by Susan Moffitt
February 7, 2011
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The University of Rochester Medical School recently published a report entitled, ¨Popular Autism Diet Does Not Demonstrate Behavioral Improvement." The small, tightly controlled study on the effects of a gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet found that it made no appreciable difference in the behavior, sleeping, or digestive habits of twenty-two children aged two-and-a-half to five-years-old. Results of this study were presented in the tone that desperate parents of children with autism will believe anything when it comes to cures.
A significant aside was that the study did not address a subset of children with autism – those with gastrointestinal problems. But a 2010 study conducted by the Autism Treatment Network shows that GI symptoms occur in nearly one-half of children with autism spectrum disorders and the prevalence increases as children get older (calling into question the age group of the study’s subjects). Children with GI problems suffer from more stomach problems, sleep disorders, behavior disturbances, and generally have a poorer quality of life.
Researchers are focusing more and more on the gastrointestinal symptoms specific to children with autism. The Autism Network For Dietary Intervention features an array of scientific studies on the topic and Dr. Arthur Krigsman, GI specialist and autism expert, has testified before Congress on the prevalence of this phenomenon known as ¨autistic enterocolitis" (This is the area that the much-maligned Dr. Andrew Wakefield focused on and an issue that should not be cast aside with his study).
The prevailing wisdom is that some people with autism spectrum disorders cannot properly digest gluten and casein, which form peptides or substances that act like opiates in their bodies. The peptides then alter the person’s behavior, perceptions, and responses to his or her environment. Some scientists now believe that these peptides trigger an unusual immune system response in a significant number of children with autism.
Additionally, a large number of children on the autism spectrum also have underlying allergy issues, which can be exacerbated by certain foods, including those containing dairy, wheat, and soy.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains, including oats, rye, barley, bulgar, and spelt. It’s also found in food starches, semolina, couscous, malt, some vinegars, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, flavorings, artificial colors, and hydrolyzed vegetable proteins.
Casein is a protein found in milk and foods containing milk. It also may be added to non-milk products such as soy cheese and hot dogs in the form of caseinate.
Eliminating these proteins from the diet of a child with autism has been reported by many parents to show mild to even dramatic results.
Before starting a GFCF diet, it is essential to consult a doctor who should screen your child with an IgG Elisa food allergy test. A blood sample sent to a lab will reveal what foods your child should limit and what foods your child should avoid altogether.
For some children, the GFCF diet isn’t enough. The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) eliminates all starch and has an exhaustive list of permissible and non-permissible foods.
Augmenting these diets with doctor recommended vitamins and supplements ensures your child’s nutritional well being and lays the foundation for their improvement.
It’s amazing that the scientific community will often make sweeping assertions based upon a single study and as a result, end up throwing the baby out with the bath water.
An appropriate diet for a child on the autism spectrum is something that should at least be considered as a potential treatment option, assuming it is done with the consultation and oversight of a licensed medical physician.