| Written by Stephen M.
Center for the Study of Autism, Salem, Oregon
Another popular intervention for autism is the gluten-/casein-free
diet. Thousands of parents throughout the world
have placed their children on this restricted diet
and have observed dramatic improvements. As a result,
many recipes have been published in specialized
cook-books, newsletters, and on the Internet.
Leaky gut.: Many autistic individuals have tiny
holes in their intestinal tract, and this is often
referred to as 'leaky gut.' There appears to be
many reasons for the problem of 'leaky gut' in autistic
individuals, such as a viral infection (e.g., measles),
yeast infection (i.e., an overgrowth of candida
albicans), and a reduction in phenol sulfur transferase
(PST; which lines the intestinal tract and protects
it from leakiness). There is also some speculation
that heavy metals in the intestinal tract can lead
to an infection; and this, in turn, can cause 'leaky
As far as treating these potential causes of 'leaky
· Viral -- There are no drugs that can destroy
viruses in the body but there are anti-viral drugs
that can 'slow down' the virus.
· Candida albicans -- Many children have
tested positive to candida albicans overgrowth and
have been treated with anti-fungal medications (see
section on candida albicans in this issue).
· Low levels of PST -- Some parents give
their children Epson salt baths to increase levels
· Children are also receiving metal detoxification
procedures to rid their body of excess heavy metals.
Gluten and casein. Gluten is a protein and is contained
in the grass foods, such as wheat, barley, rye and
oats. Casein is also a protein and is found in dairy
products such as milk, ice cream, cheese and yogurt.
In the intestinal tract, gluten and casein breakdown
into peptides; and these peptides then breakdown
into amino acids.
At the present time, we do not know why the gluten-/
casein-free diet helps many autistic individuals.
One popular theory is that when gluten and casein
are broken down into peptides, they may pass through
the small holes in the intestinal tract. These peptides
are termed gliadinomorphin (breakdown of the gluten
protein) and casomorphin (breakdown of the casein
protein). Both peptides act like morphine in the
body. They can also pass through the blood-brain
barrier and have a negative impact on brain development.
As stated earlier, the most popular treatment for
this problem is to place the child on a gluten-
and/or casein-free diet. When placed on a diet,
children, especially under 5 years of age, should
not go 'cold turkey.' That is, if all gluten/casein
food ingredients are suddenly removed from the child's
diet, this could lead to 'with-drawal' symptoms,
i.e., a worsening of the condition. Lisa Lewis,
Ph.D., a parent of an autistic child who is actively
involved in disseminating information on the gluten-
and casein-free diet, suggests that young children
under age six years should be placed on a trial
diet for three months to see if there are any improve-ments;
and children who are six years and older should
be placed on a trial diet for six months.
Some people suggest that the health status of the
child's intestinal tract should be examined first;
and if there is evidence of a 'leaky gut,' then
the child should be placed on a gluten- and/or casein-free
diet. The intestinal permeability test is one way
to determine whether a child has a 'leaky gut.'
This test involves drinking a sweet-tasting solution
and then collecting urine samples afterwards. Most
physicians can administer this test. Parents have
also sent their child's urine samples to laboratories
to test for the presence of abnormal peptides associated
with gluten and casein in the urine. However, some
people feel that these tests are not necessary and
suggest that one should simply place the child on
a restricted diet and then observe whether or not
there are any improvements in the child.
· Special Diets for Special Kids (1998) by
Lisa S. Lewis
· Unraveling the Mystery of Autism and Pervasive
Developmental Disorder (2000) by Karyn Seroussi
· Autism Network for Dietary Intervention
· Celiac (wheat) and casein (milk protein)
sensitivity. Information packet (P-26, $11.00) distributed
by the Autism Research Institute (www.autismresearchinstitute.com).
The Lewis and Seroussi books can also be ordered