The Latest Study On Gluten and Casein Free Diets And Their Benefit to Autism

Children with ASD often have problems with their gastrointestinal systems. New research out of Penn State College of Medicine [1] is confirming what most parents over ASD children have figured out… a diet free of gluten and casein often helps children with ASD.

“Notably, a greater proportion of our study population reported GI and allergy symptoms than what is seen in the general pediatric population,” said Christine Pennesi, medical student at Penn State College of Medicine, “Some experts have suggested that gluten- and casein-derived peptides cause an immune response in children with ASD, and others have proposed that the peptides could trigger GI symptoms and behavioral problems.”

The study asked 387 parents and caregivers of children with ASD to complete a online survey about their children’s GI symptoms, food allergies, and food sensitivities. It was found that children with ASD had improved behavior when put on a diet limiting gluten and casein. Specifically, parents of ASD children found that not only did the dietary change decrease GI symptoms but it also increased the child’s social behaviors including language production, eye contact, engagement, attention span, requesting behavior, and social responsiveness.

The research strongly indicated that for some children, ASD is more than just a neurological disorder but may involve the gastrointestinal tract and immune system.

“There are strong connections between the immune system and the brain, which are mediated through multiple physiological symptoms,” Klein said. “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.”

The survey concluded that while improvement was seen when eliminating either gluten or casein from a child’s diet, the most benefit was seen in children that adhered to gluten-free and casein-free diets.

“If parents are going to try a gluten-free, casein-free diet with their children, they really need to stick to it in order to receive the possible benefits,” she said. “It might give parents an opportunity to talk with their physicians about starting a gluten-free, casein-free diet with their children with ASD.”

Have any of our readers seen benefits to gluten-free and casein-free diets for their ASD child?

[1] Pennesi Christine M.; Klein Laura Cousino. Effectiveness of the gluten-free, casein-free diet for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder: Based on parental report. Nutritional Neuroscience, 2012 DOI: 10.1179/1476830512Y.0000000003

Are You Really On the Gluten Free Diet?


As a parent of Autism, it’s difficult in itself to adjust to the changes that need to be made. One of the most difficult areas to adjust to are diet changes. Adopting a gluten and casein free diet is something that is commonly practiced amongst parents of autistic children. Parents instantly cut out the obvious foods like bread and milk, and foods that contain bread and/or milk. Is cutting out the obvious enough? What about products that contain hidden gluten? And we’re not just talking food.

There are some foods that don’t necessarily have gluten or wheat in the ingredients, however it is part of the food makeup. Some foods to be sure to avoid are:

  • Salad dressings
  • Maranades
  • Soy Sauce
  • Spices
  • Anything with “Spices” in the ingredient list
  • Gravy
  • Ice Cream / Yogurt
  • Dried Fruit
  • Non-Stick cooking spray
  • Chewing gum
  • Candy Mints
  • Ketchup
  • Infant Formula
  • Processed Meats

It is important to pay special attention in situations in which the GF diet isn’t the only diet practiced in the house, special care should be taken to ensure that cross contamination doesn’t take place. If your Autistic child is on the Gluten Free diet, however, you’ve chosen to not practice it, there’s a good chance that you may be cross contaminating without realizing it. Do you toast your gluten free bread in the same toaster as regular bread?  Do you use the same cutting board for gluten free and non-gluten free food? If so, there’s a high chance for cross-contamination to occur. The little peices of wheat that fall off of the regular bread can easily latch onto the gluten free bread.

It’s not just the foods that we eat that can contain hidden gluten in them. Products that are used every day with no second thought can contain gluten and cause adverse reactions to those who are intolerant of gluten. Where are these hidden sources of Gluten? Here a few that you should certainly be mindful of to ensure that you or your Autistic child are really are on the Gluten Free diet.

Some of the things that you should avoid, or check into are:

  • Any kind of adhesive (including that in band-aids)
  • Lickable stamps/stickers for kids
  • school supplies including glue
  • modeling clay
  • soaps in bar and liquid forms
  • shampoo
  • conditioner
  • any kind of lotion or sunscreen
  • toothpaste
  • dental floss
  • mouthwash
  • play-doh
  • hair gel
  • hair spray

Going Gluten Free is a very big decision with marked health improvements from those who are successful. It’s important that if you or your child are on the gluten free diet, that you’re sure not to just cut out the obvious. Gluten is an ingredient that is included in many foods and products that you might not ever think of.  If you adopt the GF diet, be sure to do your homework and research potential hazards in your food and product habits.