioners. And then so many of them asked, I said, okay. Yes, you can.
So we do have actually a special scholarship for parents that do want to really dive very, very deep into it. And so those are the two ways to find me. Nourishinghope.com and bioindividualnutrition.com.
54:59 Tara Hunkin:
Wonderful. Well, I want to thank you for your time today and also for all the work that you do to help support parents, both obviously in your clinic in San Francisco and through nourishing hope and the bio-individual nutrition Institute. So thanks for your continued work and effort for these kids.
55:16 Julie Matthews:
Thank you. Thanks for doing this. It's really been a great pleasure.
55:20 Tara Hunkin:
So that's a wrap. Thanks for joining me this week on My Child Will Thrive. I'm so passionate about giving you the tools and information you need to help your child recover. And as they say, it takes a village.
So join us in the My Child Will Thrive Village Facebook group, where you can meet like-minded parents and stay up to date on everything we have going on at My Child Will Thrive. This is Tara Hunkin and I'll catch you on the next podcast or over at mychildwillthrive.com
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