Autism is a disorder known to affect the brain but recent research may prove the problem starts lower in the body.

The director of the Darien Center for Integrative Medicine, Robert Zembroski, said he has seen recent research that suggests the damage done to the brain is starting in the stomach.

Zembroski is a Board-certified Chiropractic Neurologist who specializes in treating patients with variety of neurological, biochemical, metabolic and hormonal dysfunctions without drugs or surgery. He is also trained in the diagnosis and treatment of ADD, ADHD, learning disabilities and behavioral disorders.

"There is research which suggests the problem starts in the gut which could goof up the brain," Zembroski said. "About 50 percent of our immune system is connected to our gut."

Autism typically results in damage to the right hemisphere of the brain and the extent of that damage determines the spectrum of issues you could expect to see in an autistic child, Zembroski said. Because the issues associated with autism may be related to the stomach, Zembroski said the place to start looking for ways of treatment is with food.

Food can alter a person's behavior and for that reason Zembroski said food could be a major aggravating factor in any illness.

"Treating this brain-based issue we have to look at the whole individual," Zembroski said. "You do have extremes and putting a kid on fish oils will make changes in brain function."

Regardless of where the reaction takes place to cause damage to the brain, Zembroski said chemical and environmental factors will always have a factor in the development of a person.

"Chemical and environmental factors always dictate what our genes do."

A parent could pass down a set of faulty genes that result in developmental issues. However, Zembroski said starting with the stomach as the place where the reaction is taking place makes sense.

"All of our nutrition is digested there and our anti-inflammatories are located there," Zembroski said. "It would make sense there is an alteration in gut function in people with autism."

As part of his practice, Zembroski doesn't diagnose as much as he offers treatment using functional medicine.

"We use a thought process that looks at all the factors. It's not as simple as a tap of the reflexes."

In his experience, Zembroski said food tends to be dismissed as a cause for many medical issues because doctors don't receive as much nutritional training and because schools don't teach nutrition in classes.

A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control showed 1 in 110 children will be diagnosed with autism; of those children, 1 in 70 will be males. Zembroski said it isn't entirely clear why males are more susceptible to autism but suggested it was due to males using the right hemisphere of their brains more.

"Based on my training and research it seems the male brain is more vulnerable to pre-natal injuries."

When discussing the stomach's relation to brain development, Zembroski said the stomach has its own nervous system which could be altered by anything that comes into the body.

"Each person is unique so there is no cookie-cutter standard of care."

Over the years, autism cases were linked to children who received vaccines. Zembroski suggested there could be a relation between a child who is exposed to too much vaccine and the onset of autism, but added there wasn't enough evidence to prove that is the case.

"Food is the biggest variable and we have seen changes in behavior by altering diets," Zembroski said. "Most food is genetically processed and as a result, we're becoming processed people."

At it's most basic level, food is simply genetic information which has to be approved by the body, Zembroski said.

"If you put something into your system that is not recognized as friendly, you open yourself to a whole host of health issues."

As part of the treatment process for his patients, Zembroski said he works at replacing damage that is caused by food, especially issues in the stomach.

Despite the advances in medicine, Zembroski said there still isn't enough evidence to determine why certain cases of autism are more or less severe than others.

"A kid with severe autistic dysfunction may not respond to the same stimuli as you or me," Zembroski said. "That will ultimately determine what you see or don't see."

The problem with trying to determine what will cause damage in one person's body to another person is that everyone is different.

"Because our systems respond differently you can't tell what will happen when comparing one person to another."

Over the years, more research has been dedicated to autism, due largely to the fact that it is affecting children, Zembroski said.

"Because it's our children, we're increasing our time and effort to pin down what is causing autism," he said. "When it comes to our children there is a primal protective instinct that kicks in."