Dr. Shahal Rozenblatt, Clinical Neuropsychologist, New York

Gluten-free diets don’t help kids with autism

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A new study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin says there is no evidence to support the hard-to-follow gluten-free and/or casein-free diets that some alternative-medicine practitioners recommend for children with autism.

Scientists at the Autism Spectrum Disorders Institute, part of UT’s Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk,reached that conclusion after analyzing 15 major studies published on those diets, according to the study published in the summer edition of the peer-reviewed journal, Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Gluten is found in wheat, barley and other grains, while casein is found in milk and other dairy products. Putting children on a gluten-free, casein-free diet was developed on the theory that people with autism have insufficient enzymatic activity in the gastrointestinal tract and increased gastrointestinal permeability. It’s suggested that they tend to absorb toxic byproducts of the incompletely digested proteins casein and gluten, said Austin Mulloy, the study’s lead researcher and a doctoral student in UT’s Department of Special Education, in a news release.

An increasing number of parents of children with autism have tried the diet in recent years. And some, including parents of children who are patients at the Thoughtful House Center for Children in Austin, say their child’s behavior has improved as a result.

But the study says there is no scientific evidence that the diets help, and in fact, they can do harm, including reducing bone thickness, the study says. It concludes that such diets should only be used on children with autism who have acute behavioral changes, seemingly associated with changes in diet, and/or (when) medical professionals confirm through testing the child has allergies or food intolerances to gluten and/or casein.