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The thyroid is a tiny gland located in the throat area which secretes hormones that are necessary for energy production in every cell of the body. Thyroid function may play an important role for individuals on the autism spectrum. 60 Thyroid hormones are important for motor, language, sensory, and early brain development.61 Thyroid problems can stem from iodine deficiency, which one study has found to be 45% lower in individuals on the autism spectrum.62 Testing for thyroid function is possible by checking the temperature of an individual before they wake. Low body temperature is a good indicator of low thyroid function, but blood and urinary thyroid tests are available for confirmation.3 According to Adams, iodine supplementation should be implemented as an attempt to improve thyroid levels, but if this fails thyroid supplements derived from animals are recommended as they will supply the individual with a complete thyroid source.3 Toxic chemicals such as flame retardants, plastic derivatives, pesticides, herbicides, and other toxic waste can cause any number of adverse effects including the disruption of thyroid hormone production.63 It is recommended that you exercise caution when implementing thyroid supplementation because taking too much thyroid medication can result in factitious hyperthyroidism, which has side effects that include nervousness, irritability, increased appetite, weight loss, frequent bowel movements, hyperactivity, increased sweating, and insomnia.64
A report containing summaries of a 2004 workshop centered on thyroid diseases and the developing fetus found that the published “data consistently document a relationship between maternal thyroid deficiency during pregnancy and problems with neuro-psychological development of the offspring.”65 A multicenter study conducted through the Collaborative Programs of Excellence in Autism (CPEA) observed 208 children with ASD in order to compare history of autoimmune disorders in children with ASD that either did or did not have a history of regression. The study found that the “only specific autoimmune disorder found to be associated with regression was autoimmune thyroid disease.”66 The limitations of this study include the fact the information was gathered via a phone interview and there was no control group. More research is needed into how autism is affected by thyroid function.
*Parents should consult a physician before implementing any dietary intervention for their child.