The Role of Functional Nutrition and Medicine in Autism

Functional nutrition and medicine is a branch of medicine that addresses the system as a whole. Denise Voight’s “fall” into autism began when she was looking for ways that she could help her son with his ADHD diagnosis. She wanted to treat her son’s whole body and not simply his hyperactivity. With a Masters in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine, Denise helps clients address all of the interconnected problems that arise from biochemical imbalances, hormone issues, neurotransmitter disruptors, and gut problems in order to improve symptoms, issues, and behaviors.

While you consider whether to turn to functional nutrition, you should consider what the biggest levers you can pull to help your child out the most. Functional nutrition may be a small lever for you, or it may make a huge difference. If you are dealing with potty training issues or weaning, now may not be the time to explore this option.

Denise shares some of the many ways that zinc deficiencies can show up in a child’s body, and why it’s important to do more than just take some zinc supplements. Copper levels in a body can be impacted by adjusting the zinc levels too little or too much, so fine-tuning mineral deficiencies will take some time and careful consideration.

There are some fears that many people have about changing a child’s diet. It can be difficult or traumatic to suddenly switch to a new diet, and sometimes, a new diet won’t be effective at all. Denise’s practical down-to-earth advice for parents takes into consideration the picky eating habits that many children with autism have.

If you’re ready to explore how functional nutrition can help you or your child, Denise works with adults and children in both one-on-one coaching and in courses. You can connect with her on her website.

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Denise Voight, MS is a Clinical Nutritionist with a Masters of Science in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine specializing in Nutritional Intervention for autism spectrum disorders and ADHD. She is an expert in applying scientifically proven food and nutrition therapies to improve health, learning, and behavior in children with ASD and ADHD.

Denise’s passion for studying nutritional biochemistry for the past 20 years emerged from her own son’s struggle with ADHD. Using a functional medicine approach to heal his gut and identify food intolerances changed their lives and drove Denise to pursue her career as a Functional Medicine Nutritionist where she uses her expertise and compassion to help educate, empower, and support families affected by autism and ADHD. She has spent over 2 decades researching and implementing the latest in nutritional intervention so she can lead people on their journey to optimum health.


  • Common mineral deficiencies in children autism and ADHD.
  • How a zinc deficiency can impact a child’s behavior and appetite.
  • Creative ideas for overhauling a permanent diet change for your child.
  • How to know when it’s time to address nutrition.

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Transcript for Podcast Episode: 080
The Role of Functional Nutrition and Medicine in Autism
Hosted by: Dr. Mary Barbera

Mary: You're listening to the Turn Autism Around podcast episode number 80. And today we have a guest who I really enjoyed interviewing. Denise Voight is her name. She has a Master's of science in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine. And she specializes in nutritional intervention for autism spectrum disorders and ADHD. I found her information to be fascinating. I didn't know Denise before the interview, so I learned a lot myself. So let's get to this really great interview with Denise Voight.

Mary: So after a few technical glitches, we are here with Denise Voight. And I'm so excited to get to know her better and to interview her. Thank you so much, Denise, for joining us today.

Denise: Absolutely. It's my pleasure to be here.

Mary: Yeah. I always start my podcast interviews with the same question. Describe your fall into the autism world. And I know you actually have a little bit different answer here.

Denise: That's right. OK. So, yeah, it was a little sort of like a fall, step, fall flat on my face kind of step. It kind of all started many moons ago when my son was little and he was diagnosed with ADHD. And his ADHD sort of transitioned into and manifested into many physical symptoms. So he had stomach aches and headaches and psoriasis and severe acne and gut issues. Real bad, severe stomach aches. He had severe asthma and chronic bronchitis. And these things just all kept compounding on each other. And he was getting worse. And his behavior, he had zero impulse control. Like that was our biggest thing. Like if the thought was there, he just did it. And we noticed this from a very young age, or probably even as an infant he had stomach issues and he had a lot of gas, and colic and screamed and cried. And we had some real struggles with him.

Denise: And by the time he turned five and we were looking at the school age and getting into kindergarten, his teachers, you know, right out the gate were like, he has ADHD. We need you to medicate them. We can't have them in class like this. And so, of course, we took them to the doctors and they wanted to give him Ritalin and some other prescription medications. And slowly but surely, he kept adding on more physical symptoms and it became a real problem. And we took him to lots of specialists. We went to gastroenterologists. We went to pediatric psychologists. We went to, you name it, we went. And we really didn't get much help at all. More medications and lots of MiraLAX, things like that. And after I guess he was right around seven, eight years old, we found a naturopathic physician who was a functional medicine practitioner. I didn't know what that was. I just knew that I had spent oodles of money and time and energy and my son was suffering and he was having such struggles in so many areas and we were exhausted.

Denise: To be honest, he never slept. We were exhausted and went to this doctor. And honestly, he changed our lives. He diagnosed my son with some food intolerances, insensitivities, leaky gut and a couple of other biomedical things that I had never addressed or heard of. And he quite literally cured my son of many of his ailments. His asthma went away. His acne, psoriasis is eczema went away, his severe stomach issues and severe constipation, things like that all went away simply from addressing his nutrition and some supplements, some vitamins, mineral supplements, some tinctures, things like that. And I was just amazed because at the time I was a premed student, I was actually finishing my premed degree and I was getting ready to take the MCAT and apply to medical school.

Denise: So I had a pretty good understanding of physiology and thought I knew what was healthy and what wasn't for my son and oh man, was I way off. And we learned a lot. We learned all of these, you know, sort of nutrition strategies that I had never been exposed to. Right. So I started to actually started end up working for that doctor. So I, I ended up transitioning and instead of applying to medical school because I was looking at medical schools and I decided I was gonna go to whichever one had the best nutrition education and the best, you know, in that form of education. It turned out there wasn't one. None of them had one. And I was kind of mind boggled by this. And right at that time, the University of Western states had just opened a brand-new program and it was a master's degree in Nutrition and Functional medicine. And since I knew a functional medicine through this doctor, I was in and of course, the doctor himself, you know, really pushed me to go into this program. So I did. And it changed my life.

