Zinc--a critical element for autism

Zinc is detrimental in the nutritional healing process of autism, ADHD or other behavioral condition.

It is known to play a vital role in neonatal development and is involved in countless metabolic and signaling pathways within the body.

One of the many critical roles of zinc is in gastrointestinal function and gut-brain interaction. There is indication in some research that zinc deficiency among mothers during pregnancy can play a role in the development of gastrointestinal functions of infants/children.

Zinc is critically important for neurotransmitter production, thyroid function and hormone balancing.

Zinc has been found to improve cognition in children with autism and ADHD as well as lessen hyperactivity and impulsivity.

Zinc has also been found to play an important role in sensory integration as well as taste and smells with food. Because of this, zinc supplementation can sometimes be very beneficial in getting extremely picky eaters to try new foods.

Having zinc and copper serum levels checked are proving to be very helpful in knowing the right amount of supplementation to acquire. Zinc and copper ratios have shown in research to be a major indicator of severity of autism.

Studies indicate that zinc and copper have a huge impact on GABA neurotransmitters as well as mercury accumulation in bodily tissues.

The highest amounts of zinc are found most abundantly in oysters, lentils, and green peas. Absorption from food is typically only about 33% in healthy adults, which makes supplementation necessary in many individuals.

Zinc supplementation is also typically necessary to pull someone out of a deficient state. The recommended daily dose is 12-15mg for healthy individuals but may need more depending on signs, symptoms and nutritional status.

Speak to your healthcare provider or Clinical Nutritionist to have a better understanding of yours or your child’s individual needs.



Shawna Kunselman, MSACN

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Bjourklund, G. , The role of zinc and copper in autism spectrum disorders,Acta Neurobiol Exp (Wars). 2013;73(2):225-36.,https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23823984

 Guillermo Vela, Zinc in Gut-Brain Interaction in Autism and Neurological Disorders, Neural Plasticity
Volume 2015 (2015), Article ID 972791, 15 pages

Babaknejad N, The Relationship between Zinc Levels and Autism: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis., Iran J Child Neurol. 2016 Fall;10(4):1-9.



Nutrient Deficiencies are typically the Root Cause of Behaviors. Get the list of Most Needed Supplements for Behavioral Conditions!

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probiotics for optimal health


Probiotics for Autism, Autoimmune and More

Probiotics (good, healthy bacteria needed for gut and digestive health) are being recognized for helping in many conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), depression, anxiety, autism, ADHD, and many autoimmune conditions.


Front and center, gut health plays an important role in overall health and immune function. And now researchers are realizing that gut health is very important for brain health and function as well.


It is known that 70-80% of our immune system lies within the digestive tract, and up to 90% of serotonin levels are produced there. Serotonin is the “feel-good” neurotransmitter which is derived from tryptophan and Vitamin B6 is also needed to produce this. Serotonin is what most medications for depression, ADHD and anxiety work on. So keeping our gut health as healthy as possible is crucial to keep this neurotransmitter producing!


Many kids on the autism spectrum have problems related to gut health ranging from acid reflux, constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal bloating and pain. These physical symptoms are another area in which probiotics have been found to be very beneficial.
Many of these kids also have immunologic and metabolic problems which effect their behaviors and emotional health.


Taking care of some of these underlying issues can many times lead to improvements in behaviors and symptoms associated with autism, ADHD and sensory conditions.

In a small study published in Nature medical journal, results showed that when infants were given a specific strain of probiotic (lactobacillus rhamnosus strain), there were zero cases of autism and ADHD, whereas, in the placebo group, 17.1 percent had developed autism or ADHD.

Refer to the list of additional references below which show connection between autism, ADHD and probiotic need.
Additionally, probiotics and the gut microbiome (balance of good/bad bacteria) have been found to play a role in allergies and specifically food allergies. One particular study looked at lactobacillus rhamnosus  given to children with a positive IgE (skin prick allergy test) to peanuts. There was an 82% reversal of the peanut allergy from continued use of this probiotic (tested under close medical supervision). Digestive health matters!


There is even new implication in regards to gut health and childhood Type 1 diabetes and indication that new treatments for this condition may lie within gut function and probiotics.

Every one’s probiotic needs and dosages are different; feel free to contact me with any questions.














