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Dr. Katherine Reid with her daughter, Brooke. Photo by Chip Scheuer.

Dr. Katherine Reid with her daughter, Brooke. Photo by Chip Scheuer.

What’s a mother to do when her three-year-old daughter is diagnosed with autism? Well, if you’re a biochemist like Dr. Katherine Reid, Ph.D, you’ll probably end up researching everything you can about the developmental disorder, and maybe even beginning your therapy in the aisles of the grocery store.

By asking the question what are we eating?, Reid claims she’s been able to completely manage her daughter Brooke’s autism. What we put into our bodies, she says, can have profound effects on our brains.

“Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder, which means that there are so many different areas of the brain that it hits, and how it manifests itself in each child is different,” says Reid.
 
Some of the overarching characteristics of the disorder, though, include communication and social impairments, seizure-like behavior, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Brooke, diagnosed at age three as “moderate” on the spectrum, suffered from all of the above.

“It was difficult to integrate her into any mainstream setting,” says Reid. “Even like going to a park, because you just didn’t know if this seizure-like behavior was going to flare up and it was really hard to explain.”

Three years later, Brooke has improved so much that she was taken out of special needs school, and she’s functioning well in mainstream kindergarten. “She’s now the most social kid out of the five children,” says Reid, who credits the success to a total reinvention of her daughter’s diet, and the removal of one ubiquitous ingredient: monosodium glutamate.

The journey to the MSG discovery began with the addition of nutritional supplements like magnesium, Vitamin D3, Omega 3 Fish oil and B-Complex vitamins. “I observed eye contact coming back, and minor improvements, but still autistic, still special needs, not functioning very well in the mainstream environment,” says Reid.

Her next step was an approach popular among parents of autistic children, but with unreliably mixed results: a diet free of gluten and casein, a milk protein added to many foods. Again, Brooke showed slight improvements. But it wasn’t until she took it one step further that Brooke’s seizures and sensory distortions, or extreme sensitivity to light and sound, were completely alleviated.

“I found that gluten and casein weren’t the only thing that I needed to remove,” says Reid, who read in a blog that she also needed to be careful with MSG. “And at that point I was like who is feeding their kids MSG?”

As it turns out: everybody.

“I was shocked. It’s all over the place in our foods, and it’s not being labeled as monosodium glutamate, it’s being labeled as almost healthy things, as natural flavors, for instance. So you can have a food labeled 100% organic, all natural, no MSG added and still, that food item contain a significant amount of MSG,” says Reid.

It’s the “free glutamate” in MSG, produced when gluten, casein and other proteins are processed, that are slipping into almost every processed food out there, including juices, flavored teas, and even toothpaste. It appears in “natural foods” as protein powders, yeast extract, hydrolyzed proteins, extracted proteins and other forms, and it’s added not as a preservative, says Reid, but to make us think that food tastes better.

“It actually doesn’t have any taste in and of itself, but it’s a chemical that’s causing a brain reaction that’s making us think it tastes good,” says Reid. “It’s binding to the glutamate receptor, and it’s exciting our neurons.”

And for the autistic brain, which is already hyper-stimulated, it can wreak havoc, says Reid.

“Once we became aware of the marketing gimmick going on here and the disguise, and removing it really ended up removing a lot of processed foods, she was a new kid,” says Reid, whose shopping list is now made up of primarily fruits, vegetables, organic meats, and raw nuts and seeds.

“It just reduced the noise, the light was no longer an issue, any room sound that was going on didn’t bother her, and she was able to absorb like a sponge,” says Reid.

Interestingly enough, pharmaceutical drugs currently in clinical trial for treating autism and other brain disorders like Alzheimer’s Disease, block the glutamate receptors in the brain.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/biochemist_pushes_for_new_approach_to_autism.html Lenna

    It has taken my husband and me about five years to finally determine that our autistic son (now age 10) has a tremendous sensitivity to glutamate in foods.  He has had bi-weekly migraines, and severe behavior changes associated with the migraines, due to glutamate hidden in many, many foods we fed him.  I’m excited to see that there is attention to this issue, because I’m convinced that msg and other sources of glutamate in childrens’ diets is causing an exacerbation of autistic symptoms in kids with a predisposition to glutamate-sensitivity.  Go, Dr. Reid!