Mary: Is that in California?

Denise: It was actually in Portland. In Washington. It's well known for its chiropractic programs. But this was a new program and it was run by at the time, Dr. Alex Vasquez, who is just an amazing genius man. And following his work actually really, really altered the way I look at the body and how it functions and the dependence on nutrients and biochemistry and things like that.

Mary: And is that program still going on?

Denise: Yes.

Mary: And are there other programs like that?

Denise: No, it's really a one of a kind. It's probably I think as far as I know, the only graduate level coursework in both Nutrition and Functional medicine. So it put it together into one program. There's the Institute of Functional Medicine and things like that that have certificate programs and things, but as far as I know, it's the only degree, an accredited program like that. So at that time I started working and his name was Dr. Michael Whitney, up in Spokane, Washington. And I started working with them. And when I started seeing, he saw a wide array of different patients, but he did see quite a few kids with autism. And I started to notice that he was treating them the same way that he had treated my son and his ADHD. And we were seeing a lot of the same things. So gastrointestinal disorders and food sensitivities and a lot of the same things. And I thought that was very interesting.

Denise: And after I completed my degree in Functional medicine and I started learning that we can reverse diabetes, that we can calm auto immune disorders and I learned more about how we can prevent some of the symptoms that we usually see in autism. And I was just completely blown away and so excited and I couldn't wait to get out in the world. And I'd like share this and help families understand the importance of nutrients and the body's biochemistry and each person's unique bio individuality. Right. So that's the thing about Functional medicine. It's a branch of medicine that addresses the system as a whole. So it comes at it from a systems biology approach where in converse to what we typically see right now in the conventional medicine model is very specialized and it's compartmentalized.

Denise: If you have a cardiovascular issue, you're going to see your cardiovascular doctor. If you have breathing issues, you gonna see the pulmonologist, you're going to see a urologist. You're going to and pieces it around. And what we see from a Functional medicine perspective is that the body doesn't work that way. It works together. We have hormones and chemical imbalances that affect other areas. And you can't piece it out like that. The body doesn't work that way. So when looking at my son and his ADHD and working with these kids with autism and seeing how when we start interconnecting some of these biochemical imbalances and hormone issues and neurotransmitter disruptions and things like that, we can really improve so many of their symptoms and health issues and behaviors.

Mary: So a lot of people, me included, think that ADHD is just right on the edge of the spectrum. You did kind of allude to that, the fact that they have some similar symptoms and similar treatments. How do you feel about that comparison? Do you think that's accurate?

Denise: You know, from my perspective, I see so many similarities. And when you look at the underlying biochemistry and physiology of it, there's just so many overlapping scenes. But I do get some feedback from people. They're not happy about that comparison. And I've had some parents reach out to me. They don't appreciate that my programs, you know, treatment for autism and ADHD. And I do put them together because as far as I'm concerned, the way I look at it. And is that just like anything else, if a child, his pancreas is not secreting insulin, we look at it like, OK, so we provide them the insulin to function properly. Well, when we look at any chemical imbalance or, you know, dysfunction in organ systems or anything, you know, we typically address that. And it's not a problem.

Denise: And somewhere along the line in the physiology sort of mental disorders or any kind of brain dysfunction, people look at it a little bit differently and they and they don't quite look at it the same way we look at dysfunctions in other organs. And there's this stigmatism to it. And it's a little bit odd to me because I just look at it as a whole, like we're gonna we're gonna improve biochemical function. We're gonna improve physiology one way or the other, whether what organ system it is or if there's multiple organs involved. It really should be treated as a whole. And so I kind of look at autism and ADHD, it's almost part of the same spectrum.

Denise: We see similar imbalances, similar nutrient deficiencies. We see similar behaviors. You see simple similar chronic issues, you know, constipation or lack of sleep or sometimes hyperactivity or lack of attention. So from that perspective, I don't understand why more people aren't sort of putting it all together, how they're so related and why there seems to be the stigmatism to labeling. I'm not much of a labeler, I'm more of a scientist. I try to look at the facts and what's going on and how can we improve it and not necessarily stamp label on it or judgment. It's just data. It just is what it is.

Mary: Yeah. Yeah. Well, it makes so much sense when as you're talking. So why doesn't everybody have a functional medicine doctor and why is it, you know, many people think functional medicine is quackery. And a lot of times it's not covered by insurance. So that's a barrier. So any thoughts about that whole thing?

Denise: Yes, absolutely. So one thing for sure is that people don't typically accept what they don't understand and sometimes nutrition and. Especially nutrition, biochemistry can be very complicated. One of my favorite things to do when I'm working with someone new or trying to address this issue is to show them the chart of human biochemistry and what metabolism looks like. And all the different interactions and all the nutrients that are necessary and all the places that things can get disrupted because we have a disturbance in the force, whether it's too much of this, not enough of that. This thing isn't connecting to this thing. And how it all works together. And it's pretty complicated. The easy answer is to say, oh, this is wrong. So we're gonna give this prescription or, oh, this deficiency is selenium. Okay. We're just going to give some selenium. That's the easy answer.

