Updated: November 5th, 2020
We interviewed Heather Walker, student in the Master of Science in Therapeutic Herbalism program and winner of the President’s Award at MUIH’s first Research Symposium, for her research design exploring STW-5 as a treatment for gastrointestinal disorder in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. 
View Heather’s research poster

Maryland University of Integrative Health: Can you share some details about the beginning of your research design project and what sparked your interest to explore using herbal medicine to treat Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (FGID), specifically in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Heather Walker:I have been passionate about exploring and researching more information about ASD ever since I was a child. During my journey of discovery, I noticed a trend of GI concerns that arise both in children and their parents. Recently there has been increased interest in the possible correlation between FGID and ASD, which greatly piqued my interest. For quite a bit of families I have encountered, many have come to me for my opinion regarding lifestyle concerns that affect their children’s quality of life. I noticed that natural remedies and complementary alternative treatments have been a more widely accepted protocol to which families tend to adhere and relate more closely, understanding them and implementing them into their everyday schedules. In my personal life, I rely more on herbal treatments and remedies than Western medicine, so I felt compelled to look further into more natural, tolerable, and safe treatment options for these common issues. In short, I have just been compelled to explore the possibility of this naturally acquired treatment option for these common issues, especially in light of the ability to enhance quality of life and provide an option for families that can be both accessible and easy to follow and provide for their loved ones.

MUIH: How did you decide on using STW-5 in your study design as opposed to another natural complex? What characteristics set it apart to be potentially effective for this particular audience and/or gastrointestinal disorders?

HW: I began my interest with the thought of a single herb treatment, Salvia officinalis. However, with the help of my mentors, I found STW-5 might be an effective treatment option. This treatment seems to work synergistically to target multiple FGID symptoms, and I felt it could work for a wide modality of concerns that affect children and families coping with ASD and FGID symptoms.

MUIH: Do you plan on conduct this research study or any others either while at MUIH or in your professional career following graduation?

HW: I would absolutely love to put this plan further into action! That was one of my main goals of the poster. I wanted to increase awareness with the possibility of conducting research in favor of natural treatment options for children with ASD. During my future career, I plan on centering my healing practices on children with developmental disorders and the different natural and complimentary treatment options available to help realize and achieve their dreams.

MUIH: Is FGID or helping with ASD your main interest within the field of herbal medicine, or do you have plans to explore other areas of research as well?

HW: The concerns with FGID and children with ASD is directly related to my main interests with herbal medicine, which is to help increase awareness and create effective, tolerable and easily accessible treatment options for those in need of alternative care. I am most passionate about developmental disorders which affect a wide array of daily life concerns. This, in my eyes, centers directly on quality of life. The issues involving FGID symptoms put an enormous strain on every domain of life: physical, emotional, spiritual, social, etc. I feel that exploring the effects of natural treatments may shed light on a brain-gut connection that might escalate further than symptom control. For example, the possible positive correlation between FGID symptom severity and ASD severity may give rise to a greater understanding of ASD in general! As for exploring other areas of research, I feel this is inevitable and a definitely possibility.

MUIH: Is there anything else you’d like to add about your research project?

HW: There are two areas for which I feel deeply passionate about and would like to highlight. One is that ASD is one of the fastest growing developmental disorders without any understandable cause or origin. There is no cure for ASD and it often is accompanied with comorbid disorders. The other is that I feel my research is important for not only the realm of quality of life, but also for a deeper, more enhanced understanding of the relationship between FGID symptoms and ASD behavioral manifestation. Lastly, I would just like to add my great appreciation with everyone involved in helping me realize and articulate my project and MUIH for helping me understand herbal treatment potentiality through their amazing program.