Complications of Autism

43 min episode
Autism is associated with a range of treatable underlying medical conditions. Dr Sonya Doherty ND and Dr Cameron McIntyre ND share what practitioners can do to bring immediate relief to autistic children and their parents.


Autism is complex; physical issues can often masquerade as cognitive behavioral disorders. Today, Nutramedica is uncovering the medical complications underlying autism and what practitioners can do to improve outcomes for autistic children.  

Dr Cameron McIntyre and Dr Sonya Doherty will be describing how to recognize children with autism, how to test them and finally what treatment options work best. Dr Doherty is world-renowned for her approach to treating children with ASD. She continues to push our understanding of how to treat autism from her Natural Care Clinic in Burlington, Ontario, Canada. As a mother of a boy with autism, she provides a unique perspective on this health condition. 

Dr McIntyre is a regular guest on Nutramedica and speaks on children's health with a focus on brain health.

Key Take-Aways

Living with autism

Children living with ASD can be understood as having a “disconnect” between their body and their brain.

They may understand everything that is going on around them, but they cannot control their mouth, their eyes, or their body in order to communicate.

80% of kids with ASD suffer from this underlying condition.

Dr Doherty’s journey to becoming a world-renowned specialist in ASD started when she discovered the Autism Research Institute and found that 80% of children with autism are suffering from digestive disorders, with the majority of them having sleep disorders.

Describing Autism

Children with autism manifest symptoms including constant hand flapping, lack of eye contact, looking out of the corners of the eyes, as well as strange behaviors such as rocking back and forth, screaming and banging their heads.

These behaviours are traumatizing for parents who find little help in the traditional medical system. For that reason they reach out to Dr Doherty at her Natural Care Clinic in Burlington, Ontario.

Underlying medical conditions with autism

In children with ASM, underlying physical issues can often masquerade as cognitive behavioral disorders. As a result, the treatment they are prescribed never corrects the underlying conditions

For example, children diagnosed with autism have high rates of constipation, impaired motility, and fecal loading, which is a silent form of constipation that negatively impacts absorption of nutrients and causes a lot of pain.

In a 2008 Johns Hopkins landmark study, Dr Doherty showed that brain neuroinflammation is a hallmark of autism.

Oxidative stress and autism

Autistic children have higher rates of oxidative stress. Indeed, 90% of children diagnosed with autism have methylation pathway impairment. Many have sleep onset insomnia and wake in the middle of the night, sometimes with aggression, head banging, and screaming.

These children are more prone to allergies as well as a myriad of other medical conditions. 

Autistic children struggle to communicate. Therefore, if they have been experiencing pain or neuroinflammation their whole life, they are going to show you through their erratic behaviors.

Role of glutamate

Autism is associated with excess glutamate in the brain, a phenomenon termed immunotoxicity. The brain’s immune system is switched on which leads to Stimming – or self-stimulatory behaviour -  leading to OCD like fixated behaviors including tics, rigidity and tantrums.

We know as natural doctors how to reduce glutamate, looking at biochemical pathways, SNPs, or genetics that could put these children at risk for high glutamate levels.

Testing for methylation impairments

Since 90% of children diagnosed with autism have methylation impairments, testing for impairments by looking at their SNPs, or single nucleotide polymorphisms, across enzymes that make the body and the biochemistry function, can be very valuable.

Testing SNPs has been a foundation of Dr Doherty’s practice. Children with certain SNPs have disruptions of important biochemical pathways. Metal testing, particularly for magnesium, is also important.

Microbiology tests

Testing for gut clostridia and other negative bacterial species is an important part of a diagnosis. It is recommended to perform a comprehensive digestive stool analysis with parasitology to obtain important information on what is going on with the microbiome of the gut.

Treatment approaches to autism

Effective treatments can include B6,  N-acetylcysteine, and B12. You can also look at using natural herbs, supplements, and amino acids that can improve those pathways disrupted in autism.

Other options are magnesium oxide on its own or with some vitamin C or prune juice protein powder.

Diets for autism

The modified ketogenic or paleo diet transforms lives because 90% of children diagnosed with autism have methylation impairments. These children cannot metabolize synthetic folic acid.

Accordingly, it is important to make parents understand that in four to five weeks on this diet, their child is going to continue to improve, especially if you pair that with B12 injections and something as simple as fish oil.

Autism Recovery Manual

This useful manual is available to health professionals who would like to learn more about autism, its underpinnings, and approaches to treatment. Most parents see the results after using the manual for about 4 or 5 weeks.

Their children sleep better, the parents’ moods are better, they are more optimistic. They start to look forward, which heals the grief that we go through as parents. The Manual can be accessed through the link found below relating to this episode of Nutramedica. 

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Key Quotes  

“Children with autism have aggression and self-injury, behaviors like constant mouthing or flapping or jumping, and these behaviors are almost always caused by untreated and undiagnosed medical concerns.” 

Dr Sonya Doherty ND

“There are themes of sleep challenges and gut disturbances and chronic inflammation in the brain and beyond. Some parents know exactly what's going on with their kids and others need things to be broken down and educated. They need to be educated on the fact that it's not just something happening in the brain.”

 Dr Cameron McIntyre ND

“Looking outside the mainstream, trying things that may not be comfortable, taking these leaps of faith without this traditional system robustly supporting them like it does with some of the other conditions, things like Down's syndrome and cystic fibrosis and cerebral palsy. So, the strange thing about my journey is that my professional and personal lives were destined to collide, if you will.” 

Dr Sonya Doherty ND

“They line things up. The parents will say, they stopped looking at me. It's like they went away. They're in their own world. They can't process the world visually anymore. This is medical and treatable. It gives children back their ability to interact with the world, and in fact, some children diagnosed with autism, including my son, are so social.

Dr Sonya Doherty ND


The opinions expressed in this Nutramedica program are those of the guests and contributors. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Nutritional Fundamentals For Health Inc.

This video is intended for licensed or registered health professionals and students of health professions only. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Information contained in these programs are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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