Denise: But that's just not functional. That's not going to work out because you can't sort of just chase, just like we're seeing now with genetic snips, you know, things that are off or what. You can't just chase them by fixing each one. It becomes this big mess. Like we said, everything works in unison together, like an orchestra. You have to have all the pieces in place. Well, that's pretty complicated. And if you are trained in the conventional medical model and this doesn't you know, it isn't in your forefront. You don't understand it. You're gonna have a hard time accepting it. Right. So I get that feedback a lot. I remember when I first graduated how excited I was to get out there in the world and share this information, reverse diabetes and cure chronic illnesses. And I was so excited.

Denise: And that excitement got pushed down pretty well by a lot of people that are thinking in the same mindset as you. I had gotten that feedback from some doctors that I just remember distinctly approaching one. He was actually a colleague of mine, a friend. And I was so excited and I was so used to talking to other clinicians and students and things that we were talking about all the different ways we can use nutrition or supplements or lifestyle and things like that to modify, mitigate some chronic illnesses. So I was, you know, going about my talk with this doctor and he just let me blatantly in the face. And he said nutrition doesn't matter. That's of no importance. Oh, my goodness. I'm sure I look like a deer in the headlights because I was so shocked. I didn't know even how to respond to that, because that's not the world that I had just come from. You know, I'd come from a place where there was a lot of research and evidence.

Denise: I mean, this isn't just anecdotal. We now can see in the literature a study after study that shows the effect of nutrients and nutrient deficiencies and chemical imbalances and gut issues and the microbiome, you know, that's everyone talks about the microbiome now. But, you know, fifteen, twenty years ago, it wasn't really that big of a hot topic. And there was a lot of claims of pseudoscience out there. The term leaky gut was, you know, one of those things that doctors, like, oh, that's just that's just a myth. That's just some kind of holistic mumbo jumbo. That doesn't mean anything. And now, you know, there's plenty of evidence and support and you've got M.D. and doctors out there, you know, treating it and then trying to understand it so it can get complicated.

Denise: And I think the easy answer there is people just it's hard to accept new stuff. Right. You know, when the world was flat until it wasround. And they threw Galileo in jail when he tried to tell them otherwise. So I think some of it has to do with that. Just people new information is hard to accept and understand, and especially when it gets complicated because it's not a one size fits all answer. We can't just say, oh, well, autism, you know, that's clearly linked to, you know, vitamin A deficiency. So we'll just give him some vitamin A and we're good to go. Well, that actually can be the fact for some children. Actually, we can see major improvements by just instigating one, seeing that whether it be a nutrient or taking away something that was agitating their system or, you know, helping boost their detoxification system.

Denise: Sometimes it is that simple. Other times it's very complicated and it requires more than one area of focus. And that's when you lose people, theystart to go, oh, you know, I heard about this gluten free casein free, it didn't work for me. So then all that is just hoo-hah and it's just, you know, that doesn't work. So I think something that, too, is that there's just so many different aspects. When you come from functional medicine perspective or a nutrition perspective, there is no one diet that fits for all of these kids. There's many different dietary protocols.

Denise: And each one you could talk to, a different family who's going to say this is the end-all be-all. This cured my son. This helped my son. And then someone else will come right out and say that didn't do anything for my child. In fact, it exasperated my child. So I think some of it has to do with the complicated nature of it. But the facts are the facts. And there's so much evidence out there to support it. There's plenty of scientific research. And so when I come across people who claim it's a pseudoscience or that their doctor doesn't want to talk to them about some of these nutritional aspects or dietary aspects, I think it's time to find a new doctor, one who's up to date on their research and, you know, is trying to be at the forefront of this information.

Mary: It might be a good time to just to give a disclaimer here, because we are going to you know, you just mentioned by Rene and I know we're going to talk about zinc. And just to give an additional disclaimer, like all of my information, whether it's my free podcast, video, blogs, short guides, my book or my paid online courses, everything is for informational purposes only. This is not medical behavioral nutritional advice for you and your child or your clients, because only with an individualized assessment and a treatment plan and a professional working with your child is really where we can actually make the most gains. So I just wanted to have you on because I found out about you and your work. And I want to dive more into this because I am within my online courses and community getting questions about excessive mouthing, about, you know, tantrums and sleep issues, gut issues, constipation, failure to potty train.

Mary: And I know both as a nurse and a behavior analyst and a mom that it is quite the struggle for many families, quite the maze. It's expensive, especially if you're going to chase after physicians and health care practitioners who are not covered by insurance. Get blood work and other testing. And then there's a lot of backlash from traditional medical providers and insurance companies who don't want to support it. And I know that's an added financial strain, an added strain to families. I also want you to know that I mostly focus on behavioral intervention. But as a nurse and a mom, I have done several video blogs I can link in the show notes. I've done one on supplements and medication and how all medication is not good and all supplements are not bad. And I give some examples in there. I did a video blog on the importance of rolling out medical conditions, how to teach a child to indicate they're in pain, how to take data so you know, if any intervention, whether that's a medical intervention or behavioral intervention, is working or not working.

Mary: I've done a few podcasts. Dr. Missy Olive was on a podcast, number seventy-one. We talked a lot about these things. Dr. Michael Murray, who's both an autism dad and Lucas's psychiatrist, gave a great interview, a podcast, number twenty-eight. We're going to link all of these resources in the show notes. Not to overwhelm you that are listening, but to serve as a resource because it's a lot. And we're going to only talk for, you know, forty-five minutes or so. We're not going to be able to cover everything. Denise does have a business. She does have an online course. We're going to get to that in, you know, because she may be able to help you down the line. But let's just go over the basics here just to get the conversation started and to make me more aware of some of the factors. And Denise is here to share her expertise. OK. So some people think that autism is an immune problem. How do you respond to that?

Denise: There are a lot of factors. It's definitely a multifactor issue. It's not just one any one given thing. And you and I know, I talk to you about this earlier was Dr. Alex Vasquez, who is a brilliant man and knows a lot about nutritional biochemistry. He has a statement that he had in a presentation like that stuck. And I'd like to share. It's a little complex. I will break it down after.

