Bread and cheese wheelThe question of whether or not a gluten-free and/or casein-free diet can help reduce symptoms in people with autism spectrum disorders is a contentious one.

New research out of Penn State seems to indicate that the diet will be less contentious as time goes on. Published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience, the study examines self-reports from 387 parents or caregivers of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Each parent/caregiver answered 90 questions regarding, “their child’s GI symptoms, food allergy diagnoses, and suspected food sensitivities, as well as how often the child adhered to a gluten-free, casein-free diet,” reports PsychCentral.com.

A few key points from the study:

  • children with no casein or gluten in their diet for more than six months were reported to have the most significant benefits, the largest reduction in physiological symptoms and the largest improvement in social behaviors.
  • children whose diets excluded casein or gluten but not both were reported to have improvements, just less-significant ones.
  • children who had not been on the GFCF diet for at least six months also did not seem to have the maximum benefits (yet)
As to why the GFCF diet may be beneficial for ASD children…that is less clear. There is research indicating that people on the autism spectrum may have increased incidences of allergies / gastrointestinal symptoms as compared to the general population. And the article on PsychCentral reports Laura Cousino Klein, associate professor of bio-behavioral health and human development and family studies, as saying “There are strong connections between the immune system and the brain, which are mediated through multiple physiological symptoms…A majority of the pain receptors in the body are located in the gut, so by adhering to a gluten-free, casein-free diet, you’re reducing inflammation and discomfort that may alter brain processing, making the body more receptive to ASD therapies.”

That being said, the sample size of the study is not terribly large and self-reports are not necessarily the most accurate way to judge improvement. However, for parents weighing the potential benefits of a new diet for an ASD child, the study certainly seems to indicate it’s worth trying (for more than 6 months).

Have you had any personal experience with ASD children and an allergen-free diet? Please share!