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Last updated on May 5, 2021

In the prior part of episode #25, we talked about the link among autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), and food allergies  I discussed the role of the immune system in these conditions.  For instance, we talked about the role of mast cells.  In this episode, I want to explain this link even further.  

Mast cells are not the only types of cells that are implicated in the link among food allergies, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorder.  The link is way more complex than that.  A lot of other cells and a lot of factors that go into this potential link.

As one example out of many, how about the Pac-Man cells of the human body? Yep!  Pac-Man!

In New Jersey, we have the boardwalk where you will find stores that have nothing but arcade games.  In some of these arcades, you will find the Pac-Man game.  When you play the game, you will see a Pac-Man navigating a maze on the screen and eating Pac dots. 

Well, we have a type of Pac-Man cells in our bodies.  What these cells do is they find foreign substances, and they gobble them up.  They do a couple of other thing, but these cells - called macrophages - act a bit like Pac-Man.  Most of these Pac-Man cells are located outside of the brain. They usually don't get into the brain because the blood-brain barrier is working properly.  It's a kind of force shield that prevents items from getting into the brain.  This blood-brain barrier helps shield the brain from harmful chemicals. 

However, let's say that this blood-brain barrier is a little faulty.  All of a sudden, Pac-Man cells can enter the brain.  When these cells go into the brain, they cross the blood-brain barrier. You can develop more brain inflammation.

What are the symptoms of brain inflammation?  Again, you can have things like sensory sensitivities, irritability, hyperactivity, and brain fog.  What kind of symptoms do people with autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders have?  Perhaps these.  That immune response is pretty complex, and  the link between all these things is complex.  Scientists are still trying to figure all of it out. 

There are multiple studies that seem to point towards a link.  Let me give you an example of one of them although this one did not touch upon ADHD.  Let's talk about a December 2020 landmark study that showed this link.  The researchers looked at over 20,000 individuals and evaluated the link between food allergies and an autism spectrum disorder. They discovered that if a person had an autism spectrum disorder, they were more likely to also have a food allergy.  If a person had a food allergy, they were also more likely to have autism spectrum disorder. This study of tens of thousands of people found these links.

Let's translate this.  Let's say that you have a child with an autism spectrum disorder. They might have or eventually be diagnosed with a food allergy.  Now think about it from the other standpoint. Let's say that you have a baby or a young child who has multiple food allergies,  more significant food allergies,  or just food allergies in general.  At this point, they seem to be developing OK.  Yet you wonder, "What does the future hold?  Should I be concerned about them eventually being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder?"

Based upon this study, if you have a baby or young child with significant food allergies, you might want to pay closer attention to their development.  Many high-functioning children might not be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder until they are much older. Not all cases of autism spectrum disorder are picked up before the child is five years old.   Sometimes a very high-functioning autism spectrum disorder isn't even picked up until a person is an adult.   

I bring this up because on my Doctor Evka platform, I'm going to discuss food allergies and feeding challenges in young children.  Of course, you are going to get tips on these things.  However, I don't want you to see these as individual challenges.  I want you to also look at the forest and not just the trees.  When you look at the overall picture of a child with significant food allergies and feeding challenges, you might want to ask yourself, "What else is going on?  What other medical conditions might be of concern to me?  What else can I do for my child?"  I want to discuss this as well as other aspects of child development. 

Now, my hope in sharing this with you is to provide knowledge.  It is certainly not to lead to an anxiety attack.  Even though we are talking about links or correlations between various conditions, we are not discussing what your child has.  Just because two things are related does not mean that they cause each other. There are plenty of children with autism spectrum disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders who do not have food allergies.  Conversely, there are plenty of children with food allergies who do NOT have autism spectrum disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders.  Your child with food allergies might never develop these conditions.  In fact, there's a good chance that your child with food allergies will never be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorders  (Most children with food allergies are not.) 

We're just talking about increased risk, and I'll give you an example of what that increased risk might mean. My backyard is full of trees. We have a tree inspector come by periodically to make sure that the trees are all safe and healthy.  We want to make sure that none of them are going to fall on our house or on neighbor's house.  Anyway, a few months ago, we had a tree inspector come by our house.  The tree inspector said, "Your trees are healthy.  They're not going to fall down anytime soon." Then shortly after the tree inspector visited, on a sunny day, one of out trees fell on our neighbor's house.   This happened despite the tree inspector assuring us that our trees were fine.   You see, our backyard is wooded.  It has trees.  By virtue of it having trees, there's the potential for a tree to fall.  If we did not have any trees in our backyard, then we would not have to be concerned about falling trees. However, there's a link between having trees in your backyard and one of the trees potentially at one point falling down.  

It's similar with the link among food allergies, autism spectrum disorder, and ADHD.  Your child has food allergies.  Their bodies contain a risk factor for autism spectrum disorder and ADHD.  They might never develop autism spectrum disorder and ADHD, but they have the potential to.  

Three "legal" things:  First, either a male or a female could consider themselves to be a mother.  My job is to serve and not to judge.  Second, although I am a family physician, I am not your doctor or therapist.   Please see your and your child's doctor.  Third, the information presented here is for educational purposes only.  It does not constitute professional medical advice.