Mary: How do you spell his last name just for people?

Denise: Alex Vasquez. V-A-S-Q-U-E-Z. Alex Vasquez. He's one of those brilliant people that he'll just roll off the tip of his tongue, something very complex.. And you're just like, what did you just say? And he says it so matter of fact. It's amazing.

Mary: Is he a physician or nutritionist or?

Denise: You know, it's very interesting. He is a doctor. He's got three doctorals. He originally got a chiropractic, doctor in chiropractic. Then he went on to get a doctorate in his naturopathic. And then he went on to get an M.D. So he got all three. It's quite amazing. He is amazing. So this is what he says about how he describes autism. And so he says, we now know that autism is a multifaceted disorder associated with gastrointestinal inflammation, nutritional deficiency, multiple food allergies and intolerances, impairments in liver detoxification and resultant accumulation of zino biotics, the majority of which have either neurotoxic or immunotoxin effects. Thus, autism is not a behavioral disorder, per say. Rather, it is a gastrointestinal allergic immunological toxicant, nutritional environmental disorder. And the behavioral and cognitive abnormalities are symptoms of the underlying complex, interconnected pathophysiology.

Denise: So in plain English, what he's saying is this is definitely a multi-system problem. This is a detoxification issue. It is an immune issue. It is a food intolerance and sensitivity and allergy issue. It's an environmental toxicant sensitivity. So it's all of these things unbundled in one. And so it can't simply just be said that, oh, it's a genetic disorder or. Oh, it's an immunological issue. All of those things have a play. And the underlying thing that affects all of those things is nutrients. Right. So that's where nutrients have such power. The nutrients that we consume really run the system. It builds our tissues. It runs and drives all of our chemical processes. Without nutrients, we just don't function. We can't.

Denise: And so from a perspective of autism, some of these kiddos have some real struggles with things like converting nutrients to their active forms or absorbing nutrients. Right. So we know a lot of these kiddos have got issues, whether it be leaky gut or food intolerances or food sensitivities or a number of gastrointestinal. So they don't have a healthy microbiome. So we need these good bugs to help create some of these nutrients. They actually transform some of the food that we eat into nutrients that are then used by the body. So it's not as simple to just say, oh, it's an immune system. Let's just, you know, give them a immune boosting foods or supplements and it'll be supported. It's not quite that simple. Sometimes we really have to dive deep. And this is where functional medicine comes into practice, is that we're not just looking at one system, immune system, psychological system, we're looking at the whole system.

Denise: And the reason why, like you pointed out, that many insurance companies don't cover even, whether it be naturopathic or functional medicine practitioners, is because they don't subscribe to that conventional medical model where, you know, you got 15 minutes with each patient and you're moving on. I mean, you can't even really get a good description of what's going on with the child and were they born by Caesarean? Did they breastfeed? Did they have this? There's so many questions that really help us understand how this child got to the system that they have right now, that you can't possibly do that under the current medical model. So insurance companies don't pay.

Denise: And it's really unfortunate because there's so much more to it that there's so many kids out there that are suffering right now from symptoms. Not necessarily that, you know, that there's anything wrong or bad. It's just that there is a chemical imbalance, a biochemical issue that we can address with either nutrients or taking away some foods that are aggravating. We can improve ABA therapy. We can improve speech therapy. We can you know, if there is an underlying neurological issue or a neurotransmitter issue or things that are, you know, breaking that connection, how are we supposed to see the effects that we want to see from behavior modifications and speech therapy and any other therapies that are out there? We're going to only improve the outcomes of those if we address the underlying biochemistry.

Mary: And that that you were reading with Dr. Vasquez, what's the name of that book?

Denise: So this this is actually a slide from his, he has a larger presentation on inflammation in general. For the inflammazone and inflammation and how that affects certain things. In fact, this particular one, which a lot of people don't like. He compares and gets into schizophrenia and some other neurological dysfunctions that we see that really stem from inflammation in the gut and the brain-gut access and things like that. So it's actually a piece of a much larger presentation and book that he has out.

Mary: He has a book out that we can link in the show notes?

Denise: He has many different books. They're probably not like very parent friendly to be honest. They're a little complex, but they're amazing information. But some of it does sound like it's not English to many people. I usually don't like refer a lot of his stuff out to folks because they come back to me, and go Denise, can you translate that? And sometimes the answer on that is, No, actually, I really can't.

Denise: But that particular statement that it just sort of changed my perspective entirely of how I look at in and can help these families with kids with autism, because it it isn't so simple. It's not just one thing. And that's why we've had such struggles finding help. Right. Because there's not too many doctors out there. And yes, there's biomedical doctors who have more of that line of thought where they're doing functional lab testing and they're trying to figure out what else might be going on here. And that it's not just a psychological issue. There's more. There is an underlying medical issue going on. And so there are doctors out there right now doing that, which is fabulous. But at the time, the first time I heard him say that that was kind of new information. No one was talking about that. And now we're getting a little bit more well-known and we're seeing a lot of amazing outcomes just simply from altering kids, underlying biochemistry, improving and balancing some of these things that are in balance it from, you know, more natural means. Right.

Denise: When we say natural, the body requires nutrients. And even if you're supplementing, if you're supplementing with actual just nutrients that the body requires to function. That, to me, is a natural remedy, although, yes, it's in a pill form or whatever. But if we absolutely must have, say vitamin B for this chemical reaction to happen, what if we don't have it? That chemical reaction is not happening. And we see this a lot with these kids. We see methylation issues tend to come up a lot. And they're unable to methylate. And that's just a kind of complicated term for, you know, we just add a group to make a reaction happen and we don't have to get into too much detail there. Put simply, it's a very important process that happens throughout the body a million times a day.

