Over the years (not nearly enough years to fully understand it) as autism has been studied, it’s evolved from being thought of as a purely psychological condition, mostly affecting behavior and social interaction, to being recognized as a medical condition with several overlapping sets of problems.
One of the newest sets of problems placed within the autism puzzle is this: toxins, along with the two bodily processes that those toxins will nearly universally create–chronic inflammation and oxidative stress.
The Methylation Component
Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR, in case you’re new to our blog) is the enzyme that creates activated folate, critical to neurotransmitter function, among other things. MTHFR also methylates the vitamin B-12 we eat…and there’s a whole domino effect, as shown above. When this methylation process works normally, we make glutathione as we should. When, however, this methylation process does not work optimally, we refer to the problem as “hypomethylation.”
People with genetic vulnerabilities in MTHFR are more susceptible to hypomethylation, and those vulnerabilities are 1.7-fold higher in the autism population. That higher incidence is likely inherited from the parents.
And therein lies the rub.
You’re as genetically vulnerable as your children.
Chronic stress is like a toxin; your body rebels. As genetically vulnerable caregivers, you may then encounter some of the same medical challenges your children do. Research into caregivers shows that stress promotes inflammation, impacts immune function, induces oxidative stress, affects bowel function and causes quicker aging.
Care for the caregiver
Caregivers tend to put themselves second (at best) or, more commonly, dead last. Fortunately, basic interventions exist, ones that can be inexpensive AND minimally disruptive to the schedule–and the names are easy to pronounce:
Dietary principles for caregivers and children (Buckley, J).
- “Eat your colors.”
- Eliminate gluten and casein.
- Eat fewer of the “white” foods that turn too quickly to sugar.
- Make organic choices to the extent that your budget will allow, especially important with fruits and vegetables that absorb the highest amounts of toxins
- Choose more veggies
- Snack on seeds and nuts.
Caregivers tend to neglect sleep. However, our bodies do significant healing as we rest. Trouble sleeping? Melatonin, exercise, and magnesium are all well-known for improving sleep quality.
In addition to helping with sleep, exercise boosts energy levels, regulates appetite/ weight, immune function, and mood. And you don’t HAVE to join the gym to exercise.
Tips for starting/sustaining an exercise habit:
- sign up for the 5K walk/run races that are all over the place these days. If you know you have an upcoming event (especially if you paid to register for it!), you’re more likely to “train” for it.
- Find an exercise partner. Having a partner holds you accountable and makes it more fun.
- Put it in your planner. You know how committed you are to that planner.
Write it in on your calendar and schedule around it.
There’s a lot of discussion around supplementation. In an ideal world, we would be able to eat all the necessary vitamins and minerals our bodies need in our foods. However, to meet our needs with food alone, we’d have to
- eat a primarily organic, green plant-based diet.
- avoid all additional stressors to your bodies
- avoid any environmental stressors.
And who does that?
So what, if any, supplements should caregivers take, and which should we avoid? Here are some less expensive supplements that pack a punch.
Vitamin D3: calcium metabolism, serotonin metabolism and immune function. Doctors say the vast majority of adults will do very well with supplementation of 5,000 Iu daily; it should be in the D3 form, and levels should be followed.
Probiotics: a whole host of functions, including GI and immune function.
Multivitamin: Energy, immune function, brain function, etc. It should be rich in B-vitamins and replete with absorbable minerals.
One of the least expensive and perhaps most useful ways we can be effective in caring for ourselves is to use techniques of relaxation, imagery, and affirmation.
Some techniques to check into:
- Guided imagery: 5-15 minutes/day
- Mindfulness activities (see apps like Calm and Headspace, the HeartMath program)
.If you’re barely keeping your head above water trying to address your child’s ASD symptoms, let alone all the other life things, know that it’s also critically important to care for yourself. It’s okay to acknowledge that it’s stressful sometimes, and fortunately, there are a ton of time efficient, cost effective hacks out there. Give yourself a little TLC. You’re worth it.
P.S. We found some of these great ideas at http://www.autismone.org/content/caring-caregiver-mind-your-mthfr-julie-buckley-md