Decoding My Autism

For a long time, I've tried to understand what goes on in my brain. Along the way, I've learned some things and made discoveries that have helped me live a better life.

  • Dan Bell

Appetite and the Hunger Hormone

For many years, I had a hard time knowing when I was hungry. I would eat when my stomach was empty, and stop when my stomach was full. That was my only cue of whether or not to eat.

This may seem simple enough, like it was an easy cue for me of when to eat, but it led to some frustrating confusion at times. There were times when I couldn't tell if my stomach was empty or bloated. If I couldn't recognize the sensation coming from my stomach, I didn't know what to do.

Many parents of autistic parents face related frustrations. Their child will be a picky eater, only willing to eat certain foods. If they don't give their child those foods, the child may refuse to eat.

Some people tell them to just wait, that the child will eat when their hungry. But for some, the child may not get hungry, ever. So if not presented with foods they find acceptable, some autistic children may never eat.

So where's the disconnect? Why don't some autistics get hungry?

The issue is with ghrelin, the hunger hormone. My cue of eating when my stomach was empty, and stopping when it was full, is part of the body's mechanism too. When the stomach is empty, the body makes ghrelin, making us hungry. When the stomach is stretched from food, the body stops making ghrelin, and we're not hungry anymore.

If the stomach being empty doesn't trigger ghrelin, a person won't get hungry. Ghrelin has been found to be low in autism. Low ghrelin means that hunger won't kick in. We simply won't get hungry. So for a picky eater, if they don't like the food available, there won't be hunger to compel them to eat it.

The issue comes from a zinc deficiency that's been found in autism. Zinc helps make ghrelin, so zinc deficiency turns into a ghrelin deficiency. It has been found that supplementing zinc helps raise the levels of ghrelin in the body.

As I've written about previously, the zinc deficiency in autism is coming from a Vitamin D deficiency that is also found in autism. This is because vitamin D helps the body absorb zinc.

So, a vitamin D deficiency leads to a zinc deficiency, which leads to a ghrelin deficiency, which means lack of hunger.

It's a rather simple explanation to what is for some parents, a really frustrating problem.

I've been taking vitamin D and zinc for about a year now. I just discovered the link between zinc and appetite a few days ago. But in hindsight, my wife and I have recognized that it has helped with my appetite. I used to say things like "I think I might be hungry, but I'm not sure". Now, taking zinc and D regularly, I will definitely say "I'm hungry".

I can't promise that taking vitamin D and zinc will cure a picky eater, but I think that over time it will help with what they're willing to eat.

And as I always say when I'm recommending supplements, if you're interested in trying Vitamin D and zinc, I recommend talking to your doctor about proper dosage.

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