A Bay Area biochemist thinks she's found a sort of autism smoking gun: monosodium glutamate, or MSG. It's a chemical compound almost exclusively connoted with Chinese food, but Katherine Reid points out that it's found in all but 5% of processed food, largely unbeknownst to us: It appears on the food label only about 1% of the time. But if things like flavor or flavoring, soy protein, whey protein, pectin, corn starch, or stock make an appearance (many, many more listed on this pdf), you're consuming MSG, she says, needlessly. The San Francisco Chronicle points out there "is no science to back up many of her claims," with two doctors confirming to the paper that no MSG studies of the sort have been carried out. But then there's Reid and her 7-year-old daughter.
As the Chronicle explains, Reid's youngest child, Brooke, began showing signs of autism at 2: wild tantrums, repetitive behavior, communication issues, digestive problems. Tests revealed the girl was moderately autistic. Reid began researching diet options, first eliminating gluten and dairy; then she read about MSG, and the role glutamate plays in the body: It's essential for learning and function, but she came to believe that too much of it interferes with neural function—and that the glutamine in MSG can exacerbate the imbalance. She wiped MSG from Brooke's diet (SantaCruz.com notes it's even found in toothpaste), and says the autism symptoms have been "completely removed." One doctor who treats kids with autism says he'd try the diet, but cautions that "while it's not normal for kids with moderate autism to be cured by 7, it's not unheard of." Still, Reid says 99% of the 75 autistic children she has worked with at her Unblind My Mind foundation "drastically improved within five weeks." (Read more autism stories.)