autism and gluten sensitivity
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Autism is a lifelong condition which affects a person's ability to interpret and make sense of the world around them. As a result a person's ability to communicate and interact with the world around them is impaired. Autism also includes the condition of Asperger syndrome, a condition in which children have the characteristics of autism but are of average or above average interlligence and have good communication skills.
Autism is thought to affect 10-15 people per 1000 in the UK and is about four times as common in boys as girls. The symptoms usually appear during the first three years of life. As yet the causes of this disorder are not fully understood and there is no cure, however, there are a number of changes to the diet that have been suggested to help manage autism, including the use of gluten free and casein-free diets.
There has been a higher incidence of gut related symptoms (e.g. diarrhoea) in children with autism compared with children without the condition and a relationship between autism and these symptoms has been established.
Interestingly, some research has shown higher levels of the same antibodies in the blood as found in people with coeliac disease.
Evidence around the benefit of a gluten-free casein-free diet in children with autism is not clear or conclusive, however, there are case reports of some children with autism showing an improvement in behaviour on a gluten-free diet.
As the majority of research in this area is on a small scale and anecdotal, it is important to carefully consider implementing a gluten free casein-free diet in individuals with autism as there is limited evidence for doing so. In addition to this, the diet is restrictive and will have an impact on food choice and nutrition which can be problematic in individuals who often have selective eating habits and therefore self-limiting diets. In fact, for many individuals with autism, gluten and casein containing foods are ones that are accepted. Despite this, there is evidence that for certain individuals with autism a gluten-free casein-free diet may help. It is important the use of this diet is considered on an individual basis and with the support of your healthcare professional, especially a dietitian who can help to ensure the diet is nutritionally adequate.