Does the "Autism Diet" Improve Symptoms?

The “Autism Diet” has been promoted as a way to improve the symptoms of autism. The theory behind the diet is that persons who have autism have difficulty digesting gluten and casein. These undigested substances then cause peptides which affect behavior which is associated with autism. By eliminating gluten and casein from the diet of a person with autism, their behavior should improve. So if you or a member of your family has autism, should you consider the diet?

What Are Gluten and Casein?

Gluten is a substance found in wheat and other grains and products made from those grains. There are a multitude of processed foods that contain gluten. Casein is a substance found in milk and milk-related products such as butter and ice cream. In addition, it is an additive in many foods under the name caseinate.

How to Avoid Gluten and Casein

If you want to go on a gluten-free and casein-free diet it is not as easy as avoiding red meat. These substances appear in numerous foods so you will have to carefully read the labels of any foods you purchase. Some stores now have sections where you can purchase items that are advertised as “gluten-free.” Of course you have to also make sure that the item does not contain casein. If you are serious about the autism diet, you’ll have your work cut out for you. If you have any doubt about a particular food item you will need to do further research to make sure that gluten and/or casein is not a “hidden” additive. There are certain foods that are free of gluten and casein and you can eat these without any research. Examples are rice, potatoes, poultry, beans, fruits and nuts.

How Long It Takes to Work

Most reports indicate that it may take up to six months before you see any results, although other people have noticed improvement in their child’s behavior in a much shorter time frame. It appears that each person is different, so there is no set time other than the outside parameter of six months. Eliminating milk from your diet is the quickest way to get rid of casein, so if you are just starting, milk has to be the first item to go. If you want to track the diet you would need a urine test of peptides before starting the autism diet and then periodically have another urine test as you proceed with the diet.

Does It Work?

You will often read that there are no reliable studies that have been accepted in the medical community that support the autism diet. There are, however, some studies that support the diet. At this point the evidence is inconclusive. There is evidence that it works based upon mainly parents reporting that their children are better on this diet. There are also some parents who have tried the diet and reported no improvement. Some parents have reported improvement solely by removing one item from the diet, such as milk without going on the complete diet. As long as you or your child get a balanced diet there is no harm to trying part or all of the autism diet, but understand there is no guarantee that it will work.

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