Why Autism Spectrum Disorder Goes Beyond Behavior with Dr. Emily Gutierrez (HPC: E62)

Is autism a behavior disorder or a physiological disease? You might be surprised to hear Dr. Emily Gutierrez’s perspective that there is always a physical root cause that is affecting the brain – which means parents can control that and help their children heal!

In fact, anyone with a chronic disease (and 1 in 2 of us have one) would benefit from this education-packed interview as we delve into functional medicine and how we can be detectives in our own lives and those of our children to determine what our bodies may need to function at our best.

Dr. Gutierrez’s new book, The Parent’s Roadmap to Autism: A Functional Approach, is an amazing resource for parents who may not have access to or be able to afford individualized help for their kids. PLUS anyone should read this to better understand the foundations of health and determine steps they may be able to take to reduce their own toxic body burden and increase resiliency to diseases of all kinds.

Here are some notes about what we share in this interview:

  • Why we need to start looking at n=1 and what place placebo-controlled randomized trials should have in medical treatment of chronic disease.
  • How neuronutrition guides everything she does (and why disease isn’t a deficiency of a medication!).
  • Dr. Emily shared an inspiring story of a little girl with an autism diagnosis and how some testing and dietary changes absolutely revolutionized her life.

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  • There’s no magic pixie dust that makes every patient “lose their diagnosis,” BUT every single patient (1000s!) have seen improvements in symptoms under the care of Neuronutrition Associates in Austin, TX, Dr. Gutierrez’s practice.
  • The 5 areas of body burden and why improving one can improve other symptoms of chronic disease.
  • Tips for very selective eaters and a message of hope – only ONE child out of thousands has ever been stubborn enough to go more than a day without eating.
  • Why the majority of what we eat should be carbohydrates…don’t worry, it’s not what it sounds like!

I hope you feel empowered after this information and truly take it as an inspiration and HOPE that all children can improve with chronic disease – we just have to be their detectives!

No time to watch the whole video? Here are the notes!

Autism Root Cause Video Time Stamps

  • 0:49: Today I have Dr. Emily Gutierrez with me to discuss Autism. She runs Neuronutrition Associates in Austin, TX.
  • 1:44: Dr. Gutierrez has a background in conventional and functional medicine. She shares her story with us.

Not only can I better connect with my patients, but functional medicine has transformed my own life. -Dr. Emily Gutierrez

Why is there an increase in autism diagnoses?

  • 5:48: Autism was only named as an official diagnosis in 1943. The definition and diagnosis has changed a lot over the years. The criteria for diagnosis has expanded, but Dr. Gutierrez also believes that our environment is contributing to the rise in autism diagnoses.

There’s a lot of inflammatory stress under the surface that might not be obvious to a conventional pediatrician. -Dr. Emily Gutierrez

  • 7:54: In her book Dr Gutierrez describes some philosophical differences between conventional treatment and her approach. She explains how she approaches treating her patients with autism.

I don't have protocols, because everyone is different. -Dr. Emily Gutierrez

  • 9:34: Some parents are getting a flippant diagnosis of autism without other things being checked first. For example a child who isn’t talking by 18 months may be diagnosed before hearing is tested.
  • 11:10: There are also some rare genetic disorders that mimic autism symptoms. This is an important distinction to make before planning treatment.
  • 12:01: Dr. Gutierrez never intended to focus on autism but had experience with neurology, and realized there was a huge need among kids for help with neurodevelopmental diseases.

Does diet affect autism?

  • 13:36: We define neuronutrition and how it applies to children with neurological diagnoses.

So many people think neurotransmitters need medication to regain balance, but often they just need the correct nutritional co-factors and gut microbiome. -Dr. Emily Gutierrez

  • 15:30: This message is so encouraging for parents. Many neurologists will tell parents that changing a child’s diet won’t change anything. Dr. Gutierrez sees drastic improvements among many of her patients from diet changes. She also sees patients losing their autism diagnosis after going through her functional treatments.
  • 18:14: Dr. Gutierrez shares a specific stories she’s seen in her practice. Don’t skip this part! It’s so amazing to hear!

Not everyone will lose the diagnosis of autism when they apply functional medicine, but you will see improvements. -Dr. Emily Gutierrez

  • 20:50: There are many factors that play into the amount of change a child will experience based on functional treatment, but it can still make a huge difference in their life. Dr. Gutierrez shares some of the improvements they see.

Nutritional therapy isn't a quick fix. It's building a foundation over time. -Dr. Emily Gutierrez

Applying a Functional Approach

  • 23:24: Dr. Gutierrez has a new book out. Her goal in writing the book was 2-fold: she wanted to get the word out to more families that functional medicine therapies can improve the lives of kids on the autism spectrum and bring those ideas and therapies to people who can’t afford or find a good practitioner.
  • 24:56: The book describes a functional medicine mindset, gives the rule-outs and rule-in for autism, the effects of the immune system, gut, toxicity, nutrition and more.

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  • 25:34: There are learning modules online that go along with the book if parents want to take it a step further. While online communities and Facebook groups are great for sharing information, there are so many different factors playing into autism that it’s hard to sift through all the recommendations and find what works for your child specifically. Dr. Gutierrez will help guide you with more specific advice on labs and supplements based on your child’s symptoms.

Body Burden and Chronic Disease

  • 28:06: We discuss the “areas of burden” and how they impact autism and other chronic diseases. Martha Herbert coined the term “body burden” and wrote a book called “The Autism Revolution.” She sought to discover why some kids are more likely to have chronic disease than others. There’s generally a tipping point where some sickness or toxic exposure triggered the start of a chronic disease.

Where is the burden and how can we increase resilience? -Dr. Emily Gutierrez

  • 30:58: We all can create room for exposures so that we aren’t panicked all the time that one small thing will be our trigger for disease. Dr. Gutierrez’s book is not just for parents of autistic children, we can all benefit from building resilience in the 5 core areas of burden.

If you have that resilience then you have more flexibility with chronic disease. -Dr. Emily Gutierrez

  • 31:57: As we see a shift to functional medicine, we see more people talking about how our systems all interact instead of just specialists treating individual symptoms. It’s estimated that 1 in 2 Americans have a chronic disease.

You can apply functional medicine to any chronic condition. -Dr. Emily Gutierrez

  • 33:47: Here at Kids Cook Real Food we have member kids on the spectrum who are extremely selective eaters. We often find that working with food increases their likelihood of trying it, but not always. Dr. Gutierrez shares her tips on expanding the palates of picky eaters.

Note from Katie: I was never a fan of “cry it out” as Dr. Gutierrez used for sleep, and I know that “eat it or starve” is likely not going to fit everyone’s philosophy of parenting either – so remember that there are many ways to get to the same end and take hope from this: YES, all kids can eat more than 20 foods. It is possible! See Dr. Nicole Beurkens’ interview for another perspective on the same question.

You are not responsible for what your child eats, but you are responsible for what you provide them. -Dr. Emily Gutierrez

  • 38:35: Dr. Gutierrez shares what we should all be eating. She agrees with Dr. Mark Hyman who says the majority of our diet should be carbs…don’t count her out before you hear what she means!
  • 40:40: We end with a message of hope for parents of kids on the autism spectrum.

Resources We Mention for Autism Education

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Taking a Functional Medicine Approach to Autism

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