In autistic children, brain cells fire more frequently giving excess excitatory or stimulatory effect. GABA is responsible for keeping those levels in check. In school we were taught that the brain is always going, going, going (in all people) and that GABA is the brake pedal. GABA is actually the only chemical (neuropeptide) in the brain that slows it down. Drugs that decrease GABA’s effectiveness can actually create autistic behaviors in non-autistic individuals. Autistic children given secretin showed improved eye contact, speech and attention. Secretin has been suggested to alter the effects of GABA, as well as increase actual GABA levels.
BLOOD BRAIN BARRIER (BBB)
Your BBB is a semi-permeable barrier that is in charge of making sure that the necessary proteins, nutrients and hormones in the blood can pass through to your brain while keeping toxins, chemicals and other irritants out. Any damage to the BBB will make you more susceptible to environmental toxins, mercury, chemicals, perfumes, etc.
One of the ways we can test if our BBB is properly functioning is by performing the GABA challenge. The GABA challenge consists of taking supplemental GABA (found at most health food stores) and watching the effects it has on you or your child. GABA is a large molecule that should be filtered out by the BBB. When you take GABA, you should not notice any effect. IF your BBB is not properly filtering and you have “leaky brain” then when you take GABA you will feel a change in your mood. You may feel tired, sluggish and/or lose fine coordination. It has been compared to the effects of alcohol or valium. (I can’t speak from personal experience on this one) This can give you or your child an idea if you have “leaky brain” and if you have “leaky brain” there is a high probability you have “leaky gut” too.
Warning: This challenge is not recommended for ALL; consult your physician to see if it is right for you or your child. You have to be able to observe symptoms and be extra vigilant because it can cause agitation or aggravation.
- Find a free night with little going on that you can pay attention to symptoms.
- After dinner, 1-2 hours before bed, take two capsules of GABA
- Next go about your normal activities, paying attention to any feelings of drowsiness, lethargy or just extra slowing down. (If you feel this you have leaky brain)
- Excitation, agitation or hyper activeness can happen in about 20% of patients. This is also a positive test for leaky brain.
- If you feel any of the effects, you can then just go to bed; the effects should be gone by the morning. If you experience any feeling in the morning like a hang-over, then not only is the BBB compromised, but you also may have neurodegeneration (shrinking/dying brain).
One time I asked about GABA at the health store and the owner said that they fly off the shelf! She said it was one of their most popular items. I don’t think that many people are running out to do the GABA challenge, so this tells you a lot about the state of “leaky brain” and “leaky gut” in our population.
General treatment of leaky gut/brain is to eliminate any dysbiosis, assess glutamine levels and make sure healthy fats are in the diet and bad fats are out of the diet. As a last note, if you or your doctor feel your child is not a good candidate for the GABA challenge, there are other in-office, non-invasive procedures that can be done. I’ve never had a patient actually need to do the challenge, but for the person that doesn’t want to see the doctor, it can be a helpful at home test. I have done the challenge myself.
Elevated histidine levels up to 7 times higher than normal have been found in some autistic children. In other individuals, high histidine has been implicated in phobias, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, addictive predispositions and depression. In healthy individuals histidine is broken down to histamine. Adequate levels of vitamins and minerals like B6, zinc and magnesium are necessary for this to occur.
It would be a complete waste of mine and your time to have all this information if there was nothing we could do about it. All of these things can and should be tested. The diagnosis of autism is the beginning not the end. When people tell me there is nothing you can do about autism or any condition for that matter, I always ask, “What have you tried?” The common reply is, “I have tried everything!” I would bet the most parents/doctors are unfamiliar with the above information and that makes it hard to “try everything” if you don’t know. This is why this series will be so long and detailed. As you can see, there likely never will be a single pill that “cures” autism whether pharmaceutical or natural. As with so many other difficult conditions the only hope to significant improvements is a holistic approach.