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2013/03/06/biochemist_pushes_for_new_approach_to_autism Lenna

    It has taken my husband and me about five years to finally determine that our autistic son (now age 10) has a tremendous sensitivity to glutamate in foods.  He has had bi-weekly migraines, and severe behavior changes associated with the migraines, due to glutamate hidden in many, many foods we fed him.  I’m excited to see that there is attention to this issue, because I’m convinced that msg and other sources of glutamate in childrens’ diets is causing an exacerbation of autistic symptoms in kids with a predisposition to glutamate-sensitivity.  Go, Dr. Reid!

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/biochemist_pushes_for_new_approach_to_autism.html Katherine Reid

    For more information I can be contacted by my website: unblindmymind.org or by email:katherine.l.reid@gmail.com

    • https://www.facebook.com/sharon.morton Sharon Morton

      Thank you so much for this research. The food issue makes me so angry! I hate what the food industry can get away with. Our kids are suffering and the pharmaceuticals are coming up with more drugs to give our kids. If we could only trust the people that tell us the food we buy is safe to eat.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2013/03/06/biochemist_pushes_for_new_approach_to_autism Katherine Reid

    For more information I can be contacted by my website: unblindmymind.org or by email:katherine.l.reid@gmail.com

    • https://www.facebook.com/sharon.morton Sharon Morton

      Thank you so much for this research. The food issue makes me so angry! I hate what the food industry can get away with. Our kids are suffering and the pharmaceuticals are coming up with more drugs to give our kids. If we could only trust the people that tell us the food we buy is safe to eat.

  • Chuck Wilson

    I have a 5 year old daughter with a lot of the same symptoms as Dr. Reids daughter had. Her video was such a wakeup call. Thank God there are Moms and Dads like Dr. Reid to do the research and hard work and pass the results on to us.

    Today is the day I am going to start implementing a glutamate free diet.

    Wish me luck. Thank You Dr. Reid

    Sincerely
    Chuck and Taylor 5yrs old

  • Chuck Wilson

    I have a 5 year old daughter with a lot of the same symptoms as Dr. Reids daughter had. Her video was such a wakeup call. Thank God there are Moms and Dads like Dr. Reid to do the research and hard work and pass the results on to us.

    Today is the day I am going to start implementing a glutamate free diet.

    Wish me luck. Thank You Dr. Reid

    Sincerely
    Chuck and Taylor 5yrs old

  • Gina Giallanza

    I am a parent of a ten year old son with high functioning Autism– do you have a sample diet listed anywhere? I would like to read it and try it for him.

    Thank you,
    Gina, Matthew’s mom

    • Paula Fischer

      Did you get a sample list or diet? I also have a 10-year-old high functioning autistic son. I would like to try this too.
      Thank you.
      Paula, Ryan’s mom

  • Gina Giallanza

    I am a parent of a ten year old son with high functioning Autism– do you have a sample diet listed anywhere? I would like to read it and try it for him.

    Thank you,
    Gina, Matthew’s mom

    • Paula Fischer

      Did you get a sample list or diet? I also have a 10-year-old high functioning autistic son. I would like to try this too.
      Thank you.
      Paula, Ryan’s mom

