Science-- there's something for everyone

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Autism symptoms not improved by removing gluten or casein


A common treatment plan for autistic children calls for removing gluten and/or casein from their diets. Although there is anecdotal support for this diet, there haven’t been very many controlled tests. Susan Hyman and her colleagues from the University of Rochester conducted just such study and found no affect from gluten or casein.

In this study, autistic children were placed on a completely gluten-free, casein-free diet for at least four weeks. Prior to and during the test, the children were carefully evaluated for vitamin deficiencies. Children who tested positive for milk or wheat allergies or for celiac disease were removed from the study. The children all underwent similar behavioral treatments.

After the four weeks had passed, the children were given a once-a-week snack that contained gluten, casein, both or neither. The snacks were carefully prepared so as to be both palatable and indistinguishable. In other words, neither the kids, nor the parents, nor the research staff nor the teachers knew which snack was which. Each child received each type of snack three times, in random order.

Before each snack, and at two and twenty-four hours after each snack, parents, teachers and research assistants filled out detailed information about each child’s behavior and sleep and bowel habits. Play sessions were videotaped to evaluate social interaction and language skills.

When challenged with gluten and/or casein, the children exhibited no change in attention, activity, sleep patterns or bowel movements. This strongly suggests that gluten and casein have no affect on autism. Granted, this study was only completed by fourteen children. The authors also caution that some children, such as celiac sufferers, may get real benefits from excluding certain types of food from their diets. However, for most autistic children, it looks as though removing gluten and casein is not helpful, and may even be harmful if the children end up with nutritional deficiencies.

This study will be presented at the 9th International Meeting for Autism Research in Philadelphia.