The link between gluten, casein, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) began in the 1970’s. The theory is that certain peptides were able to escape from the digestive tract and make their way to the brain, causing neurobehavioral illnesses such as ASD in children. The only way to prevent that process and lessen the symptoms of autism was for children to strictly adhere to a gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet.
What GFCF Means Exactly
For those with celiac disease and possibly other gastrointestinal disorders, a diet free of wheat, barley and rye, all of which contain the gluten protein, were medically prescribed a gluten-free diet. As ASD research and interventions became more prevalent, some parents found that their autistic children were sensitive to foods containing gluten as well as casein protein, which is found in milk and dairy products. As a result, the GFCF diet became an alternative. Some sought allergy testing but even when no allergy sensitivities were found, the link between gluten, casein, and ASD was already formed. The growing trend gave birth to a thriving multi-billion dollar food industry. The FDA as well as other food standards agencies worldwide started setting standards about defining GFCF foods and companies started marketing tasty gluten-free treats and foods to parents as well as certain institutions.
Significant Controlled Study
While there may be some logic to the link based on research that found peptide abnormalities in some autism spectrum patients, a concrete link between a GFCF diet and improved language, approach and play has not been established. In a study led by Dr. Susan Hyman, head of the Pediatric Neuro-developmental and Behavioral Division at New York’s University of Rochester, 22 autistic children ages ranging from 30 – 54 months showed no differences in activity levels when put on a GFCF diet. Even though the size of the test was small, it was significant because of the methodology and the levels of care taken in choosing the subjects as well as dietary controls.
Despite the study, many parents are sticking to the GFCF diet standards regardless of whether their children have any kind of gastrointestinal effects from the proteins. At best, the research is mixed but for those who choose to take that path, they need to get some expert medical guidance. For example, some gluten-free foods aren’t fortified with B vitamins and eliminating casein means losing a chance to get the necessary calcium and vitamin D kids need for strong, healthy bones. Alternative means of getting those nutrients need to be found.