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Autism and The Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet



Illustration of Brain with Autism
The Benefits of a Gluten-Free, Casein Diet for Those with Autism

I feel passionately that the majority of those with autism spectrum disorder might benefit from following a gluten-free, casein-free (gfcf) diet. When I first started on a gluten free diet more than ten years ago, I would often come across sites and research related to the connection between autism and a gfcf diet. I had a few friends who were parents of autistic children and I would pass on the information to them as well.

To me, the research and the parent testimonials unequivocally show that following a gfcf diet can often have dramatic effects on children with autism and that this is one part of the puzzle in helping those with autism. I believe that the diet must be both gluten-free and casein-free and that in order to truly test the effects of this diet on your child both gluten and casein (not just one or the other) must be completely removed from their diets. It won't work if only a few parts of their diet no longer contain these two proteins. If they are eating any foods containing gluten and casein - even in small amounts - it will still have an affect on them and you will be unable to fairly determine whether or not this diet is working for your child.

The Effects of Gluten and Casein on the Body

How does the gluten and casein affect behavior?  For some eating these proteins can cause:

When someone with a sensitivity to gluten or casein ingests this protein, the body views the protein as a toxin or a poison. It then releases antibodies to attack the protein, attacking itself in the process. And in doing so, it also damages and destroys the villi, the tiny microscopic finger-like projections in the small intestines that absorb nutrients and pass them into the bloodstream.  When the villi become damaged, they become inflamed and flatten, making it more difficult or almost impossible for the body to absorb nutrients and pass them into the bloodstream.

Intestinal Villi Digesting Gluten and Casein

Leaky Gut

In a leaky gut, the intestinal lining in the small intestines is more permeable than normal. A leaky gut does not properly absorb nutrients and also it can allow partially digested proteins to "leak" across the intestinal wall into the bloodstream. This can result in symptoms of bloating, gas, cramps, fatigue, headaches, memory loss, poor concentration or irritability.  A leaky gut can also allow toxins to pass through the lining of the gut and into the bloodstream where they can travel to the brain and interfere with brain function.

But often once the gluten and casein protein are eliminated from the diet, healing of the gut can be obtained.

Implementing a Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet

I really can't say enough about how strongly I feel that children with autism should begin a trial of a gluten-free, casein-free diet to see if it can be of benefit. It may not be the answer or cure to autism, but it may certainly help many children with this disorder.  

Often it's best for autistic children to make a gradual change to the gfcf diet. Sometimes they physically have become dependent on the gluten (almost in the same way someone with a drug addiction is drawn to drugs) and will crave it. Begin by removing the dairy and then slowly start eliminating the gluten.  

I hope the links below will further stress the connection between these proteins and autism and may help many of you begin to implement a diet free of gluten and casein.