Skin conditions in autistic children can be more than just a surface-level issue. They often stem from underlying disruptions in biochemistry that need to be addressed for comprehensive treatment. In this article, we will explore the profound impact of food intolerance, stress, gut dysbiosis, impaired liver function, and nutrient deficiencies, such as zinc, magnesium, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D, on skin health in autistic children. By understanding the root causes behind these skin conditions, parents can take a proactive approach to support their children’s overall well-being.
Food intolerances can trigger immune responses in autistic children, leading to inflammation and skin manifestations. According to a study published in the Journal of Paediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, approximately 36% of autistic children have reported food allergies or intolerances, with gluten and dairy being the most common culprits (Johnson et al., 2018). Identifying and eliminating trigger foods from the diet can alleviate symptoms and improve skin health. Often due to gut health issues, children find it hard to process compounds like oxalates, phenols, histamines, and glutamates. Getting the diet right can be a game changer for these children.
Autistic children often experience chronic stress due to sensory sensitivities and social challenges, which can disrupt the body’s natural balance. This chronic stress has been found to have detrimental effects on skin health. Research published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology has shown that chronic stress can exacerbate various skin conditions, including eczema and psoriasis (Arck et al., 2006). The increased release of stress hormones and inflammatory mediators during periods of chronic stress can trigger or worsen skin manifestations. Using targeted supplements and relaxation techniques can greatly improve outcomes.
Gut dysbiosis, an imbalance in the composition of gut microbiota, is a common occurrence in autistic children. A study published in Gut Microbes found that autistic children have distinct alterations in their gut microbiota compared to neurotypical children, contributing to systemic inflammation and potentially impacting skin health (Kang et al., 2018). The disrupted balance of gut bacteria can lead to increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut), allowing toxins and inflammatory molecules to enter the bloodstream, which may manifest as skin conditions. Targeted interventions to restore a healthy balance of gut microbiota through probiotic supplementation and dietary modifications can alleviate inflammation and improve skin health (Kang et al., 2018).
The liver plays a vital role in detoxification, breaking down toxins and metabolic by products in the body. In autistic children, impaired liver function can compromise the elimination of toxins, leading to their accumulation in the body. This toxic burden can burden the body’s systems and potentially worsen skin conditions. Therefore, supporting liver health is crucial in promoting better skin health in children with autism.
One way to support the liver is through the inclusion of liver-friendly foods especially animal liver if possible. Using desiccated liver supplements can be helpful. Additionally, incorporating foods rich in antioxidants, such as wild fatty fish like salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines and anchovies, grass-fed meats, organic, free-range eggs (if tolerated. Often eggs are not tolerated by those with eczema for example), berries and low oxalate cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower can help protect the liver from oxidative stress.
Regular physical activity can also support liver health by improving blood flow to the liver and promoting overall detoxification. Encouraging autistic children to engage in age-appropriate physical activities can be beneficial for their skin and overall well-being.
Moreover, adequate hydration is essential for liver function. Drinking plenty of water helps flush out toxins and waste products from the body, reducing the burden on the liver.
Lastly, minimising exposure to environmental toxins and chemicals can lessen the load on the liver. Using natural, non-toxic household products and reducing exposure to second-hand smoke can support the liver’s detoxification processes.
Nutritional deficiencies are prevalent in autistic children and can significantly impact skin health. According to a study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, autistic children have been found to have lower levels of essential nutrients, including zinc, magnesium, selenium, and vitamin D, compared to typically developing children (Adams et al., 2011). Zinc deficiency, for example, has been linked to impaired wound healing and increased susceptibility to skin infections. Magnesium deficiency can contribute to inflammation and oxidative stress, worsening skin conditions. Selenium deficiency can compromise the body’s antioxidant defences, leading to increased skin sensitivity and damage. Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fish oil, have anti-inflammatory properties that can alleviate skin inflammation. Lastly, vitamin D deficiency has been associated with various skin disorders, including psoriasis and eczema.
Recognizing that skin conditions in autistic children are often symptoms of underlying disruptions in biochemistry is crucial for effective treatment. Taking a holistic approach that addresses the root causes is paramount. This includes implementing an elimination diet to identify and remove trigger foods, managing stress through specific supplements, relaxation techniques and appropriate therapies, supporting gut health through targeted probiotic supplementation and dietary modifications, promoting liver health through detoxification protocols, and correcting nutrient deficiencies through personalised supplementation.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities found that a comprehensive dietary intervention, including the removal of gluten and casein, led to significant improvements in skin symptoms in autistic children (Whiteley et al., 2010). Another study published in the Journal of Child Neurology showed that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids resulted in reduced severity of skin conditions in autistic children (Amminger et al., 2007).
Skin conditions in autistic children are complex and involve various factors. By understanding the impact of food intolerance, stress, gut dysbiosis, impaired liver function, and nutrient deficiencies on skin health, parents can adopt a proactive and holistic approach to address the root causes. Working with healthcare professionals, including functional medicine practitioners and nutritional therapists, can help identify personalised strategies to alleviate skin symptoms and improve overall well-being. By treating the underlying disruptions in biochemistry, parents can support their children’s skin health, promoting a better quality of life.
Adams, J. B., Audhya, T., McDonough-Means, S., Rubin, R. A., Quig, D., Geis, E., … & Matthews, J. S. (2011). Nutritional and metabolic status of autistic children vs. neurotypical children, and the association with autism severity. Nutritional Metabolism, 8(1), 34.
Amminger, G. P., Berger, G. E., Schäfer, M. R., Klier, C., Friedrich, M. H., & Feucht, M. (2007). Omega-3 fatty acids supplementation in children with autism: A double-blind randomized, placebo-controlled pilot study. Journal of Child Neurology, 22(5), 574-579.
Arck, P. C., Handjiski, B., Peters, E. M., & Paus, R. (2006). Hair follicle immune privilege revisited: The key to alopecia areata management. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 126(8), 1774-1776.
Johnson, C. R., Handen, B. L., Zimmer, M., & Sacco, K. (2018). Food allergy and food intolerance in autistic children spectrum disorder: A review. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, 66(2), 189-195.
Kang, D. W., Adams, J. B., Gregory, A. C., Borody, T., Chittick, L., Fasano, A., … & Krajmalnik-Brown, R. (2018). Microbiota transfer therapy alters gut ecosystem and improves gastrointestinal and autism symptoms: An open-label study. Microbiome, 6(1), 1-16.
Whiteley, P., Haracopos, D., Knivsberg, A. M., Reichelt, K. L., Parlar, S., Jacobsen, J., … & Shattock, P. (2010). The ScanBrit randomised, controlled, single-blind study of a gluten- and casein-free dietary intervention for autistic children spectrum disorders. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 23(3), 230-237.