Or rather taurine, or rather animal protein and the vagal nerve. What am I going on about this time? Well we are about to enter the sign of Taurus and this made me think of something that has proved quite useful to us in recent times...
So here is the story. Quite early on in our autism adventure we noticed that Scub tantrum med less when he ate animal protein several times per day. from there we started realizing that when he got 'that look' - pale of face, dark around the eyes, and the mood got wobbly, if we managed to slip him, say, a piece of bacon, the downward spiral would stop, and his good humor would regain itself often within 15 minutes, which meant a 15 minute semi tantrum rather than an all-out hour long doozie. Hmmm.
So this became habit, always having strips of precooked bacon in a zip lock bag when out and about and totally regretting it on the occasions when we forgot...but the strategy was a good one, and consistent.
We noticed that not many other autism parents we knew had stumbled onto this animal protein/mood thing so of course like all parents do we shared, and found that for those that tried it (not all could because not all kids would accept protein foods) seemed to have the same result.
Then we started reading about the gut/brain connection - a growing field of study particularly in regard to autism. Much science is showing that gut flora or lack of it seems to affect brain development, cognition, mood/sanity and so on. It goes beyond autism, and affects pretty much all the neuro-psychiatric conditions. We also started noticing it in ourselves - our life here at new trails is physically demanding - often over 40 Celsius, working outside with horses/farm chores all day. We already knew that if we got dehydrated our tempers would fray. Then we started using the animal protein experiment on ourselves (for example I, Rupert, if not vegetarian before this, certainly ate relatively little meat). The same results followed - if we were sure to eat animal protein three times a day we fared much better, and if we started to get, um, moody... (not that any of us ever did, right?), a piece of bacon of chicken and boom - 15 minutes or so later we'd be smiling and whistling and wondering why everyone else was making such a fuss.
Then we started learning about the vagal nerve, which connects the gut and lungs/larynx with the brain. Hmm - gut, thought, speech...
So if the gut is working nicely - good flora, the right amino acids, aka proteins - would the brain be working better because the nutrients in the alimentary canal be nourishing the brain itself better? So we researched it a bit: here is a rough summary - the vagal nerve, when in good condition and supplied with the right fuel appeared to stimulate glandular secretions of stomach acid and of the digestive enzymes that are released into the stomach and intestine, and the ejection of bile from the gall bladder; also influencing the release from the pancreas of the hormones that promote the storage of absorbed nutrients. All these effects add up to support of activity in the alimentary system during and after eating, when the parasympathetic effects predominate over the opposite quietening effects of the sympathetic nerve supply
Nerves, mood, food. Hmmm
Ok so we had a system that seemed to be working for us and others that was really simple. Fast forward to now with Scub aged 13 and doing great, his own web based TV show (endangeroussafaris.com), a job with the local road construction company N Line, and two grades ahead academically...but he started getting night terrors.
We tried various things, including Chinese herbs from the amazing Dr. Ma here in Austin who had managed all sorts of conditions for us before (we'll write a blog about this soon). But it didn’t seem to work. Then I remembered that a friend of mine who suffered from various neurological conditions following long battles with Meniere’s disease had once introduced me to a neuro-calming amino acid supplement called kavinace when I myself had been going through a prolonged sleepless spell and it had worked very well
So I researched the product, found there were no known side effects, and wondered what the prime ingredient might be
But hold on, isn’t taurine what they put in red bull? How would that help you calm down, let alone sleep?
Yes it is - but taurine is what gives you the top of the world feeling - caffeine is what gives you the AAAAAARGGHHHHH feeling.
We researched taurine and found that this neuro-calmer and mood enhancer is present in...Animal proteins (including fish)...
We seemed to have come full circle. Was this, nutrition apart, why bacon and chicken had always served to not just improve Scub’s moods but flat out stop tantrums cold?
He took the kavinace and next morning said 'wow, that worked - I didn’t think of monster trees of heavy metal music once last night - I just had nice thoughts about n line!'
It seems that taurine promotes all kinds of healthy neurological and cognitive function (google it and see)
So the bottom line is that once again, thanks to autism, we all found a way to make ourselves feel better. Everyone at new trails now watches their taurine intake (sorry that doesn’t mean they can drink red bull though) and protein levels and --- we are just less grumpy. If Scub hadn’t given us a reason, through his autism, to find this out, we'd never have known
So once again autism, thank you - as ever you have made the world a much richer place for us, given us knowledge we would not have had otherwise, and given us insights into our own condition that we might never have bothered to find out