  • Custom Probiotics, Autism and Probiotics, http://www.customprobiotics.com/autism.htm
  • The Gut:  Our Second Brain, Documentary, Amazon Video, 2016
  • Wu H-J, Wu E. The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity. Gut Microbes. 2012;3(1):4-14. doi:10.4161/gmic.19320.
  • Grossi, E., et. al,Unexpected improvement in core autism spectrum disorder symptoms after long-term treatment with probiotics, SAGE Open Med Case Rep. 2016 Aug 26;4:2050313X16666231., March 2017
  • Navarro, F. Can Probiotics benefit children with autism spectrum disorders?, World J Gastroenterol. 2016 Dec 14;22(46):10093-10102. March, 2017
  • Partty, A,a possible link between early probiotic intervention and the risk of neuropsychiatric disorders later in childhood: a randomized trial, Nature, Vol 7:6, June 2015
  • Mimi, LK, Administration of a probiotic with peanut oral immunotherapy: A randomized trial, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Vol 135:3. pg, 737-744, March 2015
  • Gareau, MG, Cognitive Function and the Microbiome, Int Rev Neurobiol. 2016;131:227-246, March, 2017
  • Aleksandar, D.,The Dynamics of the Human Infant Gut Microbiome in Development and in Progression toward Type 1 Diabetes, Cell Host & Microbe, Vol. 20, Issue 1, p121



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5 Reasons Why Chia Seeds Are An Amazing Superfood

Chia seeds are tiny black seeds from the plant Salvia Hispanica which is native to South America.

As published on Zhou Nutrition website.

“Chia” means strength and has long been known for its energy producing qualities. Historically, the Mayan and Aztec cultures used chia seeds for energy and endurance during long distance running or even while fighting battles.

Recent research is finding even more amazing benefits to this superfood. They are extremely nutrient dense and a 2 Tablespoon serving contains:

  • Dietary fiber (11g – 42% recommended daily value)
  • Protein (4.4g – 9% RDV)
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (5 grams)
  • Omega-6 fatty acids (1.6 grams)
  • Calcium (77 mg – 18% RDV)
  • Phosphorus (265 mg – 30% RDV)
  • Magnesium (24% RDV)
  • Manganese (up to 50% RDV)
  • Zinc (1.0 mg – 7% RDV)

All of these nutrients and in only 130 calories!

Some Health Benefits Which Have Been Seen With Chia Seeds Are:

High in Antioxidants

Antioxidants fight free radicals in the body, which contribute to premature aging and diseases such as cancer. In fact, studies have shown the antioxidant levels in chia seeds fight up to 70% of free radical damage.

Weight Loss

Chia seeds can aid in weight loss with help from the high fiber and protein found in them. They can absorb up to 10X their own weight in water, which will aid in digestion and keep you feeling fuller longer. This can also help with reducing sugar cravings. Additionally, chia seeds rank as one of the top plant food sources for protein, which helps in balancing blood sugar levels, burning fat, and building lean muscle.

High in Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Chia seeds are high in ALA (Alpha Linolenic Acid), which is a form of Omega 3 fatty acids. This particular fatty acid has been shown to prevent and decrease tumor growth in specific cancers, such as breast and cervical.

Lower Risk of Heart Disease and Type 2 Diabetes

The nutrient density of chia seeds fight inflammation in the body and assist in reversing oxidative stress. This along with the high levels of omega 3’s protect the heart by reducing risk of atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and bad cholesterol.

Additionally, these same factors, reduce the risk of developing metabolic disorders like dyslipidemia (excessive fat in the blood) and insulin resistance. These are two primary factors in developing Type 2 Diabetes.

Stronger Bones

Due to the high levels of calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, chia seeds are an excellent super food to help boost strong, healthy bones.

My Favorite Quick and Easy Chia Seed Recipe

  • 1 cup Almond Milk
  • ¼ cup Chia Seed
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 Tablespoons honey or maple syrup (or to taste)
  • 1 pint strawberries chopped and hulled
  • Sprinkle of cinnamon (optional)

Whisk the first four ingredients together in a bowl and let chill in refrigerator overnight. In the morning add chopped strawberries. Sprinkle with cinnamon if desired. Enjoy!

Chicco, AG, et. al, Dietary chia seed (Salvia hispanica L.) rich in alpha-linolenic acid improves adiposity and normalises hypertriacylglycerolaemia and insulin resistance in dyslipaemic rats, Br J Nutr. 2009 Jan;101(1):41-50
Deshpande, R. et.al, Alpha-linolenic acid regulates the growth of breast and cervical cancer cell lines through regulation of NO release and induction of lipid peroxidation, Journal of Molecular Biology
Martinez-Cruz, O, et. al, Phytochemical profile and nutraceutical potential of chia seeds (Salvia hispanica L.) by ultra high performance liquid chromatography., J Chromatogr A. 2014 Jun 13;1346:43-8



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How to Fix Leaky Gut!

