Washington: A gluten and casein-free diet may lead to improvements in behaviour and physiological symptoms in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a new study has suggested.
Researchers from Penn State College of Medicine discovered that autistic children with gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, who follow a gluten and casein-free (the protein found in milk), experienced an improvement in behaviour and ASD symptoms.
The research team questioned 387 parents of children with ASD and asked them about their child’s GI symptoms, food allergies, suspected food allergies and diet.
They discovered that GI symptoms improved in those with ASD who followed a strict gluten and casein-free diet. Other symptoms linked to ASD, like social behaviour (eye contact, engagement, attention span, social responsiveness) also improved.
The results were compared to autistic children without GI symptoms and those whose parents did not restrict their gluten and casein intake.
“Research has shown that children with ASD commonly have GI symptoms. Notably, a greater proportion of our study population reported GI and allergy symptoms than what is seen in the general paediatric population,” the Huffington Post quoted Christine Pennesi, from the study as saying in a statement.
“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 behavioural problems,” Pennesi said.
However, researchers added that parent’s who implemented the diet on their child for six months or less, reported the diet as less effective in reducing their child’s ASD symptoms.
This also applied to parents who chose to only eliminate either gluten or casein from their child’s diet, instead of both.
Despite these positive findings, researchers admitted that more research needed to be done.
“While more rigorous research is needed, our findings suggest that a gluten-free, casein-free diet might be beneficial for some children on the autism spectrum.
“It is possible that there are other proteins, such as soy, that are problematic for these children,” Pennesi said.
Caroline Hattersely, head of information, advice and advocacy at The National Autistic Society, agrees that more research needs to be done.
“Although some individuals and parents of children with autism report benefits from following special diets, we would still urge caution over this study as there simply has not been enough scientific research investigating the link between autism and food intolerances,” Hattersely told The Huffington Post.
“It can be very difficult to follow gluten-free or casein-free diets strictly, and dietary restrictions can lead to poor nutrition, so they should only be carried out following advice from a medical professional,” she added.