Autism is a complex neuro-behavioral disorder linked to early abnormalities in brain development. The baffling odds of autism effects up to six out of every 1,000 children. To break that down even further, it is one in every 150 children. The characteristics are impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and non-verbal communication, and unusual or severely repetitive limited interests and activities. They are locked away in their own little world, trapped to the world around them.
Expert theorize that it could be a combination of genetics and the environment, that are possible causes. But, what about diet?
There are known differences in the central nervous system of a child with autism and a normal child. At this time, there is no solid scientific proof linking autism to any dietary problem. Some children with autism have gastrointestinal problems and compromised digestive symptoms. Symptoms can range from constipation or diarrhea to a condition known as leaky gut syndrome. What this means, is that a person’s intestines are very permeable, allowing extra-large protein molecules to leave the intestines. Instead of excreting these molecules, some autistic children absorb these molecules into their bloodstreams. When the molecules reach the brain, they create a state similar to a drug induced “high”.
In theory, when a child’s diet consists of mainly their preferred “kid food”, meaning mostly wheat and dairy, pizza, sandwiches, crackers, milk, ice-cream and yogurt, they are thought to be craving the the molecules that make them feel “high”. It is thought that these children could benefit from the GFCF diet, (gluten-free and casein free).
Gluten is the protein found in wheat, and casein and whey are the proteins found in milk. There are peptides found in both of these proteins, that are thought to create behavioral changes in autistic children. There are neurotransmitters and neurorecepters in both the gut and the brain that respond to each other. Therefore, some scientists, professionals, doctors and parents believe that some children can benefit from the diet.
Gluten and casein allergies are common to many people, and produce the symptoms mentioned earlier. However, about 20 percent of the autistic population suffers from digestion or gastrointestinal issues. Many parents have chosen to remove the source of constant discomfort and anxiety. This can mean removing wheat, dairy, soy, corn and even eggs. As a result many have seen improved behaviors, better focus, and lower levels of anxiety.
Dietary intervention could be the answer or at least a “piece of the puzzle”, that can help some autistic children get on a pathway to recovery. Many parents swear to what the GFCF diet has done for for their children. But, more concrete evidence is needed. There are at least seven studies currently being done at the University of Texas Science Center at Houston. Some are double-blind studies and some are only for 4 weeks. In all fairness, the studies on this population need to be conducted for 6-8 months to determine the best positive results. All participants should also be tested for allergies, not just ones related to food.
For any of us, dietary change is a “choice” and a lifestyle change. Dietary intervention for those with autism deserves careful study and consideration, not a quick study or a defeatist attitude!