Autism, Allergies and the Immune System

Sheri Marino MA, CCC-SLP

In The Function of Allergy: an immunological defense against toxins, (1991), Margie Profet proposes that an “immune response known as ‘allergy’ evolved as a last line of defense against the extensive array of toxic substances that exist in the environment.” Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are particularly vulnerable to food and seasonal allergies and the associated symptoms can exacerbate cognitive and behavioral challenges. Individuals with ASD are often medically complex, and being aware of early allergy signs and symptoms, as well available treatment options, can help to provide relief and promote overall wellness.

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Recent studies have confirmed a significant rise in food allergies in the US. In 2013 the CDC reported that food allergies among children increased 50% between 1997-2011, similar to the trajectory of the rise in autism. Research suggests that 36% of children with ASD have food allergies. So what is the link?

To be explored in this article:

Immune dysregulation

Allergies and autism share a common underlying issue within the body’s immune system. Studies show that early life immune disruptions are associated with autism. Individuals with ASD may also have overactive immune systems or an imbalance of pro and anti-inflammatory signals. This immune dysregulation appears to be linked with the development of allergies and asthma. In allergic individuals, pattern recognition of danger signals causes the body to perceive pollen or other triggers as pathogens, and the reactions are similar to that of a virus, minus the fever and myalgia.

Inflammation in the body is an immune system response to toxins, irritants and infections, and contributes to health issues including autoimmune diseases, as well as asthma and allergies. Inflammation from food allergies and food intolerances create reactions in the body which can cause physical and neuropsychiatric symptoms. Immune dysregulation is common in families with autism, especially those with autoimmunity whereby the body attacks its own healthy cells as in Rheumatoid Arthritis, diabetes, and celiac disease. Researchers at the UC Davis Mind Institute have linked maternal inflammation to an increased risk of autism due to maternal antibodies attacking fetal brain tissue. Likewise, a mother’s diagnosis of inflammatory diseases including allergies or asthma increases her child’s risk of developing autism.

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Meet Sheri A. Marino, MA, CCC-SLP

Pediatric Health Advisor

Sheri is a pediatric speech and language pathologist with over 25 years of clinical experience specializing in autism. She has published numerous articles on autism and shares her clinical expertise through writing and lecturing internationally. Sheri is passionate about treating the “whole child” through integrative medicine and is interested in research that examines the environmental causes of autism. As a consultant to FFH, Sheri contributes her clinical knowledge and management experience to help develop and carry out the mission of the Focus for Health Foundation. She has been featured on CBS News, NBC News, NJN and multiple Cable networks.

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