  • Rodriguez

    I am a parent of Fraternal twin Daughters, now 8, the first born was diagnose with autism at 2 and a half almost 3. the second born by 10 min is a totally tipical child. throught all these years its been very dificult for all of us, many therapy, special classes, diets and everything we can mention for early intervention on autism if done. My austistic daughter is mostly none verbal, but does understands almost everything she is very independent. my concerns with her has been most of all her verbal communication and her tentrums, Obsessive-Compulsive behaivors towards herself /others or just in general. Its very difficult to go out to stores or restaurant becouse for example, she would go up others and move their feet so they can sit straight or trys to get them to move or get up..its very frustraiting cause there are many people out there that are ignorant and react to this inappropriate even if you explain to them to excuse becouse the child is autistic.
    At times she would make a progression but other times she would regress back… we’ve tried everything in the books there is to try but nothings has proven to be something accurate. I think her nonverbal communication makes her autism more severe becouse she is not able to axpress herself with words only with actions and reaction. Now am reading through this article and it sounds interesting and I will try to watch out for and or eliminate msg on/from her foods. my daughter very rarely eats meats but loves nuts and seeds, so thats great, but has constant digestive problems like constipation. My hope, dreams, my wish is that researches would come up with a proven treatment and cause that would help my daughter and all autistic children out grow this condition that its affecting more and more families. We have to remember each autistic child is unique, there are not 2 alike in their own mind, thats what has made it harder, I believe, to find something or a common patron on these children that would work on all autistic children.

  • Rodriguez

    I am a parent of Fraternal twin Daughters, now 8, the first born was diagnose with autism at 2 and a half almost 3. the second born by 10 min is a totally tipical child. throught all these years its been very dificult for all of us, many therapy, special classes, diets and everything we can mention for early intervention on autism if done. My austistic daughter is mostly none verbal, but does understands almost everything she is very independent. my concerns with her has been most of all her verbal communication and her tentrums, Obsessive-Compulsive behaivors towards herself /others or just in general. Its very difficult to go out to stores or restaurant becouse for example, she would go up others and move their feet so they can sit straight or trys to get them to move or get up..its very frustraiting cause there are many people out there that are ignorant and react to this inappropriate even if you explain to them to excuse becouse the child is autistic.
    At times she would make a progression but other times she would regress back… we’ve tried everything in the books there is to try but nothings has proven to be something accurate. I think her nonverbal communication makes her autism more severe becouse she is not able to axpress herself with words only with actions and reaction. Now am reading through this article and it sounds interesting and I will try to watch out for and or eliminate msg on/from her foods. my daughter very rarely eats meats but loves nuts and seeds, so thats great, but has constant digestive problems like constipation. My hope, dreams, my wish is that researches would come up with a proven treatment and cause that would help my daughter and all autistic children out grow this condition that its affecting more and more families. We have to remember each autistic child is unique, there are not 2 alike in their own mind, thats what has made it harder, I believe, to find something or a common patron on these children that would work on all autistic children.

  • Kim. B

    I too would love a sample list or diet. My son is 6 and is Aspergers. The only thing I can find for MSG free food list is the below link. I am going to start with this, If anyone believes the below link is NOT a good resource, please let me know.

    http://latitudes.org/forums/index.php?showtopic=2976

  • Kim. B

    I too would love a sample list or diet. My son is 6 and is Aspergers. The only thing I can find for MSG free food list is the below link. I am going to start with this, If anyone believes the below link is NOT a good resource, please let me know.

    http://latitudes.org/forums/index.php?showtopic=2976

  • Chris

    As a research scientist, Katherine should be aware that a study with a single child, without controls tells us basically nothing. It may be that the dietary changes had important changes on her daughters autism. It may have been something entirely different. It doesn’t even look as though her charity is even funding proper research. Hunch based medicine is not a good idea. Sad.

    • Cristine

      I agree. It’s not fair to say that XYZ affects Autism when Autism hasn’t even been understood completely. :/ I know people with Aspergers (on the Autism spectrum) whom are on a feeding tube so they are definitely not ingesting msg.

      Maybe this one child is just intolerant to certain additives and displays that intolerance as behavioral or Autism spectrum symptoms.

