Is There a Connection Between Diet & Autism Spectrum Disorders?
Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a range of developmental disorders that affect a person’s ability to communicate and interact socially, among other effects. ASD encompasses three common diagnoses: Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder not otherwise specified. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders have three main areas of difficulty:
- Communication (both verbal and nonverbal)
- Imagination and interpersonal play
- Social interaction
Parents of children with autism often seek out alternative treatments, such as specialized diets, as a way of reducing their child’s symptoms. The link between diet and Autism Spectrum Disorders is still being researched, but some parents report seeing improvement in speech and behavior when following a specialized diet.
The GFCF Diet and Autism Spectrum Disorders
One of the most common autism diets is the gluten-free/casein-free (GFCF) diet. This is a strict elimination diet wherein all foods containing gluten (wheat, barley and rye) and casein (milk and dairy products) are removed from the child’s daily food intake. This diet is based on the theory that people with ASD suffer from “leaky gut,” which means that poorly digested proteins – specifically gluten and casein – can leak into the bloodstream. From there, these proteins can enter the brain where they trigger an “opiod-like” reaction, interfering with mental function and causing a child to exhibit extreme behaviors. It is therefore proposed that eliminating foods with gluten and casein from a child’s diet will help reduce autistic symptoms and improve social and cognitive behaviors.
Researchers have found abnormal levels of peptides (a symptom of leaky gut) in some people who have autism. However, the effectiveness of a GFCF diet has not yet been proven through medical research. Eliminating all sources of gluten and casein from a child’s diet is so difficult that it may not be possible to conduct conclusive, randomized clinical trials.
Another complication to gathering data is the fact that behavioral changes may be due to dietary changes other than removing gluten and casein. For example, the GFCF diet replaces processed foods that are high in sugar and fat with healthier foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grain rice. The elimination of processed foods may have an equal impact on behavioral changes.
Talk to Your Doctor About Diet and Autism Spectrum Disorders
It is important to consult with a physician before making any dietary changes, especially for a child with ASD. Many children with autism have extreme selective eating, and changes to their diet must take place gradually. A licensed nutritionist can help tailor a diet to your child’s taste preferences and health needs. The latter is extremely important, because foods that contain casein and gluten also contain nutrients that are essential to your child’s health, including vitamin D, calcium, and zinc. A licensed, experienced physician can ensure your child is getting all the nutrients he or she needs to support a healthy body.
If you are looking for help with your child’s diet and Autism Spectrum Disorders symptoms, call Anchor Wellness Center today and schedule an appointment with Dr. Minni Malhotra, MD, FAARM, ABAARM. As a Board Certified physician in Family Medicine, as well as Board Certified with the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine, Dr. Malhotra can discuss the risks and benefits of dietary treatment for ASD. Call us at (832) 246-8437 to schedule your consultation.