The gluten-free diet is a popular treatment for autism. What are the benefits and risks of this dietary change? If you’re considering a gluten-free diet, here’s what we know so far about how it affects people on the spectrum.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It’s found in many foods that are not labeled as gluten-free such as breads, pastas, pizza, cookies, cakes and more. Gluten has been linked to autism because it causes an immune response in the body. Read more in detail here: does gluten cause autism.
When your kid is diagnosed with autism, you want to do all you can to help them grow up to be healthy and happy people. Gluten’s influence on autism and how gluten plays a role in gastrointestinal symptoms linked with the illness has received recent attention, although research in this area is still continuing.
Some parents say they put their kids on special diets, such as the gluten-free/casein-free (GFCF) diet, to help with digestion and enhance their moods and behaviors. Although anecdotal data shows that this elimination diet is quite successful for many autistic children, scientific proof to support this diet as an effective autism therapy is absent in 2021.
Autism & Food-Related Issues
Autism spectrum disease (ASD), sometimes known as autism, affects around one out of every 68 children in the United States. This is a developmental disease that affects a child’s ability to interact vocally and nonverbally, associate with others, learn, concentrate, and recall information.
Autism causes children to become hyper-focused on one or two sorts of play or learning activities. They may develop routines and repeated actions. They have a hard time with change. These concerns may have an influence on a child’s eating habits and food choices, as well as other parts of his or her life.
Working with behavior therapists, particularly those educated in applied behavior analysis (ABA) treatment, is beneficial for children with autism. This is a treatment plan with quantifiable objectives that aims to shift maladaptive behaviors, such as food aversions, to more positive ones, such as a desire to try new foods.
Is Gluten Consumption Affecting Autism Symptoms in Children?
GGI anxiety or discomfort may potentially be an indication of autism, according to newer medical study.
In persons with autism, constipation, bloating, and diarrhea are six to eight times more prevalent than in the general population. These digestive difficulties may cause some younger children to shun meals that make them feel ill, resulting in a severely restricted diet.
Because many parents are concerned about their autistic children’s nutrition, they resort to low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets. The gluten-free/casein-free (GFCF) diet, which promises to alleviate GI pain by lowering wheat and dairy protein, is one of the most popular diets for children with autism.
According to some medical study, children with autism may be more susceptible to gluten. Although there is some evidence that these diets may aid children with autism, the data is still ambiguous.
Nutritional imbalances may occur when gluten and casein are removed from a child’s diet. To promote your child’s physical and mental development, it’s critical to balance his or her diet with other proteins.
Medical Research on Gluten & Autism Symptoms in Children
Gluten sensitivity and autism studies has proven contradictory in recent years. Some studies demonstrate that persons with autism are more likely than the general population to have gluten sensitivity, whereas others contradict this based on celiac disease rates in particular.
According to some research, concentrating on a gluten-free diet may help children with autism feel better, which can help them behave better. Other research have shown that the GFCF diet has no behavioral benefits.
The following are some of the most significant medical studies:
- Blood samples from 37 children with autism, 27 of their unaffected siblings, and 76 healthy children in the control group were studied in a research published in 2013. The researchers looked for antibodies that suggested celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes intestinal inflammation. Researchers discovered that children with autism had higher prevalence of celiac antibodies, indicating that at least a gluten sensitivity comparable to celiac was causing some gastrointestinal pain. They emphasized that further research was required.
- A meta-survey published later in 2013 examined several Swedish databases for diagnoses of celiac disease among people who had been diagnosed with autism. They studied 250,000 individuals and discovered that those with celiac disease were no more likely than the general population to also have autism. Before being identified with celiac disease, 44 out of 100,000 persons were diagnosed with autism. Autism was detected in 48 persons out of 100,000, but not celiac disease. Surprisingly, those with autism were more likely to get a positive blood test for celiac antibodies, according to the research. This is insufficient to diagnose the illness, although it may imply gluten sensitivity. Celiac disease requires both a positive antibody blood test and small intestinal damage. More information was required to grasp the possible relationship, according to the study team.
- According to research released in 2012, the GFCF diet may help certain children with autism feel better, which may lead to improved behavior. The study included self-reports from 387 parents of autistic children who completed an online 90-item survey that included questions regarding their child’s gastrointestinal symptoms, suspected food sensitivities, diagnosed food sensitivities, and GFCF diet adherence. Eye contact, social engagement, attention span, asking behaviors, language creation, and other types of social responsiveness all improved, according to parents. Some of the parents who replied to the poll merely removed gluten or just casein from their child’s diet rather than following the stricter gluten-free/casein-free diet, according to the researchers. Parents who followed the whole GFCF diet had even better behavioral and physiological outcomes, according to the researchers.
- A follow-up research in 2015 looked at the GFCF diet and its impact on behavior in children with autism, but found no evidence of a relationship between these particular alterations and improved behavior. Only 14 children with autism, aged 3 to 5, took part in the little trial. The participants followed the GFCF diet for four to six weeks before entering a 12-week double-blind follow-up study. Dietary challenges entailed participants receiving snacks that might contain gluten, casein, both, or none. Researchers discovered no statistically significant association between the elimination diet and improvements in autistic symptoms after the trial was completed. The researchers did point out that the sample size was modest, but that the gluten-free/casein-free diet was safe for youngsters as long as their dietary requirements were monitored by a nutritionist.
Gluten Elimination Could Help Your Child’s Autism Symptoms
As of 2021, scholarly research on the advantages and drawbacks of the GFCF diet, as well as whether persons with autism are genuinely more sensitive to gluten, is still inconclusive.
You may try removing gluten, casein, or both as long as your kid eats a balanced diet otherwise. You should substitute these two kinds of meals with other proteins since they are typical suppliers of vital proteins for development and growth.
Despite the fact that multiple studies have come to no results in favor or against dietary modifications, many parents believe that changing their child’s diet improved their child’s conduct and relationships. This might be due to a variety of factors, including positive parental behavior changes, behavioral treatments related with modifying children’s meals, or genuine gastrointestinal benefits. Parents should gradually reintroduce gluten or casein to observe if negative effects arise to narrow down the culprit.
In the end, research in 2021 does not support the hypothesis that gluten causes autism. If you decide to utilize the GFCF diet to assist your kid with his or her eating issues, consult with a doctor before making any changes.
A nutrition expert may be recommended by your kid’s physician or ABA therapist to ensure that your child receives the correct balance of vitamins, minerals, and proteins to develop and remain healthy. They may also advise you on what foods to include or exclude from your child’s diet to improve his or her general digestive health.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It can cause digestive problems for those who have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Autism has been linked to gluten intolerance as well as other food allergies. Foods to avoid with autism include milk, eggs, soy, corn, and peanuts. Reference: foods to avoid with autism.
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Janice is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Special Education. She also holds a Master of Science in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) from Queen’s University, Belfast. She has worked with and case managed children and youth with autism and other intellectual and/or developmental disabilities in home and residential setting since 2013.