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Can Autism Diet Help Autistic Children?

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One in 100 children in the United States suffer autism.  A new study in the April 2010 issue of Nutritional Neuroscience suggests that a strict gluten-free and casein free diet may help autistic children.

The trial led by Whiteley P and colleagues from the University of Sunderland in the United Kingdom showed children with autism assigned a gluten- and casein-free diet improved their behaviors among other things.

The trial consisted of two stages. The researchers tested the diet in two groups of children with  autism spectrum disorders or ASDS.  

In the stage one, 72 Danish children aged 4 to 12 years were given the strict diet (group A) or a control diet (group B) and evaluated at baseline, 8, and 12 months for their behaviors and developmental level, inattention and hyperactivity.  

The children's behaviors were assessed using Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Gilliam Autism Rating Scale (GARS).  Their developmental level, inattention and hyperactivity were measured using Vineland Adaptive Behaviour Scales (VABS) and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - IV scale (ADHD-IV).

Data from 26 children in the dietary intervention group and 29 controls showed a significant improvement in the diet group on subdomains of ADOS, GARS and ADHD-IV measures.

Because of the observation, in the second stage, group B children were also assigned the gluten-free and casein-free diet and 18 children in Group A and 17 in Group B completed the intervention dietary program in another 12 months.

The trial results indicated that clinical improvements were sustainable although a plateau effect of the intervention was observed.

Whiteley et al. concluded that the gluten- and casein- free diet may have a positive impact on developmental outcome in children with autism.  But more studies are needed to confirm the findings.

Gluten and gluten-like proteins are found high in wheat and other grains such as oats, rye, barley, bulgar, durum, kamut and spelt, and foods made from those grains. 

Casein is a protein found in milk and dairy products containing milk such as cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream, whey and some margarines. It can be present as an ingredient called caseinate in non-dairy products.

The gluten-free and casein-free diet is believed to help children with autism because many of them also suffer gastrointestinal (GI) ailments including constipation, diarrhea and vomiting.

One theory speculates that people with autism cannot digest gluten and casein properly. And these proteins can be digested to form peptides that act like opiates leading to abnormal behaviors in autistic children.

However, Susan Hyman, MD from Golisano Children's Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, N.Y. and colleagues conducted a smaller study and found that the gluten-free, casein-free diet does not seem to help children with autism.

In the study of 22 children aged 2 to 5.5 years, the researchers conducted a different type of test. What they did is put all the participants on the strict gluten-free, casein-free diet for at least four weeks, and then gave them 20 grams of wheat flour, 20 grams of milk powder, either or both.

The researchers compared the children's behaviours before and 24 hours after the "challenge" and they found no difference in their behaviors.

A health observer criticized the study design saying that there was no reason in real life that children with autism on a strict diet should be "challenged". The results he said could simply hint that children on the diet had improved their behaviors in a way that a small amount of milk and wheat products did not affect them anymore.

In any way, wheat and milk are not essential vitamins so parents of the children with autism may let their children try a non-gluten and non-dairy diet to see if the diet actually helps them. They don't have to wait for others to tell them whether the diet works or not.

Autismweb.com says "foods that CAN be eaten on a gluten-free, casein-free diet include rice, quinoa, amaranth, potato, buckwheat flour, soy, corn, fruits, oil, vegetables, beans, tapioca, meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, teff, nuts, eggs, and sorghum, among others."

Recent studies have suggested vitamin D deficiency may play a role in autism. For more information on the association between this vitamin and autism, read here.

David Liu

(Send your news to foodconsumer.org@gmail.com, Foodconsumer.org is part of the Infoplus.com ™ news and information network)

Subscribe to comments feed Comments (10 posted):

BB_PhD on 05/21/2010 13:01:18
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Read Russell Blaylock's books. The reason to avoid casein is because when used as a food additive it is processed to allow glutamate to become free. So it gives the taste of MSG (and in effect contains MSG). But it only helps if you avoid all other hidden MSG, like hydrolyzed protein, texturized protein, yeast extract, etc. Plus other excitoxins like NutraSweet also need to be avoided. Although hard to prove, it's highly likely autistics have damage to their blood-brain barrier. Keeping them away from microwave sources like cordless phones should allow the barrier to heal over time. See truthinlabeling.org, and studies in rats by Leif Salford.
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JL on 05/21/2010 14:49:38
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Why do people look for diet solutions when the problem is not a diet problem? Diet can only help to aliviate the symptoms ever so slightly, but the pricetag in life-style change is too great for most families. Autistic people are different, but most of them are not retards, many of them are geniuses. Autistic people are capable of learning. My opinion is resources are better spent for parents to understand how autistic kids think, how they view the world, what their interests are. Developing them into what they like to be, what they are good at, is the most rewarding part. Enough of blaming games, don't blame the food. Take responsability and provide them with learning material and environment, and one day they may surprise you.
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TommyMilo on 05/21/2010 14:51:32
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It works! My autistic son has been on it for more than two years and he has improved his cognitive and immunity performance...This is the way to to go!
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Bill on 05/21/2010 15:39:49
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There are no drawbacks to trying.
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Adrian on 05/21/2010 15:44:23
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Not following the diet works! My autistic daughter has not been on it for her whole life and she has improved her cognitive and immunity performance...This is the way to to go!
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T. Mohnay on 05/21/2010 16:20:16
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Dear foodconsumer.org
About your title, "Can Autism Diet Help Autistic Children?"

You don't write "autistic children."
The correct way to put it is: "children with autism."
We use "people first" terminology. Why? because we are people first- not defined by our disorders or diseases.

Shame on you, you lazy and careless hack writer.

As for the content of the article and the responses thus far.. there is no cure for autism, yet. Diet may improve the quality of life, but this is true for any person.
I've worked with children who have autism. Many children (in affluent ares I should add)have privilege to these diets. They've been on these diets for years.
The sad fact is, health and nutrition are a business. Like any business, they want to be relevant and make profit.

And to "JL," what the heck are you talking about? You sound stupid.

I will never understand why people feel compelled to give their uninformed and obnoxious opinion regarding subjects they clearly have to knowledge of.
Shut it! Pick up a book, go to school! Learn something, you fools.
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Rachel on 05/21/2010 20:27:28
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Dear T. Mohnay,

Next time you post you may want to do a spell check. Your careless mistakes made you look like a fool as you were insulting others.
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T. Mohnay on 05/21/2010 20:44:03
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dear rachel- what words did i misspell? after re-reading what i wrote, i caught one mistake: "ares" shouldve been "areas."
thats a typo, not a misspelling.

i will not do a spell check before i post, ever. i am not a writer who goes about acting like i know what im talking about. i am just a person pointing out huge mistakes written by someone who makes their living from writing!

congratulations on contributing nothing to the conversation. youre the fool, grammar snobbery will get you nowhere.

rachel... ancient hebrew name from the old testament. she was the jealous barren wife of jacob.
if given the choice, id go under a different alias.
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lohanali on 05/22/2010 08:50:29
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Meal plans can help you eat a balanced diabetes diet, keeping your blood sugar under control. use this free meal planner http://bit.ly/daDZ9s
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personal injury Houston on 05/26/2010 09:00:56
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According to the new studies and experiments shows that there are no such drastic changes that can be noticed after selecting a particular diet to be given to an autistic child.But yes if we can make the child follow the strict rules and a strict schedule on a daily basis then there can be a change noticed in a child with his or her disorder.
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