Children with ASD often have problems with their gastrointestinal systems. New research out of Penn State College of Medicine  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?
 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