This is Part 2 of the Leaky Gut series. Check Part 1 out here which explains what Leaky Gut (Intestinal Hyperpermeability) is and why you should care!

As previously explained, up to 80% of our immune systems lie within our digestive tract. If it is out of whack, we will not have optimal health. This is the case with ailments from acne to eczema and arthritis, autoimmune conditions to autism, and even cancer,  heart disease and diabetes.

Many conditions lead to leaky gut including food sensitivities, pesticides in our foods and medications we take. As I have said before, our bodies are absolutely amazing and can heal themselves when given the right components and the right environment. Let’s take a look to see what can be done.

Functional medicine likes to refer to this as the “4R” approach. Remove, Replace, Reinoculate and Repair.


  • We need to remove offending foods, alcohol, medications, and stress. Yes, I know this does not seem easy! But, once you start feeling better and optimizing your health, you will wonder why you waited so long to take this approach.
  • The most inflammatory foods tend to be gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, peanuts, sugar, and corn. Are you asking yourself “What will I eat?” Try to focus on the foods you can have! There are many! Refer to my Getting Started Guide to see the best approaches to take and the most nutrient dense foods to eat.
  • Don’t remove any medications without speaking to your doctor! But, ask him/her which ones you may be able to get off. Once implementing a whole foods diet and removing offending foods which are causing inflammation and reactions in your body, most people find they are able to get off medications such as PPI (prevacid, Nexium, etc.), Statins, and NSAIDS. All of these wreak havoc on the digestive tract and therefore, the immune system. They inflame the gut lining and they prevent critical nutrients from absorbing.
  • Stress---Who doesn’t have it?! We all have stress…but we have to learn to effectively manage that stress. Take time for yourself; get a massage, go on a long walk, pray/meditate, do yoga, get out in nature. Nature in itself is truly healing. Find what you love to do and make sure to do it!



  • We need to replace the agents needed for optimal digestive support. Years of all of the above ↑↑ has diminished enzymes in our gut which is crucial for it to be at optimal performance.
  • Consider a short course of pancreatic enzymes and in some cases Betaine HCL; your Clinical Nutritionist or Functional Medicine practitioner can advise further in this area.



  • The good, friendly bacteria must be replaced. Antibiotic use wipes these healing bacteria away. Replenish them with a probiotic supplement including Lactobacilli and Biffidobacteria. These friendly bacteria in the colon produce lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide that keeps the growth of bad bacteria in check. They have been found to improve diarrhea in those taking antibiotics and have been found to be helpful in reducing the growth of yeast (very common in many ailments but especially autism—more on this in another article). These amazing bacteria also help support the integrity of the lining of the intestines. Fermented foods such as Bubbies Fermented Pickles and Sauerkraut are also awesome ways to get these good bacteria.


  • Pre-biotics---These feed the probiotics! If you are taking your probiotic in supplement form make sure it has FOS (fructooligosaccharides) added. Otherwise, you can eat bananas, Jerusalem artichoke, onions, asparagus and garlic to help feed the supply! 🙂



  • Now we have to repair the mucosal lining….remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Unfortunately, it is not an overnight process. However, the results are well worth it.
  • Regular aerobic exercise can help with this. Stress induced enzymes which disrupt the GI barrier is greatly reduced just with exercise alone.
  • Additional supplements may also be needed to further repair the gut lining, depending on the severity of leaky gut. Your functional medicine practitioner or Clinical Nutritionist can help guide you in this area.



If you have any questions or would like to set up a private consultation, Contact Me.


Good luck on your transition to optimal health!

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6 Surprising Signs Your Child May Have Digestive Issues

As published on Zhou Nutrition

All disease begins in the gut”—Hippocrates.

Research over the past 2 decades is finding that many chronic health conditions begin with the health of our digestive systems. In fact up to 80% of our immune systems is set within our digestive tract.

If the GI is not well maintained it can lead to a host of health issues. Supporting our digestive tract is fundamental to health. 

