Saturday, April 03, 2010

Autism Spectrum Disorder: Is Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet The Answer?

image from

April Is Observed As Autism Month In The US

Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, as we know, is a range of neurodevelopmental disorders that covers the gamut of autism, Asperger Syndrome and pervasive developmental disorders. Children with ASD have difficulty in communication and social interaction, their imagination is restricted and they exhibit stereotypic behaviors. Conditions that are co-morbid to ASD include depression, intellectual disability and epilepsy. CDC 2006 data reveals that 1 in 110 children has ASD.

image from CDC

One treatment that has become hugely popular is to put the ASD children on a diet that is free from cereals (gluten) and dairy products (casein). The Gluten-Free Casein-Free (GFCF) diet is an outcome of a theory known as the Opioid-Excess Theory, which postulates that ASD children have an impaired gastrointestinal function which is unable to completely digest proteins from gluten and casein, because the relevant digestive enzymes are insufficient. The peptides that are formed from gluten/casein proteins do not get converted into amino acids, instead they leak into the blood stream and cross the blood-brain barrier, resulting in ASD aggravation.

image by jan-willem,

However, research literature is tied up in knots on this issue. For example, one research paper reported that upper gastrointestinal endoscopy conducted on 36 children with ASD showed mal-absorption of specific food ingredients in the gut. Another group of researchers conducted a similar exercise on 96 ASD children and reported that no evidence was found that could link gastrointestinal disorder to ASD. Meanwhile, however, parents continue to give their ASD kids GFCF diet.

image by straymuse,

So is GFCF diet safe? Granted that this intervention is easy to implement and is also widely accepted, but is there any side-effect to this diet? The answer apparently is: yes. There is a health risk involved. GFCF diet deprives the kids of some vital nutrients that are specifically found only in gluten and casein, and nowhere else. The lack of these nutrients can cause deficiency of neurotransmitter precursors such as tyrosine and tryptophan, which are required for a host of bodily functions. A systematic search of 14 studies has shown that neither this diet, nor the Opioid-Excess theory, passes sufficient muster in the context of ASD treatment. The conclusion: by insisting that your ASD kid eats only gluten-free and casein-free diet at parties and social get-togethers, you may only be drawing further attention to the child's issue and contributing to the stigma. The inference: wait for some more time before research conclusively determines the truth. Meanwhile, shift the kid from GFCF food to one with moderate gluten+casein.

image by dgburns,

[By now we know very well the mechanics of how the food we eat gets broken down into the right constituents, and how out of these, only a few cross the blood-brain barrier to reach the inner recesses of the brain in order to nourish it. The question is, where do "we" stand in this entire cycle of physical processes? We are certainly not the soggy lump of matter boxed in the skull! You, me, we all are "something else", we are different and beyond these physical processes and entities. And there is a very subtle link that connects "us" with our bodies. Here is an article that ponders the link: "Wellbeing And The Science Of Matter-Energy Continuum".]

image by thirdaxis,

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