    • Karen Scribner

      In reading about Dr Reid on her website and on others I learned that she used this protocol on 74 or 75 children and all improved except one. Because she is a scientist I am confident that she is documenting and compiling the information gathered on the children. These additives have crept into our food so slowly over the years that everyone thinks these are normal things to put onto foods. They are not. It reminds me of the frog in the pot of water: throw him into boiling water and he will die instantly. Put him into cold water and slowly heat it up and he will die but it will take him a long time to do it.

      • http://www.indiajoze.com Jozseph Schultz

        Sweeping generalizations about food “additives” are always suspect. Salt, for example, is an essential nutrient whose addition to foods was once literally a matter of life or death. (Hence the phrase “Not worth his salt.) Glutamates occur naturally in many foods, including some Katharine recommends. Interestingly, human breast milk contains more glutamate than the milk of cows or goats, so a breast-feeding infant is getting more MSG than a native of Taiwan or China (where they use MSG as a table condiment for decades.) Katharine’s work is interesting, but perhaps her advocacy is getting in the way of her research.

  • Chris

    As a research scientist, Katherine should be aware that a study with a single child, without controls tells us basically nothing. It may be that the dietary changes had important changes on her daughters autism. It may have been something entirely different. It doesn’t even look as though her charity is even funding proper research. Hunch based medicine is not a good idea. Sad.

    • Cristine

      I agree. It’s not fair to say that XYZ affects Autism when Autism hasn’t even been understood completely. :/ I know people with Aspergers (on the Autism spectrum) whom are on a feeding tube so they are definitely not ingesting msg.

      Maybe this one child is just intolerant to certain additives and displays that intolerance as behavioral or Autism spectrum symptoms.

    • Karen Scribner

      In reading about Dr Reid on her website and on others I learned that she used this protocol on 74 or 75 children and all improved except one. Because she is a scientist I am confident that she is documenting and compiling the information gathered on the children. These additives have crept into our food so slowly over the years that everyone thinks these are normal things to put onto foods. They are not. It reminds me of the frog in the pot of water: throw him into boiling water and he will die instantly. Put him into cold water and slowly heat it up and he will die but it will take him a long time to do it.

      • http://www.indiajoze.com Jozseph Schultz

        Sweeping generalizations about food “additives” are always suspect. Salt, for example, is an essential nutrient whose addition to foods was once literally a matter of life or death. (Hence the phrase “Not worth his salt.) Glutamates occur naturally in many foods, including some Katharine recommends. Interestingly, human breast milk contains more glutamate than the milk of cows or goats, so a breast-feeding infant is getting more MSG than a native of Taiwan or China (where they use MSG as a table condiment for decades.) Katharine’s work is interesting, but perhaps her advocacy is getting in the way of her research.

  • http://gravatar.com/rafsys Rafael A. A.

    Very well work.

    I have a 8 years old son.

    He hates the fireworks sound until now, but at the begining was worse, because we didn’t notice that, and at the same time he didn’t act as a normal kid, those years we notice (my wife and me) that he hates every strong sound, animals (roster, dogs), when exploits balls or another similar.

    We experienced as you those situations with him on markets, restaurants, etc, but in our specific family enviroment…

    Since that I started to search everythin, on internet, asking some others doctors, families with special kids, reading another researchers, everything by myselft, I done… (maybe I need another resources) but I never think that it has relation with the foods.

    That year, we went to a neuro-pediatric specialist on Lima Perú, where they take some analisys of his blood, spectrogram of his head, ADN, and some others that don’t remenber. But finally the result was not for autism. But, before this we went to another one (child specialist) that without any analisys, just with variety of questions that he makes to us, He said our child has the syndrom of autism, but in a few scale… And after that he want to us to pay him $1,500.00 (equivalent to 5,000.00 soles) that year… That was the worse thing we spected. We boot, crying and my wife get shocked.

    Well, my wife wanted to pay that, because, the “doctor” said that with his detailed prescription will our child be coured.. I say NO….

