Recent clinical trials looking at gluten-free diets for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are showing benefits worth considering.
Typical indicators of autism spectrum in children may include delayed speech, lack of eye contact, impaired or non-present social skills, shyness, obsessive-type behaviors, delayed gross or fine motor skills, sensory integration issues (sound and touch sensitivity, etc.), and mood changes.
Commonly overlooked, however, are the physical and medical conditions many of these children face.
Many of these children also have food allergies and eczema, general gastrointestinal distress, constipation and diarrhea, yeast overgrowth (candida), immune system dysregulation, and sleep disturbances.
While there is no one specific “autism diet,” removing gluten (the protein found in many grains, including barley, rye and wheat) and casein (protein found in dairy) has been shown to be very beneficial. It is estimated that up to 80% of children will benefit from this dietary change when it is strictly followed.
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Clinical trials for nutritional intervention are increasing and showing promise in being very beneficial for addressing core symptoms of autism. One specific clinical trial released November 2016 showed “significant decrease” in prevalence of gastrointestinal distress, as well as a “significant decrease” in behaviors associated with autism when eliminating gluten, as compared with the control group.
Research suggests that the gut lining becomes inflamed and compromised due to an unhealthy combination of bacteria in the bowels. This is known as the microbiome. Many factors lead to this inflammation, including specific foods, environmental factors, and the overuse of antibiotics and other medications.
This inflammation leads to a condition known as “leaky gut,” or intestinal hyper-permeability. When the intestinal barrier is compromised, partially digested gluten and casein proteins can pass through the blood stream and eventually go to the brain. It has been found that these proteins have a chemical structure similar to that of opioids, which can then bind to opioid receptor sites in the brain and lead to interference in specific brain signals. This, in turn, can lead to some of the typical autism behaviors.
Most children with autism already have a very limited diet, making dietary changes such as these seem out of reach. However, there are many ways to improve success in making these changes. Additionally, one of the biggest initial breakthroughs most parents see with removing gluten and casein from the diet is the expansion of foods their child will begin to eat.
Not only is removing certain problematic foods important, but many of these children are deficient in many critical nutrients. Inflammation within the digestive tract may hinder nutrients from being absorbed. Speaking with a Clinical Nutritionist can help ensure adequate and crucial nutrients are being met.
This article was featured in Issue 63 – Keeping Our Kids Safe