Study shows popular autism diet doesn't help

Eliminating all wheat and dairy products from a child with autism’s diet is a popular alternative therapy.
Eliminating wheat and dairy from a child with autism’s diet is a popular alternative therapy.

Families with kids with autism hear the stories. Someone’s child started stringing words together again, another could sleep through the night in peace. They are the holy grails in the autism world–therapies that, at least anecdotally, have improved lives of children with autism. And for families faced with few effective treatments, other than early behavioral intervention, they are often worth a shot.

One popular alternative treatment is a gluten-free/casein-free diet, known as the GFCF diet, where all gluten (a protein found in the seeds of several grains such as barley, rye and wheat) and casein (a protein found in dairy products) is eliminated. But recent evidence from the most controlled diet research in autism to date suggests that the GFCF diet doesn’t actually help. The University of Rochester study found that, for the 14 children monitored, a GFCF diet didn’t result in a change in sleep habits, bowel habits, activity or core symptoms of autism.

Leonard Rappaport, MD, MS, chief of Children’s Division of Developmental Medicine, says he’s been eagerly anticipating the results of this study. Even though he didn’t believe that the GFCF diet worked, he was still saddened by the study’s conclusion. “I was hoping I was wrong,” he says.

Rappaport says this study should be used to arm parents with scientific evidence, so they can weigh the pros and cons before adopting a restrictive diet for their child. “I hope that parents will go into these diets with their eyes open, and even if there seems to be anecdotal improvement, that they try the child off this restrictive diet after a while to see if it actually makes a difference,” he says. “Usually children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are on many interventions at the same time, and they have spurts of developmental progress. It’s difficult to isolate the intervention that was critical.”

Because it can be a challenge for kids to get ample fiber, vitamins and minerals while eliminating all gluten and casein, Rappaport recommends parents only try it under the guidance of a nutritionist. “There have been reports of rickets and osteopenia associated with the diet,” he says.

While this finding may come a a big disappointment for many families, Rappaport says that research in ASD is gaining momentum and has a great deal to offer to parents of children with ASD. “It’s only through research that we can explore, as this study did, whether treatments that seem helpful are actually helpful, since ASD is such a complicated disorder,” he says. “It’s also only through research that we can explore the potential environmental influences in ASD.”

ASDs are the fastest growing set of serious developmental disabilities in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of every 110 children will receive a diagnosis of the disorder by the time they are 8—a rate 10 times higher than it was in the 1980s.

13 thoughts on “Study shows popular autism diet doesn't help

  1. Well I disagree !!!! It doesn’t work for every child with autism I know that but it worked with mine. I also don’t think that 14 children is a very good number since it effects 1 in every 91 children….14 children is like a needle in a haystack of children with autism !!!!!!!!! Maybe someone should go to an DEFEAT AUTISM NOW conference like my husband and I did and when the doctors there ask if the diet helped there child…. about 2000 hands raise …. Then they might think again .

  2. Well I disagree !!!! It doesn’t work for every child with autism I know that but it worked with mine. I also don’t think that 14 children is a very good number since it effects 1 in every 91 children….14 children is like a needle in a haystack of children with autism !!!!!!!!! Maybe someone should go to an DEFEAT AUTISM NOW conference like my husband and I did and when the doctors there ask if the diet helped there child…. about 2000 hands raise …. Then they might think again .

    1. i am not sure what i think on this but i do know one thing.I think it is healthy to have a gluten free casein free diet as long as the body is getting all nutrients it requires.I am a vegan , my whole family are vegetarians and my son who is 3and a half has just been diagnosed with autism.He is a vegetariaan and i have eliminated gluten from his diet but not casein.He doesnt really have big tantrums although his speech is very limited.I like to think his healthy diet is contributing in a good way. xx

  3. Treating Autism A recent study on dietary interventions and improved symptoms of autism http://bit.ly/avCPY4

    foodconsumer.org – Can Autism Diet Help Autistic Children?

    bit.ly

    One in 100 children in the United States suffer autism. A new study in the April 2010 issue of Nutritional Neuroscience suggests that a strict gluten-free and casein free diet may help autistic children.

    http://www.foodconsumer.org/newsite/Nutrition/Diet/can_autism_diet_help_autistic_children_2105100646.html

  4. Last time I read something about autism it said that the psychological condition is produced by a genetic defect. So unless you want to learn genetics, I don’t think that autism will see any improvements very soon unless some serious genetic research is being done.

  5. Diet works for my child. I am not a pediatrician or a psychologist or a psychiatrist or a neurologist who is going to prove it. I am a mother who looked for a solution that can make my child feel better. Diet With the supplement, she slept through the night and thrive greatly after 8 months of sleepless night, cry and agony. It may not work for all children but it does for some. Please don’t take the medicine away from parents by the name of research. Any ways you have nothing to offer for parents except Ritalin. Pharma boy!

  6. GFCF diet definitely helped my child. No doubt about it. She no longer had eczema, headaches, or constipation. Teachers reported better attention and less hyperactivity. She had food sensitivity test done which showed her body was making antibodies to not only gluten and casein but also to soy and many other foods. Most likely due to leaky gut. We have been working for three years on healing her gut by removing offensive foods and using probiotics, fish oil, & digestive enzymes. We have slowly started adding a few things back in and have had good luck so far.

  7. I like what Dr. Rappaport said about going into it with your eyes open…if it works, put your kid back on an unrestricted diet. If the old behavior returns you can be sure it wasn’t just time and the ABA helping. GFCF did not help our son — but our daughter had some benefit from it. Everyone is different. I have noticed that autistic children receiving intervention of some kind, including behavioral only, tend to improve year after year anyway as long as a standard of behavior is enforced…children on special diets, and those on horrible diets.

  8. I’m missing the link to the study – did they take the kids off it for months? A lot of studies seem to forget that often the improvements can take a long time to show.

  9. Just a thought: Has anybody ever done research on a possible link between microwaving baby formula and/or food in plastic bottles and dishes? I’ve always heard that plastic bottles have a certain chemical in them that may cause illness, such as cancer, but I’ve always wondered what microwaving does to the chemical makeup of the plastic the bottle is made of and what this combination does to the formula. It just seems odd that the rates of childhood conditions such as autism, nut allergies, etc., have risen since people switched over from glass bottles and stove-top boiling to plastic bottles and microwaving formula. Jim Ross, Jr.

  10. I believe this study involved far too few participants to be valid, and had
    questionable methodology. A month is too soon a time to see in any
    difference, as others have suggested in comments below. The GFCF diet does help many people, no matter what the scientists (who are often funded by drug companies) want you to think.

    The GFCF diet
    will by no means work for everyone, but the people that it helps, it
    really helps. I certainly have had less stomach upsets since going off
    gluten and casein, which helps my overall mood and behavior (I have
    Asperger’s myself.) There are other nutritional interventions which can
    help, some of which are listed on this article
    http://www.aspergerssociety.org/articles/27v.htm . Omega 3s is one such
    thing, that I have used and have benefited from. Never stop trying to
    help your child. Follow your instinct, and beware of studies like this
    one.  14 kids is a sample group hardly even worth mentioning.

  11. This diet didn’t help my son at all. In fact, it made him worse. He still can go a couple of days without pooping. He’s starting to act aggressively and hit and his words aren’t as clear as they used to be. He’s sleeping through the night but that’s only because we’ve removed phenols as much as we can from his diet. I do want to try to do organic as much as I can and watch artificial colors and flavors. This diet does not work for every AUtistic child. The end.

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