Denise: And if your child is not methylating properly, we're going to see dysfunction in many symptoms. So are many systems. Excuse me. So, you know, it can be kind of simple and complex at the same time. Right. It's like the simple fact is, hey, you know, food is meant to nourish. Nourishment is meant to support the body's function. And if you're not eating food that nourishes. What are you eating? And if you look at the foods that we're typically feeding our kids out there, that's not food at all. To be frank, it's just kind of frankenfood is what I like to call it. It's chemically build and altered, you know, sugar bombs that just literally inflame and cause exasperation in the body. And we know that these kids are sensitive. Some of them are highly sensitive to many different things. It could be as simple as sugar. You know, everyone we all know that our kids are eating too much sugar. Our society as a whole is eating too much sugar.

Denise: And that one's a pretty easy one that we can see and track. You know, we raise the blood sugar. This is the effect. It causes this imbalance. It causes this chemical reaction that then drops and then we get, you know, drops in moods. We get hyperactivity. We can have this,that, and the other. Any kind of dysfunction there, where we're not balancing our blood sugars. That in itself can cause a host of issues that most of us you know, we don't connect that dot. We know maybe, oh, sugar is not good for us. And, you know, donut is not bad and broccoli's good. But what we don't understand the physiology of that, how that actually happens in the body. And most of us, to be honest, we were not educated in how to feed our children or ourselves, for that matter. Instead, we were marketed how we should feed our children. We were sold how to feed our children, much like, you know, sort of the epidemic we're seeing right now. And we're being sold the news. We're not being informed and unbiased information. We're being sold.

Denise: And that's kind of the problem in the food industry, which nothing gets any more fired up than talking to families who are trying to navigate through that labeling system. And here's this big bright oh, it's healthy for your child. And then you look on the back label and there's nothing but toxins and poison in there. And that drives me bonkers. And same with the supplement industry. We've got all this marketing out there that are making all these ridiculous claims. And then it turns out, you know, that's not the case. So my job and my mission is to really help educate people to understand the physiology, because once you understand that, it makes everything else, all this complex stuff, very simple. Right. It's very just easy to accept that a body needs nutrients to function. And this person might need a little bit more of this nutrient, maybe a little less of this. And then we just play that game. Checks and balances.

Mary: I think a big struggle of many families, me included, is we might know what kids need. You know, obviously broccoli is better than candy or a donut. But our kids, and this has been proven, it's not just anecdotal. Kids with autism are very picky. And I discussed this with Dr. Missy Oliver on episode number 71.

Mary: And she and her clinical experience have seen this, too, where if kids have chewing, mouthing pica, which is eating inedible things or chewing on things that their phones, supposed to be chewing on. Failure to progress with soft foods to, you know, chewing and swallowing. Failure, you know, that extreme picky eating that in some cases that can be. And I think in many cases that can be a nutritional deficiency. And we talked a lot about zinc and the zinc to copper ratio, which that supplement medical blog that I did way back has that. So I would love your thoughts on zinc and zinc to copper ratio and how that affects kids' eating.

Denise: So there's overwhelming scientific evidence that suggests that nutritional deficiencies have a contributing factor to many of the things that we see in autism and ADHD and some other disorders. And in fact, specifically, kids on the spectrum have multiple deficiencies. And those can be caused sometimes by the limited nutrient intake because they're picky eaters. Right. We know this, that they tend to have a very limited food repertoire, leaky gut and other nutrient absorption issues. So nutrient absorption happens in the gut. So if we have a leaky gut or yeast overgrowth, which is very common, or a bacteria overgrowth of some sort or disposes of any kind. We're not absorbing nutrients. Well, so even if they are eating, say, zinc or nutrient dense foods, sometimes the nutrients are being absorbed because their gut is not healthy. They're not converting. Sometimes our kiddos aren't converting those nutrients into their active form so that they're actually usable by the body.

Denise: So that can be an issue. And many times what we see in the case of zinc. That's one of the common ones. We've got magnesium, zinc, selenium, iron. Those are the minerals that we see commonly deficient in these kiddos. We see vitamin B6, B12, folate, B1 and biotin. Those are all the B vitamins we see deficient. Deficient in A and D is very common as well. Omega three fatty acids and there's a few others. But specifically, when we talk about zinc, firstly, one of the things about zinc is that it can alter their ability to taste and smell. And that right in itself could potentially have children, you know, direct them not to eat certain foods or maybe crave other foods because they're not tasting properly. Right. And actually, on that that forefront, most of our kiddos, their taste buds have been hijacked by the artificial coloring, flavoring, preservatives, overly salted, overly sugared, hydrogenated oil, fat in food. It literally destroys taste buds.

Denise: So sometimes, you know, the foods don't taste right to kids. So broccoli is going to taste even more bitter and gross because their taste buds are not functioning well, whether it's a zinc deficiency that could be affecting it or whether it's, you know, these artificial chemicals that have been altering the taste buds. So that can be part of it. There's also, with zinc. A few things come along with zinc, actually. So one of the things that I see with zinc is that it depresses their ability to use both melatonin and serotonin. So serotonin being the neurotransmitter, you know, the happy neurotransmitter that people see. So if you have low zinc and it's depressing some of your other neurotransmitters and other chemicals for processing. We're gonna see problems in their behavior and one of them being in their food selections. Right. Another thing with zinc deficiency is that zinc helps eliminate mercury from the body and in particular in brain tissue.