    Why, because, my wife was desperate, and the doctor knows that we are from highlands, I say to the doctor why with symple information about my kid concluded in autism, I did some search about it, and found that there is many aspects to be consider in order to determine that… and also I found (on internet) that there are some disorders with similar aspect tha confuse. That is not all, every aspect our child need to be study, such as: born (in my case he had problem, after he was born, was in the incubator because gets Ictericia (is when eyes and some fingers get yellow).

    Another thing, my wife remember at the 5 or 6 month of pregnancy when walking on december 26, 2005, there was a expltion of many fireworks at that moment, when suddenly the baby moves inside her. You know that the the baby inside the woman can hear outside.

    As parents, we need to be resaponsible of everything in order to guide our kids in his or her grown IN SOCIETY, not just care, aducation, feed, play. Many parents work (mom and dad), who cares our children, who notice that deficiences, maybe for us our children is normal, but what happens outside our home, in the market, in noise places, with others kids, they need to interact with others, they need to face every problem themselves, but with our control, remember when we will not be here, they still will be.

    I am not expert in this, the only thing that I consider is to be informed, each one is diferent, we live around the world, there are resources for make our childrens be part of the society, don’t give up, they are child, theirs brains changes every day, they can improve, they can be as normal as we are, It depens on how the parents face the problem.

    My kid, his name is Rafael like my, started to speak after 3 years old, his misbehavior at kinder was terrific. Bit a bit I expose to Rafael to diferent sounds, including those that he hates, but in diferent situations. For example in a birthday party, when every child play, jump, run, shout, sing, cry they understand that that sound are normal.

    Today, he is studyng on 3 grade on primary school in Huancavelica-Perú, “Juan Pablo II” is the name of that school. He loves the computer programs, games.

    I am proud of him, he improved a lot, he talks a lot, play, sing, shout. But he stil hate the fireworks in minor grade.

    Than you Dr. Katherine Reid.

    From Huancavelica, Perú

  • http://gravatar.com/rafsys Rafael A. A.

    Very well work.

    I have a 8 years old son.

    He hates the fireworks sound until now, but at the begining was worse, because we didn’t notice that, and at the same time he didn’t act as a normal kid, those years we notice (my wife and me) that he hates every strong sound, animals (roster, dogs), when exploits balls or another similar.

    We experienced as you those situations with him on markets, restaurants, etc, but in our specific family enviroment…

    Since that I started to search everythin, on internet, asking some others doctors, families with special kids, reading another researchers, everything by myselft, I done… (maybe I need another resources) but I never think that it has relation with the foods.

    That year, we went to a neuro-pediatric specialist on Lima Perú, where they take some analisys of his blood, spectrogram of his head, ADN, and some others that don’t remenber. But finally the result was not for autism. But, before this we went to another one (child specialist) that without any analisys, just with variety of questions that he makes to us, He said our child has the syndrom of autism, but in a few scale… And after that he want to us to pay him $1,500.00 (equivalent to 5,000.00 soles) that year… That was the worse thing we spected. We boot, crying and my wife get shocked.

    Well, my wife wanted to pay that, because, the “doctor” said that with his detailed prescription will our child be coured.. I say NO….

    Why, because, my wife was desperate, and the doctor knows that we are from highlands, I say to the doctor why with symple information about my kid concluded in autism, I did some search about it, and found that there is many aspects to be consider in order to determine that… and also I found (on internet) that there are some disorders with similar aspect tha confuse. That is not all, every aspect our child need to be study, such as: born (in my case he had problem, after he was born, was in the incubator because gets Ictericia (is when eyes and some fingers get yellow).

    Another thing, my wife remember at the 5 or 6 month of pregnancy when walking on december 26, 2005, there was a expltion of many fireworks at that moment, when suddenly the baby moves inside her. You know that the the baby inside the woman can hear outside.

    As parents, we need to be resaponsible of everything in order to guide our kids in his or her grown IN SOCIETY, not just care, aducation, feed, play. Many parents work (mom and dad), who cares our children, who notice that deficiences, maybe for us our children is normal, but what happens outside our home, in the market, in noise places, with others kids, they need to interact with others, they need to face every problem themselves, but with our control, remember when we will not be here, they still will be.