The GI system digests nutrients from foods to use for energy growth and cell repair. Nutrients are broken down into carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. These nutrients are carried through the blood to cells throughout our bodies. A balance of good bacteria in the gut influences the intestinal immune responses and is critical for maintaining metabolic balance. Healthy digestion is crucial for making these steps play out.

Parents are surprised to learn that many of their child’s symptoms can actually be contributed to inflammation within their digestive system.

Some of These Symptoms Which May Be Traced Back to Imbalanced Digestion Are:


Inattention can be a result of food intolerance’s, hypothyroid or digestive inflammation. Determining the underlying issue is critical for determining the best treatment.

Trouble Falling and Staying Asleep

It is estimated that 20-30% of children have problems sleeping. Medications can be dangerous and throw off the body’s natural hormonal imbalance. Many times sleep issues can be related to a food sensitivity or imbalanced cortisol levels which can be related directly back to the health of the digestive tract.


Anger and irritability are some of the most common reasons parents seek help for their children and are among the most common reason for psychiatric hospitalization. The symptoms are typically treated with medication, but there is an underlying cause remaining. Up to 90% of serotonin is made in the gut and specific microbes and vitamins such as B6 are needed and necessary for this to occur efficiently. If there is an imbalance, serotonin production is not adequate which will then lead to many mental health issues.

Trouble Gaining Weight

If there is inflammation in the digestive tract, nutrients will not be properly absorbed and growth can slow.


Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is all too common in children and adults. This can lead to vomiting, heartburn and stomach and chest discomfort. PPI’s, which are the typical treatment, can cause many other problems including significant vitamin and mineral deficiency leading to many other health issues. Finding the underlying cause (which is typically an intolerance to a specific food) is key to getting reflux under control.


This can almost always be related to a food intolerance or inadequate intake of essential fatty acids. Many times, the food that is most intolerable with eczema is gluten.

If you are concerned that your child may have illnesses or a depressed immune system that could be leading back to proper and adequate digestion, it is best to have them sufficiently tested for food sensitivities and allergies. Once removing the problematic food, the body is able to begin to heal itself.

Nutrition should be individualized to promote the best optimal health.

Brandão-Neto J, et. al, Zinc acutely and temporarily inhibits adrenal cortisol secretion in humans. A preliminary report., Biol Trace Elem Res. 1990 Jan;24(1):83-9
Paddock, Catharine, Gut microbes important for serotonin production, Medical News Today, April 2015,
Bonciolini V, et al. “Cutaneous Manifestations Of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: Clinical Histological And Immunopathological Features. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2016. Web. 2 Mar. 2016.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26389946
Campbell AW. Autoimmunity and the Gut. Autoimmune Diseases. 2014;2014:152428. doi:10.1155/2014/152428.
Holzer, P, Neuropeptides, Microbiota, and Behavior. Int Rev Neurobiol. 2016;131:67-89.
Maqsood R, The Gut-Brain Axis, BDNF, NMDA and CNS Disorders. Neurochem Res. 2016 Nov;41(11):2819-2835.

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apple, autism, digestion, autoimmune, nutrition

Why is Digestive Health so Important?


Research over the past 2 decades is finding that most chronic health conditions begin with the health of our digestive systems. An unhealthy gut contributes to disorders such as diabetes, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, obesity and rheumatoid arthritis. There is growing evidence that our gut microbiome (balance of good and bad bacteria) can even contribute to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease as well.

So, what makes the Gastrointestinal (GI) system so crucial?

The GI system digests nutrients from foods to utilize for energy growth and cell repair. Nutrients are broken down into carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. These nutrients are carried through the blood to cells throughout our bodies. This bacteria influences the intestinal immune responses and is critical for maintaining metabolic balance. Vitamins and Minerals are cofactors for enzymatic reactions and metabolism and all of these nutrients are precursors to neurotransmitters. In fact, the greatest concentration—up to 90% of serotonin (the neurotransmitter that stabilizes our moods) is in the digestive tract. Just as a small example, most B vitamins (which the majority of people are deficient in) is mandatory for the body to produce serotonin. The GI tract is now being referred to by many experts as the “second brain”, as it contains hundreds of millions of neurons—even more than the spinal cord peripheral nervous system.

70%-80% of our immune systems lies within our digestive tract. It is our physical barrier of defense against harmful bacteria, viruses, etc. With this close link between the digestive tract and our immune system, if the GI is not well maintained it can lead to a host of health issues and multiple auto immune diseases. Intestinal permeability (or leaky gut) is recognized as a leading contributor to multiple diseases such as autoimmune, cancer, autism, diabetes and even heart disease.