Denise: So we know that when there's an overload of mercury in the system, we have all kinds of problems. So that's another thing. Low zinc also impairs metala finding, which helps remove other heavy metals and toxins from the body. So that just that one nutrient that you've brought up has a multitude of different effects on the body, which can be problematic. Right. And that's just, like we're just talking about one nutrient. So, you know, when you were talking about kids with pica and eating non-food items, a lot of times that can be an outward effect of any nutrient deficiency. A lot of times it's the body's way of trying to get those nutrients in and it doesn't quite recognize where you get it or how to get it. So, you know, the child starts eating things or putting things in our mouth that are not food item. So to us, it might look like there's a disruption like what's happening here?

Denise: But it's sometimes it's the body's way of trying to get in these nutrients that they're deficient in. And that can be real, as you can imagine, that's a real issue. Kids eating foods that are not foods. Zinc in itself can improve immune function. So we see a lot of supplementation of zinc because we know that it's a very effective nutrient use in the immune system. It's also been shown to reduce hyperactivity and impulsiveness. So I see a lot of times kids, when we replete their zinc deficiency, we actually see a reduction in some of their hyperactivity, which is pretty cool. The one thing that you did mentioned, too, is that the zinc copper ratio is an issue. So sometimes if you have a zinc overload that you're getting too much zinc. Since zinc and copper compete for the same receptors, many times we can have a problem. So if you have too much zinc constantly blocking the receptors that the copper is trying to get to, then we have this imbalance. And that balance is very important.

Denise: Sometimes it's not even just a zinc deficiency that's the problem. Sometimes it's that ratio that's a problem. We have too much zinc. Not enough copper. Or the other way around. We have too much copper. Not enough zinc. And so you could see how it goes from zero to complicated really quick. When we start talking about, and that is just literally one element we're talking about, just zinc right there. And so we could be here, literally all day, four days in a row, and talk about all the different, you know, vitamin and mineral, and enzyme, something that affects the system in a either positive or a negative way, and it really is going to depend. So someone right now I could list off all of these amazing benefits that zinc has, all the cool things as it does in the body, and someone could run out and just overload on zinc and have a bunch of zinc. And instead of getting beneficial effects, they could actually get, you know, bad effects because maybe they're now depleting their copper intake or maybe their childhood has a sensitivity or maybe their child, you know, gut system in an attack. They're not absorbing the nutrient even though they're getting it, but we didn't address the gut issue.

Denise: So now we're going to have another issue. And that's where, you know, again, I fall back to functional medicine where we've got to look at the bigger, broader picture. If we tried to piece out one nutrient, one dysfunction. We're just gonna have a sloppy mess. It's all an interconnected web. And that's where I think, again, we fall back to we were asking like, why doesn't everybody practice medicine or how? This is why. Because it's complicated. But it doesn't necessarily have to be. If we can just step back like I try to, because a lot of times I'll get that parent that doesn't sound like, oh, God, like I can't even open this can of worms. Denise, don't do this to me. Like what? But, you know, we have a system. There is a way to kind of scale it back, address one thing at a time. And again, where I almost 99 percent of the time, we start with looking at the gut, making sure the gut is functioning properly. That is really, you know, 70 to 80 percent of your child's immune system is happening in the gut nutrient selection, tapping in the gut.

Mary: If a parent is listening out there and they're just like my child has pica or mouthing or is extremely picky and I can't afford, you know, going out of network for insurance or anything, can they get a blood test be done to measure the levels of zinc and copper? Could they go to like a hospital nutritionist? Could they go to just a regular pediatrician and ask for certain things? Like where would they get started if they don't want to open up the whole can of worms?

Denise: So, yeah, I hear you. So first of all, it can be difficult to find practitioners who are open to understanding and do nutrient deficiency testing and those things. I use Spectracel labs. So Spectracel has a nutrient deficiency profile where it tests. I believe it's like 50 or 60 different nutrients. And they test to see if there's deficiency or any less than optimal levels. You can either first you go to my Web site and contact me. I do these tests. But also you can ask most biomedical or pediatricians will do these kind of testing. It is. There are some and I'll give you the information, put it in show notes. There are some labs that you can go to and get your own labs. You can request what you want so you can request a nutrient. Right.

Mary: I mean, there with Lucas research, you know, within the past six months or a year, I wanted to check in zinc and copper and do the comparison of zinc to copper ratio. And it was a standard lab work that the doctor, the traditional pediatrician, he just moved to adults' practitioner. But the standard pediatrician did order zinc and copper levels. And you know, but it's like me telling him I want this done and doing me a favor. Which is what you're warning against is this piecemeal stuff.

Mary: Some families, you know, just knowing, is the zinc out of whack? How is the pediatrician's reaction to my asking for zinc and copper? You know, testing. And then maybe taking it a step farther, because I think, you know, not all families can just, you know, just find somebody and pay out of pocket and then their struggles with, I have desensitization issues with getting blood drawn or doing procedures, checking their ears or, you know, it is a struggle for families. So I have podcasts and video blogs on desensitization and that sort of thing. When you were talking about how this is simple, but it's very complex and it's like a whack a mole. I say it's like a whack a mole.

Mary: Even behavioral treatment of children with autism, leaving out the nutrition and the medical piece is like a whack a mole. And I like you. I'm always like, let's step back. Let's figure out our biggest lever to pull here, what families can manage. You know, where are their biggest struggles are, how old the child is. You know, if you have a three-year-old who's not potty trained and this and that, well, that's, you know. He's also not talking and still drink it up a bottle, then potty training goes on the back burner. Then we work on bottle drinking and weaning, and we work on basic nutrition.

Mary: And I have video blogs and podcasts and on feeding and how to get kids behaviorally to accept food. But I think it's a whole lot easier if we can figure out if it's a zinc or magnesium deficiency to work in conjunction with medical providers and nutritionists to make sure we're making it. I do think over the past I mean, Lucas was diagnosed over two decades ago and your son is twenty three as well. Oh, yeah, he's 23, you know. Yeah. So, I mean, we're in this, you know, back then.