    I am not expert in this, the only thing that I consider is to be informed, each one is diferent, we live around the world, there are resources for make our childrens be part of the society, don’t give up, they are child, theirs brains changes every day, they can improve, they can be as normal as we are, It depens on how the parents face the problem.

    My kid, his name is Rafael like my, started to speak after 3 years old, his misbehavior at kinder was terrific. Bit a bit I expose to Rafael to diferent sounds, including those that he hates, but in diferent situations. For example in a birthday party, when every child play, jump, run, shout, sing, cry they understand that that sound are normal.

    Today, he is studyng on 3 grade on primary school in Huancavelica-Perú, “Juan Pablo II” is the name of that school. He loves the computer programs, games.

    I am proud of him, he improved a lot, he talks a lot, play, sing, shout. But he stil hate the fireworks in minor grade.

    Than you Dr. Katherine Reid.

    From Huancavelica, Perú

  • http://www.indiajoze.com Jozseph Schultz

    I believe you are mistaken about the amount of free glutamates available in “natural” foods, organic or otherwise. Just about any form of cooking or fermentation will create free glutamates from the common glutamic acid found in many proteins.
    We are exposed to free glutamate from childhood. The most abundant amino acid in breast milk has 0.02% of glutamate, so a 5kg baby who takes 800 ml of breast milk a day, consumes 0.16g of glutamate. “The amount of glutamate consumed by babies that only breastfeed is equivalent to the MSG of Korea or Taiwan,” the researcher concludes.
    Total consumption of glutamate (both free and joined to proteins) in an adult diet amounts to around 10 grams a day (100-150mg/kg/day assuming a weight of 70kg), whereas the consumption of glutamate as a condiment in the form of MSG varies from 0.4g in the US, 1.5g in Japan and Korea and 3g in Taiwan (from 6 to 43mg/kg/day). MSG consumption in Spain has not been estimated, but the United Kingdom is calculated to consume 0.6 g on average and 2g in a minority segment of the population (three times more than average). http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091009092344.htm is the whole article quantifying glutamates in human breast milk.
    http://extoxnet.orst.edu/faqs/additive/ificmsg.htm is a somewhat outdated overview of the (unsuccessful) attempts by researchers to document the toxicity of MSG. If there have ever been double-blind placebo-balanced studies showing toxicity, we’d love to see them.

  • http://www.indiajoze.com Jozseph Schultz

    I believe you are mistaken about the amount of free glutamates available in “natural” foods, organic or otherwise. Just about any form of cooking or fermentation will create free glutamates from the common glutamic acid found in many proteins.
    We are exposed to free glutamate from childhood. The most abundant amino acid in breast milk has 0.02% of glutamate, so a 5kg baby who takes 800 ml of breast milk a day, consumes 0.16g of glutamate. “The amount of glutamate consumed by babies that only breastfeed is equivalent to the MSG of Korea or Taiwan,” the researcher concludes.
    Total consumption of glutamate (both free and joined to proteins) in an adult diet amounts to around 10 grams a day (100-150mg/kg/day assuming a weight of 70kg), whereas the consumption of glutamate as a condiment in the form of MSG varies from 0.4g in the US, 1.5g in Japan and Korea and 3g in Taiwan (from 6 to 43mg/kg/day). MSG consumption in Spain has not been estimated, but the United Kingdom is calculated to consume 0.6 g on average and 2g in a minority segment of the population (three times more than average). http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091009092344.htm is the whole article quantifying glutamates in human breast milk.
    http://extoxnet.orst.edu/faqs/additive/ificmsg.htm is a somewhat outdated overview of the (unsuccessful) attempts by researchers to document the toxicity of MSG. If there have ever been double-blind placebo-balanced studies showing toxicity, we’d love to see them.