What is Leaky Gut?

As mentioned, the intestinal wall is a first line of defense for the immune system. If the cells of the intestinal wall become weak, waste and foreign matter (toxins, yeast, bacteria, etc.) are able to pass out of the bowels and into systemic circulation. The damaged microvilli inhibits specific digestive enzymes from breaking down foods for needed nutrients in the body. Undigested foods also “leak” through the intestinal wall. This increased permeability of the intestinal wall leads to the escape of specific materials which then triggers an inflammation. This chronic inflammatory reaction is what eventually leads to disease.

What are some of the symptoms of leaky gut?

Symptoms of “leaky gut” (intestinal permeability) vary from person to person. The chronic inflammation can settle in various places throughout the body causing an array of different symptoms. Common symptoms associated with leaky gut are:

• Multiple food sensitivities—a sign that your body is creating a response to everything you are eating.

• Multiple nutritional deficiencies—a sign that there is improper breakdown and absorption of the foods you are eating.

• Skin rashes—your body is trying to dump the released toxins through your largest organ—your skin

• Chronic diarrhea and constipation—signs of inflammation of the intestinal walls

• Frequent illness—poor immune system resulting from your body being in constant immune response with its own body and unable to tend to the constant bacteria and viruses encountered day to day

• Headaches, brain fog, memory loss and chronic fatigue—signs of inflammation and toxin buildup

• Cravings for sugar (carbs), gas, bloating and anxiety—signs of Candida (yeast overgrowth) in the gut caused by the leaky gut

All of these symptoms can lead back to one thing---a constant inflammatory state in the digestive tract which is allowing the flow of undigested particles through the blood stream. If leaky gut is not taken care, chronic disease as mentioned earlier can erupt.

Refer to Article #2 in this series to learn how to fix leaky gut.

1. Campbell AW. Autoimmunity and the Gut. Autoimmune Diseases. 2014;2014:152428. doi:10.1155/2014/152428.
2. Wu H-J, Wu E. The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity. Gut Microbes. 2012;3(1):4-14. doi:10.4161/gmic.19320.
3. Vighi G, Marcucci F, Sensi L, Di Cara G, Frati F. Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clinical and Experimental Immunology. 2008;153(Suppl 1):3-6. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2249.2008.03713.x.
4. Mayes MD. Epidemiologic studies of environmental agents and systemic autoimmune diseases. Environ Health Perspect. 1999;107 Suppl 5:743-8.
5. Lerner A, Matthias T. Changes in intestinal tight junction permeability associated with industrial food additives explain the rising incidence of autoimmune disease. Autoimmun Rev. 2015;14(6):479-89.

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Nutrition in Autism

Healing the gut—What’s the purpose for Autism?

Autism is a developmental disorder that can affect language, behavior, and socialization. While the exact cause of Autism is unknown, many experts agree that it is a mix of genetic components combined with environmental triggers causing a downward cascade of immune dysfunction in the body leading to neurological dysfunction. Some are now referring to the brain as “downstream” in Autism, meaning that Autism is a whole body disorder and the brain gets the effects.

Typical “psychological” indicators of these neurological disorders in children may include delayed speech, lack of eye contact, impaired or non-present social skills, shyness, obsessive type behaviors, delayed gross or fine motor skills, sensory integration issues (sound and touch sensitivity, etc.), and mood changes.

Commonly overlooked, however, are the physical and medical conditions many of these children face.

Many of these children also have food allergies and eczema, general gastrointestinal distress, constipation and diarrhea, yeast overgrowth, immune system dysregulation, and sleep disturbances. When tested, most test with very high toxic load including heavy metals. Within the biomedical approach, it is believed that these toxins manipulate normal biochemical pathways in the body and lead to the physical and mental manifestations of disorders such as autism. Addressing the physical issues lead to improvements in behaviors and cognition.

When most of us are faced with a severe headache, lack of sleep and stomach pain, it is very difficult to focus or learn a new task. The same is true for these children; if we can improve their physical state, therapies are much more useful.

Much of the research is showing that autism is no longer considered only a brain disorder, but it is actually manifested from gut issues—our microbiome. The same is true for conditions such as ADHD, autoimmune disorders, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and the list goes on. 70% of our immune system is in our digestive system. This has to be functioning in order for health to occur.

As Hippocrates once said, “All disease begins in the gut.” Current research is finding this to be true.

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