Mary: You know, I don't know. I mean, I didn't know about functional medicine. I didn't know about any of this. And I think now, two decades later, a lot of us are realizing, even for our own bodies, how important nutrition is, how important health is. And so I think it is empowering and we're gonna get there to help our kids. But that's why one of the reasons I wanted to have you on. So, OK, so we still have a little bit of time. I don't really want to go over each diet.

Denise: That's good, because there's a lot of them.

Mary: Yeah, exactly. But, you know, I think that is some fear of families, just like if I go to a nutritionist or I go to a biomedical person or functional medicine doctor, they're going to like upend, like I can't get my candy sit at the table. And they're going to want me to drastically change the diet. Is it always necessary to change a child's diet?

Mary: You know, the key is and there's many very strict and overwhelming protocols that, you know, parents come to me and they're just in tears that, you know, GAPS is one of them that's a very strict elimination diet that really overwhelms parents, you know. I never recommend starting there. So when people first come to me, the first thing that I tell them that is the biggest priority before you start uprooting everything is let's try to eliminate the amount of toxins coming in the non-food items. So things with chemical coloring and flavoring and preservatives and those kind of things. So on my web site at, there's a getting started guide. That's where I have everybody start. It's not overwhelming.

Denise: It's the simple things. Start learning how to read your labels and identify toxins in the child's food. If you if you're eating your child a bunch of toxins, of course. And then we're gonna have some toxicity and problems absorbing and things like that. So that's the first place to start. And I try to encourage families. Until you kind of have that understanding of how those things affect the body. Please don't try any of these other protocols because it'll be way too much for them. I remember when, you know, I was told when we first started with Devon, you know, that's do we started with it was gluten casein, soy free. And there was a couple other things, corn and some other things. I came back to the house and went through the cupboards. And I mean, everything that he ate had these things. And I came in like a bull in a china shop and I just ripped out everything and start from scratch. And it was traumatic. It was horrible. My family was very unhappy. He was unhappy. I was unhappy. We were all unhappy.

Denise: And I never recommend doing that. I try to help him start where you're at. You know, if your kid is completely dependent on chicken nuggets and mac and cheese and then you come in and you're like, oh, no more of that we're just gonna have boiled broccoli and chicken. Like what? That's not going to work out. Like, that's not reality. Like, I could sit here all day long and tell you the benefits of this, that and the other. But that is not going to help when your child won't eat anything but chicken nuggets and mac and cheese. So there has to be transition. I have to wait. So first the first things first is identify where you can toxins that are coming in that are burdening the system, because as soon as we can get your child system sort of working better and then sleeping better and then pooping better and all these things a little bit better, we can get more strict as we go. Replace things one at a time, step by step, because if you try to just do it all.

Denise: And let me tell you, I've had many parents come to me overwhelmed because they were suggested to go on this diet and that one and this one, by the time you're done, there is no food left for your child to be allowed to have. Right. So you've got low salicylate, theno gaps, diet VOD maps, you know, gluten, casein, soy free. Then you've got elimination and an allergen free and nut free and egg free. And, you know, that's just silly, right? We need these nutrients. So I try to tell parents, you know, you don't necessarily have to do some big overhaul.

Denise: Every little thing that you do will help improve your child's health and system and behavior. So one of the things that you can do, just pick one thing, even if that's just let's get more water in him. Let's figure out a way to get more water. One of them, the main issues with some of these with constipation is just clearly, they're not getting fibrous foods and not getting the foods that stimulate movement in the bowels. They're not getting enough fiber. They're not getting enough nutrients. A lot of them have gut dysbiosis, which is too much of the bad bugs. Not enough of the good bug. So we're just not functioning right. Some of them have some low stomach acid issues. So they're not, you know, breaking down the food very well. Maybe they have a deficiency in some digestive enzymes. There's a lot of things that can contribute to constipation. But the main one, the biggest one, is just a lack of nutrient dense fibrous foods.

Denise: And so if we can start getting rid of the synthetic, you know, non-nutrient foods and increase some of the more natural Whole Foods and five or so, one of the easiest ways that most of my family start off with is trying to incorporate some form of a smoothie. And it may start out more of a fun milkshake with a lot of fruits that, you know. So that the child takes it and then we slowly sort of overtake it. Right. Adding nutrients and maybe sneaking a little broccoli head in there amongst the fruit or something, you know, something simple. You can't just come in and overhaul an entire diet and expect that to go smoothly. Most families I work with. It doesn't work that way. And I really encourage parents not to deter from making dietary changes because it's so important.

Denise: We can see so many amazing benefits and improvements from simple, simple swaps in food. It doesn't always have to be complicated, major overhaul and just go from eating, you know, cookies and crackers and snacks to, you know, broccoli and boiled chicken. That's not going to happen. And the hopes and dreams, eventually we'll get those kinds of nutrients in. But in the meantime, you know, coming in like a sledgehammer doesn't pan out well for most families.

Mary: One of the big things I tell families, too, is because I have a lot of feeding bonus videos and blogs and podcasts is one thing they can try to change is limiting the amount of grazing of snack food throughout the day and really making sure that the child is seated, preferably at a kitchen table or somewhere where they're, you know, supposed to be eating before they eat food and then they get down. You know, they don't. Do you know, we're not making you peanut butter and jelly sandwich because you don't need the chicken and broccoli that the family made.

Mary: And that's the way these behaviors get shaped up to really where we have major struggles with, you know, the child's full. And they know if they don't eat it, they'll get the next thing. And I remember Dr. Keith Williams, who's a behavior analyst who runs the Hershey feeding clinic, said once, when one of my clients is there was there is like they're not going to starve to death after they miss a meal, you know, that the child is going to be fine. And so, you know, making sure they're hungry, don't want them grades all day long. Don't let them carry around the sippy cup of juice or milk throughout the day. I usually say just water outside of meals or snacks if you're going to have some standard snacks. But this carrying around, eating two bowls of dry cereal while you're watching TV sitting on the floor is a problem.

