Encouraging research has found a link between autism and diet, providing hope for children with the condition. A study conducted by Autism Speaks, has shown that certain gastrointestinal disorders are also present in nearly half of all children with autism.
Typically the gastrointestinal disorders involved are related to gluten or casein intolerance. These two proteins can trigger an immune response in the body, which causes inflammation in the GI tract. Research has found that adjusting the diet of autistic children can avoid the complications resulting from GI inflammation, and vastly improve their condition.
The Autism diet is based on eliminating foods which contain the proteins gluten and casein, the biggest culprits of gastrointestinal inflammation. Gluten is found in grains like barley, wheat (flour) and rye. Dairy products contain casein. Removing foods like bread, cereals, yogurt, milk, and cheese is what the autism diet is structured around. Also, these proteins are hidden in many processed and packaged foods as fillers.
How the Autism Diet Works
Gastrointestinal disorders aggravated by casein and gluten result in a condition informally known as leaky gut, an inflammatory condition where intestinal permeability is greater than normal, allowing undigested proteins to pass into the blood stream. Once in the bloodstream, these proteins can affect certain brain functions in relation to speech, social skills, behavior, and even sleep patterns. By removing these proteins from the diet they don’t have the opportunity to affect brain function.
A survey conducted by Penn State provided evidence that a diet of gluten-free, casein-free foods abated many autism symptoms. The study showed that the autism diet greatly reduced hyperactivity and sudden outbursts of temper. Speech and social skills improved. Even physical symptoms such as seizures showed improvement. The most drastic results were evidenced in children who stayed on the diet for at least six months. The more closely the diet was followed, the better the results.
Trying the Autism Diet
Simply removing gluten and casein rich foods from a child’s diet may sound easy but it can be challenging at the start. If you are parent of an autistic child you already know your child can often be a finicky eater, sensitive to certain food smells, appearances, or changes. Plus, many of the foods that have to be removed are staples, providing daily nutrients essential to good health. Also, it’s important to read every label of every food you give your child every day to make sure they don’t contain these proteins.
Seeking the help of a nutritionist is helpful. They can suggest foods to replace the ones you are eliminating and give advice about supplements so your child’s daily nutritional needs are met. They can also give a comprehensive list of foods to avoid.
A period of adjustment, and a time of trial and error can be expected when finding substitute foods your child likes. These challenges are small, though, in comparison to the benefits the autism diet can give.