Gluten-free, Casein-free Diet in Kids with Autism

There was a study done recently that got a lot of press, and I have to say it really got under my skin. Researchers looked at the effects of a gluten-free, casein-free diet in kids with autism, and what they said was that it didn’t have any behavioral effects on them. But I thought, “No way—something isn’t right here.” And it looks like I wasn’t the only one.

Nutrition Director Kelly Barnhill from the Autism Research Institute also had some pretty interesting things to say about this particular study. Check it out:

  • First, only fourteen children participated in the study…fourteen! Common sense alone says that’s not nearly enough to make such broad conclusions.
  • Second, the kids who participated in the study didn’t even have any gastrointestinal complaints. This is a big one, since most autistic children do have digestive problems of some sort—a good sign that gluten and casein (a protein found in milk) sensitivities are involved. But the children in this study were specifically chosen because they did not have digestive complaints. What?!
  • Third, the children only followed the prescribed diet for four weeks, even though it takes at least six weeks to really get all of the gluten protein out of the body. Four weeks just isn’t enough time to call this an effective study, folks.
  • And finally, the diet the children followed wasn’t even 100% gluten- and casein-free. This is important because some kids are sensitive to even the smallest amounts of gluten, so strict adherence to a gluten- and casein-free diet is absolutely necessary in order to see beneficial results.

Obviously this issue is far from over. So many parents of autistic kids report benefits after removing gluten and casein from the diet. No, it doesn’t cure autism—but it can alleviate the often debilitating digestive symptoms that these children endure, and as a result their behavior often improves. Don’t knock it till you try it!

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