Denise: That's the thing. I don't know how we got to that place, but the body is not set up to have food all throughout the day. I mean, it it's a lot of work for the system to absorb nutrients, to digest food and all these things and snacking throughout the whole day and elevating blood sugar and then having a drop and then up and then down and then up. And that is very stressful on the body. And we're seeing more and more if anyone's out there looking at the diet world, we're seeing more and more evidence supporting intermittent fasting. You know, the body is capable of fasting for quite some time. You know, if you think about it, the you know, the berries dried up for the winter.

Denise: We would go seasons without berries. Like we didn't have the ability to ship tropical fruits from some other place and then have access to it any day. Any time, all the time. And so we are definitely over feeding our children. They're overfed, but undernourished. And that's the same for adults, too. You know, we're eating too many snack foods, not real foods that are constantly stressing the system all day long. And it's too much. And I know a lot of it, too. I mean, I was a parent. I've been there. I handed my kid goldfish because he needed something to keep him busy. And, you know, I just made him happy. So I'm happy. Let's just, you know. Can you just you know, so I understand that. I totally get it.

Denise: But from the perspective of health, we need to change that. We need mealtime to be meal time. And this is another reason why kids don't want to have dinner right? They're full. They�re not hungry. It's not very often that we come across children that are actually hungry for actual food. They want to snack. They want to pick at things. But that's different from being hungry. And it's okay to allow your kid to wait until they're hungry, not just. Snack all day. So, yeah, that's something that's definitely something that needs to be addressed and can and really make huge differences, actually, because that blood sugar dysregulation that I see in a lot of the kiddos that I work with. When we just level out that blood glucose, they sleep better, their behavior, they really reduce their aggressive behavior because some of the kids are very sensitive to that spike and dip.

Denise: You know, it always followed a glucose spike. We get a little hypoglycemic event. It's just the way that the body, you know, insulin comes in, scoops up the sugar, and then we get this little dip. Well, and that's usually the dip that we see that, you know, onslaught to Starbucks at 3:00 p.m. because everybody had their high carb lunch and then by three o'clock, everything dips down and they need more. And so this creates cravings. This creates disruption. This creates inflammation. It's a problem. So if we can reduce the amount of snacking that happens, we can dramatically improve that situation.

Mary: So you have a Web site, And you provide someone to one consultation, but you do provide an online course. So I really encourage both parents and professionals to check it out. We'll put it in the show notes as well. And do you also see adults or do you just see kids?

Denise: No, I see adults, too. I'm also a Functional Medicine practitioner. I am a Functional Medicine nutritionist. So I do see and I do subcontract with several offices. So I do see adults. And the fun part is when I work with some of these kiddos, mom and dad end up getting on the bandwagon and start incorporating some of these things. So we see a reduction in their symptoms or their autoimmunity or their weight issues or sleep issues or joint issues. It's kind of a fun thing just to watch that happen. So, yeah, not just for kids them. All of this stuff applies to everybody. Right. And you do distance consulting, too. Yeah. Telemedicine. So it's all set up. Most of my consultations are done. Telemedicine. Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Mary: Well, we have parents and professionals from all over the world, over 80 countries, people from 80 countries have purchased my online courses and are in my community. So we really have a wide variety of people here, which is great. So to wrap things up, part of my podcast goals are for parents, professionals to be less dress and lead happier lives. So do you have any just a couple of health care tips to help us in that?

Denise: Absolutely. So number one and foremost is to find time for self-care. Right. As a caregiver, a parent of a loved one with special needs of any kind, we tend to put everyone else first and neglect our own health, our own sleep, our own time. And that that can be very traumatic on your own body without you being healthy and without getting good sleep and getting good nourishment yourself, you're not going to be much help to anybody else. And so, if you let your own health deteriorate, that's going to be a problem. So I really, really encourage families to try to find and schedule it in because, you know, we always get pushed off to the side, pushed off because we've got to go to this therapy. We've got to get this. And we have to do all these things, you know, writing in a calendar and scheduling, even if it is just that that 15 minute time frame where you get a little 15 minute bath, soak in some Epsom salts with some lavender oil and just take some time to grieve and take a minute to yourself.

Denise: It's so valuable. You know, your health is just as important as everybody else's. And it's kind of like that airplane, you know, putting the oxygen mask on yourself so that you can then help others. It's that same theory. You have to prioritize yourself care. And most of us you know, I've been there. I know you've been there. We don't do that. It's so, so much easier to put everyone else first in and then you just get in that mode. And then all the sudden you've neglected your own health, your own sanity and you're unhappy. And life's too short for all that. So make the time, even just doing some deep breathing for 10 big, deep breaths. So you have shown that that at actually lower stress level lowers blood pressure. So doing simple things, it doesn't have to be dramatic. I know it day by day would be lovely. I wish I could prescribe that to everybody. Hey, go take a day. Get a massage. Have a good time. But it can't be that little things. The simple things. Taken a minute to eat in quiet time. You know, having a meal that you appreciate alone time, do some breathing, take a bath, meditate to do whatever you need to invoke that self-care process.

Mary: I think that's great. All right. Well, thank you. I learned a ton here. I am definitely going to check out your Web site and hopefully we'll meet again and continue to collaborate to help these kids get as better as they can reach their fullest potential, which is always my goal. And through nutrition, through behavioral intervention and treating the whole child as much as possible. So thanks so much for today. Denise.

Denise: Thank you so much for having me, I really appreciate it.