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Can a Gluten Free Diet Help Treat Autism?

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I have been practising the biomedical approach to treating autism since 2001, and still one of the most sucessful treatments recommended is the gfcf diet. Gluten is found in wheat, oats, rye, barely, kamut and spelt. Casein is found in most dairy products including cow's milk, ice cream, cheese, yogurt, and goats milk products. About 66% of the children who try the diet respond favorably. This is a reported finding in the parent ratings of the biomedical approach, where more than 26,000 parents have reported what has worked and not worked for there child (based on 3 major categories: eye contact, language, and socialization). 3 out of every 4 kids who visit my office end up benefitting greatly from this diet. Since it is non invasive, does not require a prescription drug, or medical monitoring, any parent can try it on their own. I usually tell parents to give it at least 3 months before they give up on it. Certainly not every kid is going to benefit from the diet, and if the child does not, it is important for the parent not to loose hope and decide not to try any other biomedical therapies. The GFCF diet is one of the top 5 most beneficial biomedical treatments as per the parent ratings.

Why does it work?

There are several reasons why we think the diet works. One is the improved immune response to the diet. Several researchers have reported encouraging clinical improvements by elimination of certain dietary proteins which are now presumed to be potent inducers of proinflammatory cytokines. Jyonouchi H, published a study in 2001 in the journal of Neuroimmunology showing proinflammatory and regulatory cytokine production associated with innate and adaptive immune response in children with autism spectrum disorders and developemental regression. As Holly Bortfeld reported, 91% of the patients with ASD who were put on the strict GFCF diet improved.

Another reason the diet works is at the allergy level. Lucarelli S, in 1995 in Panminera Medical Journal showed that italian autistic kids were evaluated for milk related antibodies and response to milk elimination as compared to 20 control children. Higher antibody levels to milk proteins in the autistic population and a marked improvement in the behavioural symptoms of autistic patients after a 2 month milk elimination diet. In my practice almost every child does a food antibody test especially to wheat and dairy and over 60% of them are allergic to these proteins. Hence another reason to strongly consider trying this diet.

Finally, another reason why the diet maybe working for some kids is at the enzyme level. Several studies support the fact that the enzyme DPPIV which digests gluten and casein may not be working well. Hence, when children ingest these proteins, instead of being appropriately broken down or digested, these proteins are converted into opiod like proteins and have an opium like effect. This could explain why these children are in their own world. Reichelt Kl in 1981 in the journal of Advanced Biochemistry and Psychopharmacology showed biologically active peptide-containing fractions in shizophrenia and childhood autism. Negri L in 1998 in the British Journal of Pharmacology, showed glycodermophrins: opiod peptides with potent and prolonged analgesic activity and enhanced blood-brain barrier penetration. So, we not only recommend the diet but also the ingestion of the enzyme containing DPPIV with most meals, incase there is any hidden gluten or casein in the diet, so that it can be appropriately digested and not converted into opiod like molecules. The DPPIV enzyme treatment is one of the top 10 biomedical treatments for autistic children as per the parent ratings.


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