Root Causes of Autism in Children

By Samantha Gilbert, FNC, CHNP, CNC     Last updated on February 12th, 2023

Root Causes of Autism in Children

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in the United States alone, autism now affects 1 in 59 children, but estimated rates varied based on access to education records. For example, New Jersey reported a rate of 1 in 34 children.

Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer, Thomas Frazier, states that “This suggests that the new national prevalence estimate of 1 in 59 still reflects a significant undercount of autism’s true prevalence among our children, and without more and better research, we can’t know how much higher it really is.”

That’s certainly a gut-wrenching statement. This hurts me and it’s why I help families with autism. From my perspective, I’m in the trenches with the moms struggling to care for their autistic children, often without a lot of support from family and friends.

We all need to fight for these kids. These moms need us! I’m talking about the divorced mom who stays up late preparing special meals for her 8-year-old son, only to be fed Domino’s Pizza, Carl’s Jr., and Ben & Jerry’s when he’s with his dad’s side of the family because they don’t think diet has any impact on his mood, behavior, and perceptions. And the mom on Facebook that shared 15 years ago a friend had to go to court because the school thought that a gluten-free diet for an autistic child was child abuse.

With responses like “You are depriving him by feeding him healthy foods”, it’s no wonder we are in such a quandary about the nature and underlying causes of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

So what’s the solution?

In short, it’s the science, and eating for life aids the right chemistry. A little more explained…

Think of a triangle. There are three sides.

Autism has three key features, called the Bermuda Triangle of Autism by Dr. Walsh, of the Walsh Research Institute. They are:


An inherited, epigenetic condition that occurs when too few methyl molecules are available to add to enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters. Undermethylators exhibit depressed levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

Methylation is a chemical reaction that occurs in every cell and tissue in the body, except for red blood cells. It regulates many substances that are necessary for the body to function. Our bodies possess an on-off switch for certain hormones, neurotransmitters, enzymes, and various chemicals known as methyl groups (Me). A Me is made up of one carbon atom bonded with three hydrogen atoms. These methyl groups can drastically alter how you think, feel, and act.

I’ve even written a cookbook about it here.

High Oxidative Stress

ASD kids suffer from a tremendous amount of something oxidative stress, which is basically an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. This is due to the depletion of key master antioxidants: glutathione and metallothionein. Without adequate levels of them, proper brain development is halted and deviant genes become active producing the condition we know as autism.

Dr. Walsh calls metallothionein “nature’s back-up system” for the following reasons:

  • Required for pruning, growth and growth-inhibition of brain cells in early development
  • Prevents mercury and other metals from passing intestinal and blood/brain barriers
  • Required for homeostasis of copper and zinc (both critical components of a healthy immune system) and
  • Supports immune function

Another key feature of autism is massive gut inflammation. High oxidative overload in the gut:

  • Destroys digestive enzymes needed to break down casein and gluten
  • Increases candida/yeast levels
  • Diminishes zinc levels required for adequate production of stomach acid (an important factor in keeping yeast and bacteria at bay)
  • Produces inflammation
  • Results in “leaky gut” therefore allowing toxins to enter the bloodstream

The last side of the triangle, keep staying with the science!

Epigenetic errors, triggered by environmental insults

If you don’t know what epigenetics is, it’s okay. There was a time I didn’t either.

To begin to really understand autism, you have to know what the word epigenetic means, which in short, is how your genes can be influenced by environmental factors that impact your ability to think, focus, and concentrate effectively. It’s not simply about the genes and not simply about the environment.

Both are factors that contribute to biochemical imbalances in the brain and body that produce the condition we know as autism, which is why food has such a significant impact on an autistic child’s brain and gut.

Undermethylation alters gene programming during pregnancy resulting in lifelong vulnerability to high oxidative stresses and this is what we see in autism.

What does all this mean? Autism can be successfully treated with early testing and advanced nutrient therapies designed to normalize deviant gene expression. People with autism matter and are worth our time, investment, and deserve our love, but they also deserve us working together for the solution.

Let’s join together in celebrating World Autism Awareness Day tomorrow, April 2nd, and for the entire month of April.

If you know of a child or parent who is struggling with autism and needs help then be hope for them by sharing this post! 

Walsh, William An Epigenetic Model of Autism and a Warning Regarding Risperdal


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