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Autism, Schizophrenia And Nutrition: A Child Thrives

See parts one and two of Kathleen’s amazing story as she sought answers to her son Matthew’s varying diagnoses (including autism and schizophrenia). Therapy Soup’s interview with Kathleen of Pickl-it continues…

Please describe the changes that you made in Matthew’s diet.

I got back to the business of putting my pantry in order, culling out the few convenience foods that remained. Most were “browns foods” – cereal, crackers, store-bought bread, and wheat pasta – all of them labeled “Organic!” and “Healthy!” but nonetheless loaded with too much naturally-occurring sugars and starches that were difficult for all of us to digest. Bad gut-microbes love to snack on sugar and starch.

Every piece of research I uncovered showed promise that traditional lacto-fermented foods (brined, cured, cultured, pickled) were a necessary part of daily-nutrition, offering naturally-occurring probiotics for gut-healing, as well as creating low-carb, low-GI, nutrient-dense, living-foods unachieved by modern food-processing techniques.

I invested a lot of time (and money) in creating home-fermented foods because I found they were more nutritionally beneficial than buying probiotic pills. Sourdough (fermented) bread-making was another time-consuming but important step. I also uncovered valuable research showing that Resistant Starch (RS) created during the sourdough fermentation process, was more valuable to overall gut and digestive health, than “fiber.”

All the fermented foods I made, including yogurt made from grass-fed, pastured, raw milk (with no sugar or flavorings), calmed Matthew’s raging gut, as well as his emotions, making for a calmer, quieter child. Not just any yogurt worked. Remember Matthew’s description of the pain he suffered after eating? He called it “ants in my brain” After eating this yogurt he told us “this makes me feel so much better.”

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled “The Yogurt Made Me Do It,” details ongoing research and points to probiotics increasing GABA receptors in the brain in areas “associated with memory and the regulation of emotions.”


One day, when Matthew was loudly screaming for his favorite sweet cereal, on impulse I stuck a naturally fermented pickle into his mouth. His cravings were instantly quelled.

Another fermented-food that appeared to soothe and not disrupt his digestive system was sauerkraut, which my Hungarian immigrant grandparents made at home until they were in their late 80s. Their well-intentioned, but misguided daughters, including my mother, urged them to “Stop working so hard! Enjoy the remaining years of your life!” Fermentation crocks were emptied, turned into flower pots, while two of my aunts showed my grandparents how they could buy the “same foods” in the grocery store.

Within a year of trading probiotic-rich home-made kraut for that of a pasteurized, vinegar-preserved version , both my grandparents were dead of an aggressive, fast-moving intestinal cancer. They were always in the back of my mind, as I watched Matthew suffering with physical pain, his digestive, nervous-system and yes, even his moods and mental “health” disrupted by Autism which I had no doubt, was gut-related.

While I cannot give 100% of the credit to fermented food, for pulling my son back from the abyss of schizophrenia, I believe that powerful components of properly-fermented anaerobic lacto-fermented foods (probiotics, bacteriocins, antioxidants, bioactivepeptides, and enzymes) all contribute to improving metabolism, digestion and mood.

Kathleen, we have to comment. C.R. and I noticed that after making and regularly eating homemade fermented beets and cabbage, our digestion and energy levels were improved.  We have to thank you for the links below, which you took the time to share with our readers. 

Food For Thought

The benefits of food-derived probiotics, contributing to over-all health of every person, including children battling autism spectrum disorder, is now well-documented. Some of my favorite articles include:
Can Bacteria Make You Smart? Science Daily, May 25, 2010

Stress Wrecks Intestinal Bacteria – Ohio State University,

Caution: Killing Germs May Be Hazardous to Your Health – Newsweek 

The Gut’s Friendly Viruses Revealed – Nature News 

Probiotics A Probable Treatment for Autism – MedIndia 

Biology of the Stress Response – How the Body Alters Its Physiology in the Face of Stress – Anatomy & Physiology; a quick introduction of the autotonic nervous system, a important concept to consider in the autism spectrum disorder.

Modulating Immune Responses with Probiotic Bacteria – Immunology & Cell Biology

So, despite the studies, what do you say to those who say all you have is anecdotal evidence on the link between diet and autism?

Nearly 10 ½-years ago, screaming son-in-arms, we walked out the doors of the adoption agency chanting the Beatles hit, “…all you need is love…da da dada da…” We fully expected that once we returned home, we’d waltz into the waiting arms of experts who could do-their-thing, while we did ours. They could heal. We could love. Life would return to normal.

Instead, life as we knew it, and all of our ideas and ideals about whom to trust, gradually changed as we worked our way through the established labyrinth of “The System.” Guided by raw instinct and a power of observation never before required, we journeyed through an unchartered territory, often feeling unwelcome for intruding.

Our anecdotal evidence, which helped to stay-the-course, presupposed that systemic, biological dysfunction was at the core of Matthew’s symptoms; that outward manifestations didn’t stem from mental “illness” caused by a genetic wildcard, but instead, his disorder was gut-based, affecting his entire body, including his brain. That mindset earned us chortles or patronizing remarks from many people.

At the time, there were no published studies that supported or denied our views. Likewise, there were no published studies that supported or denied their views. We were all operating in an anecdotal world.

For four years, we approached Matthew’s autism as if we were traveling to a foreign land. Avoiding the fastest, most-direct route, we preferred the back roads. While there were some harrowing twists and turns, tempting us to quit, we refused to see that as an option. Instead, we persevered, eventually encountering unanticipated vistas of beauty, and hope.

Although many were skeptical, Kathleen and her husband eventually did find allies, including a pediatric neurologist and a brain development researcher. More soon.


Autism, Schizophrenia And Nutrition: A Child Thrives

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2019). Autism, Schizophrenia And Nutrition: A Child Thrives. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 Mar 2019
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