Today someone asked me a question about this in my autism group, and I didn't know how to easily answer it. I have this wild jumble of things in my head but no simple reply. I decided to write up something proper as my reply!
The thing is, many kinds of SPD are actually a result of certain physiological issues at a cellular level.
Treating these issues with off the shelf really fairly cheap supplements can offer rapid relief at a fraction of the cost of other treatments. The catch?
Because there are so many different possible kinds of issues that need to be looking for it can be hard to know where to begin. This is because the chemistry of these problems look a little something like THIS:
First of all, one must grasp that sensory sensitivities are caused by misfirings or misprocessing within the brain or the nervous system. Many of these processes depend on ion pathways that operate across the cellular walls. Sometimes that pathway is dysfunctional in those with sensory sensitivity due to any number of factors, genetics, illness, and diet being notable factors.
When these problems occur due to a genetic proclivity towards such problems, they are known as ion-channelopathies.
The issues lead to intracellular or extracellular deficiencies of potassium, magnesium, calcium, sodium or other needed ionic substances (see illustration above). Of these Potassium and magnesium deficiencies appear to be the most common in the autistic community.
Because of the codependence of Potassium on Magnesium, and Magnesium with Calcium and all of their entanglement with Sodium ( and a host of other substances too numerous to mention here) the others are often also not being absorbed or used as they should and may be out of balance. All kinds of drama ensues, so resolving this problem can often really support a lot of different health problems people didn't even originally connecto to sensory processing problems.
Many of autistic people's "weird" behaviours are actually ways of self-medicating these issues...but more on that later on in this piece.
How do we treat this thing?
Treatment consists of multiple steps. The first acute managment is through direct supplementation with the substances you are deficient in.
Secondary management involves dietary changes to address the poor ion channels and any other health issues that are contributing to the problem. Often a good supplement to take is an omega fatty acid supplement or adding coconut oil to your diet as this improves the structural integrity of the ion channels themselves as they are made of fatty acids.
Lastly exacerbating factors need to be addressed to support the weak ion channels, as direct supplementation is often of limited long-term efficacy, and must give way to more individualised management later on. Examining your health and habits, in general, will be important. Lifestyle adjustments will need to be made that go beyond just diet or supplementation.
What's going on in there?
I am bad at this bit, but my friend Tania explains it better than I can using the example of our friend Benjine who first discovered these connections and brought them to our attention. She has a video about this HERE.
The long and the short of it is that you have problems with your nervous system as a result of your voltage gated ion channels being broken and you need to streamline the efficiency of this system to improve it's function. This can be done through diet, and through reducing "drag on the system in the form of other health problems that make the issue worse.
Managing other health issues that exacerbate symptoms:
Some conditions that are involved in aggravating these issues are inflammatory or immune-mediated disorders like Endometriosis, Mast Cell activation disorders, or rheumatoid arthritis. This is due to the relationship between inflammation and it's effect on the cell's signaling and function.
Addressing the source of the inflammation must always be part of management. For those who have comorbid chronic illnesses like Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Endometriosis, a broader program of management will be needed to control the issue, which will include management of inflammatory markers through dietary adaptations or supplements as well as other lifestyle alterations and treatments targeted at treating the underlying conditions. For those not familiar this is stuff like anti inflammatories, anti histamines, or allergy avoidance diets etc.
But be mindful that direct treatment with anti inflammatories like COX 2 inhibitors can cause bigger issues further on down the road. For more detailed information visit fluxes.net for a long discussion of complications that can arise due to inflammation and the impact of superoxides on the health of cells.
In these situations the work of my friend Benjine Gerber at fluxes.net comes into play - this website explores more deeply the relationship between inflammation and sensory issues. Since it is too much to cover here, I'll go into it another day, but keep in mind that making sure you have an ample supply of antioxidant-rich food in your diet is a good plan, and bumping up your arginine content might also be useful. Certain anti-inflammatory foods and foods with a low histamine content may also benefit many with these problems.
Here I'll pop in a note to those with gut problems that your gut issues may contribute to this, and on another day I'll do another post talking about salicylate and oxylate intolerances and how they tie into these issues....but that's another talk :)
Meditation is an important part of any management program for almost all health issues, and in this case, can make the difference between long-term success or failure, so don't keep meaning to take it up, start watching some videos by Tara Brach (my personal guru) TODAY.
How to know if you have an issue:
Those in the autism community frequently show a particular pattern of issues, and it's so common that anyone experiencing sensory sensitivities aught to try this out.
We have a good shorthand first-line option for this that usually works for most (but not all) people. We normally start on a course of Trisalts or Multiforce alkaline powders for immediate relief within two or three days.
If you want to get testing beforehand, a blood test to assess your deficiencies in these substances may be useful, but be warned that intracellular potassium deficiencies cannot be detected by blood tests. As an example, I'll talk specifically about potassium/magnesium deficiencies.
1. Fatigue, difficulty with sleep
2. Weakness, loss of muscle tone, spasticity, fasciculations
3. May be involved with blood sugar dysregulations ie. hypoglycemia
4. Muscle cramps, aching, stiffness and tenderness, touch sensitivity
5. Tingling or burning in the hands and feet, numbness, need to move, restless leggs.
6. Loss of coordination (if severe can lead to ataxia and paralysis)
7. Digestive problems, gastroparesis, gut cramping, upset tummy or constipation
8. Heart palpitations, feelings of anxiety
9. Difficulty breathing, "forget" to breathe, "weight on chest", poor circulation
10. Moodiness and emotional dysregulation
11. Light or sound sensitivities.
Step 1:Supplement with Tri-salts or Multiforce for about two weeks to establish if this benefits you. Other options include taking potassium supplements directly, such as switching to "low salt" (usually a potassium-based salt substitute) or take magnesium supplements directly, or bathe in Epsom salts regularly and take potassium tablets. Some people respond poorly to certain types of magnesium formulas or Epsom salts so your mileage may vary.
Step 2: Isolate the underlying cause of exacerbating issues such as inflammation, or gut problems etc., and address them. Figure out if you have one of the common dietary sensitivities oxalate intolerance which can markedly aggravate sensory issues. Learn about dietary support for inflammation at fluxes.net.
Step 3: Supplement with fatty acids to make cell walls supple. Coconut oil is good too, or flax seed, oily fish....you know the drill.
Step 4: Lifestyle changes to reduce stress such as reducing your commitments, getting supports or accommodations, changing careers etc. And MEDITATE. There's a joke Benjine makes about people who make you angry: "Don't let them steal your potassium!" Learning to be more relaxed, mindful and zen will reduce your sensory issues, I PROMISE :P
That's all! I hope this helps.