Dr. Kenneth Bock, the cofounder of the Rhinebeck Health Center and the Center for Progressive Medicine in Rhinebeck, New York, is becoming a bit of an international celebrity on the autism-environment circuit, holding seminars and giving lectures on the benefits of controlled diets and supplements for treating the disorder. That’s good news for advancing autism treatments, but slightly more discouraging for would-be patients who have to wait six months or more for an appointment. Still, Bock must be doing something right—he draws patients from across the world who believe his treatments really can turn autistic behaviors—and discomforts—around.
E Magazine: Tell us about the gastrointestinal problems you see with autistic kids.
Kenneth Bock: For many of these kids, they have inadequate treatment, or they have medical problems, including gastrointestinal problems. Their symptoms range from significant abdominal pain to bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, really malodorous, foul-smelling stools, improper digestion, the list goes on and on. And malabsorption, so some of the kids look like they’re from third-world countries with thin extremities and really bloated bellies. Many of them have really inflammatory bowel disease. It’s not Crohn”s, but it’s a distinctive type of inflammation in their colons—in addition to reflux. So they really have pain.
Sometimes they have these behaviors that are thought of as autistic but it’s really because they can’t speak or communicate. So they press their bellies and bend over, and do all these weird contortions. They scream, they bang their heads, they flap their hands. It’s not because they’re autistic but it’s the intense pain. You treat their inflammation, you treat their reflux, and lo and behold, their autistic behaviors get better.
E: Why do autistic kids seem to be in a fog—how is that related to diet?
K.B.: The other part is they have this imbalanced intestinal flora, we call it dysbiosis. We all have trillions of organisms in our guts. There are more organisms in our guts than there are cells in your body. If you have abnormal intestinal flora, which many of these kids have, whether it be overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria, or certain types of fungi like yeast, any of these imbalances can create abnormal behaviors. They can cause cognitive dysfunction or “brain fog,” they can cause aggressive behaviors, mood disorders. The spinning, the flapping, the hands in front of the eyes, abnormal movements of the eyes, all that kind of stuff. If you treat that, they also get a lot better.
E: You’ve found that removing gluten (wheat) and casein (dairy) can help—but isn’t that difficult for parents?
K.B.: It’s not easy, I”ll agree. It takes determined parents. But when you have a kid that’s severely affected, you will do it. And it’s really doable now. There are so many more sources of gluten-free and casein-free foods. Not just over the Internet now, but even in supermarkets. There are so many people doing this diet. We have nutritionists and health practitioners who can help the parents implement the diet. The truth is, if you’re going to do it, you have to do it well.
E: What are the nutritional concerns with this diet?
K.B.: It’s important to take calcium and magnesium so they’re not going to become calcium-deficient. And usually you need vitamin D as well.