Despite years of research, the causes of autism are still not completely understood. Conventional treatments of autism also have uncertain results, and many parents are looking for other methods of treating their autistic children. One recent trend is to turn to a gluten/casein free diet.
Actress Jenny McCarthy talks openly about her son, Evan and his diagnosis with autism in her book, Louder Than Words. In her search for help for her son, Jenny has switched Evan to a gluten free diet, which – along with medication, therapy and supplements – has shown some very positive results for them. Evan, who once communicated no more than one word at a time is now fully conversational and can maintain eye contact – in other words, interacting like a normal child.
How does a gluten/casein free diet help a children with autism? No one is really sure, but some believe that gluten (a protein compound found in some grains) and casein (a protein found in dairy) act in somewhat like morphine on some children. Autistic children are often found to have ‘leaky gut’ – that is to say, a permeable intestinal tract. The weakened membranes in their intestines permit broken-down peptides from digested gluten and casein escape into the bloodstream.
How can you know if a gluten and casein free diet will help your autistic child? Research has still not shown conclusively how – or if – it works. However, there is no reason not to try it with your child, because there are plenty of good food substitutes for the the foods you would have to eliminate from the child’s diet. A gluten and casein-free diet is still a healthy and nutritious diet for your child. One recommendation though, is that you not make a sudden switch, especially in younger children, because it can cause withdrawal and a worsening of autism symptoms. It is better to slowly switch the child from restricted foods and introduce new foods over time. You need to give the new diet at least six months before you can expect to start seeing results.
Of course, your child could also be examined for “leaky gut” first – but since the gluten-free or casein-free diet is not in any way unhealthy, there’s no reason not to go ahead and try, and see if you have any positive changes. Many parents who have made the switch to a gluten/casein-free diet for their autistic child are very optimistic about the results they’re seeing. They are reporting better communication and more interaction from their children. The medical community is looking closely at this alternative treatment option for autism and many doctors are adding it to their treatment plans for autistic patients. But it’s not a guarantee for everyone.