Autism is a complex disorder involving a number of contributing factors that are not entirely understood. Many children with autism also suffer from digestive symptoms, which are thought to contribute to the condition as a possible causative factor. A recent study published in the Public Library of Sciences (PLoS) journal is strengthening the evidence for gluten’s role in autism. Researchers from Columbia Medical Center analyzed blood samples and medical records of 140 children—37 of the children were diagnosed with autism and the rest were unaffected siblings or healthy control subjects.

The researchers found that in the children affected by autism who also experienced digestive symptoms, gluten antibodies (IgG or immunoglobulin G antibodies) were elevated. “The IgG antibody response to gluten does not necessarily indicate sensitivity to gluten or any disease-causing role for the antibodies in the context of autism,” stated Armin Alaedinin, PhD, lead researcher. “But the higher levels of antibody to gluten and their association with gastrointestinal symptoms point to immunologic and/or intestinal permeability [leaky gut] abnormalities in the affected children.”

Interestingly, they found these gluten antibodies in children experiencing digestive symptoms, but they did not find that these children had celiac disease. What these children suffered, instead, was likely gluten sensitivity. The immune systems of these children were responding inappropriately to a food that would normally not be seen as a threat. Immune imbalance is one of many contributing factors to autism. And the removal of gluten from the diets of these children provides digestive relief and, often, reduction of autism symptoms.

Many children are finding a lot of relief from autism-related symptoms, and some are even reversing the disorder, with biomedical treatment. The Autism Research Institute is a great resource for people looking for more information on the topic. You can also check out my past blogs on autism and gluten.