Natural Health Journals

Autism and a Gluten Free Diet!

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by Andrew Van Vooren

The triggers of this disease are on the rise. More susceptible kids come in contact with triggers such as gluten. Kids exposed to toxins such as mercury, lead, pesticides, and second hand smoke have higher levels of autism. Some studies have reported many nutritional deficiencies in autism patients. Numerous studies have reported that supplemental nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, vitamins, and magnesium may provide moderate benefits to autism patients. Avoidance of glutens and other food chemicals may also provide some relief to autism patients.

Autistic children often have lower levels of detoxification enzymes and antioxidants and may therefore be more susceptible to environmental toxics and food chemicals such as gluten toxics. Autistic children have significantly lower mean levels of detoxification/antioxidant enzymes making it much more difficult to break down glutens. There is no universal treatment for autism, but treatment programs and diets should address the three systems of the body that are compromised in autism which is the nervous system and digestive system.

  • Evaluate the Diet
  • Rebalance the nervous System
  • Improve Intestinal Health

Allergies and intolerances to food and food additives may also play a role in autism. Elimination of potentially allergenic foods such as gluten has been tried on autistic children with mixed results. A Norwegian study found that 10 children with autism on a gluten-free diet for 1 year improved on autistic traits, cognition, and motor skills to a much greater extent than 10 children given a standard diet. Other studies have reported that children with autism have a significantly higher rate of increased intestinal permeability (“leaky gut syndrome”) compared to controls.

I read that some researchers have suggested that oral robotic bacteria supplements may be helpful in treating autism. The effect of refined sugar, food additives and gluten on autism patients is controversial, some studies showing that sugar and food additives can trigger worsened autism symptoms. A review of 16 studies with autism children found that sugar challenges were associated with worsened symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity in 4 studies, little change in 11 studies, and improvement in Autism symptoms in 1 study. Diets free of food coloring, food preservatives, and gluten have been widely used to treat children with autism since they were introduced in the 1970s. I also read that a meta-analysis of 15 double-blind, placebo-controlled studies in patients with autism reported that artificial colors such as tartrazine significantly increased autism symptoms. Of the 15 individual studies, 5 stated that food colors and gluten were associated with significantly increased autism symptoms, 8 showed that food colors and gluten were associated with no significant increases in autism symptoms, and 2 showed that food colors an gluten were associated with no significant decreases in autism symptoms.

Besides gluten and food colors, other dietary components that could possibly worsen autism symptoms include food preservatives such as benzoate, nitrates, and monosodium glutamate as well as food that naturally contains salicylates (such as almonds, oranges, raspberries, apples, cherries, grapes, peaches, strawberries, cucumbers, plums, and tomatoes).

Autism appears to involve a broad range of genetic, prenatal, social, developmental, nutritional, and environmental factors and it is unlikely that only 1 single cause will be found for either disorder. Multiple treatment modalities are probably needed to treat patients with autism and may include nutritional, environmental, pharmacologic, and psychosocial interventions.

All children born to this wonderful planet have obstacles to overcome. Children with autism, these obstacles may appear more difficult. These beautiful and wonderful children require tender coaxing back into the world so that they might have the magnificence that life has to offer.