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Can a Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet Help with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley and rye) and casein (the main protein in milk and cheese) are known to cause autoimmune responses in a small percentage of people, and are suspected of playing a role in autism symptoms for some people who suffer from Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). If you are caring for someone with autism, you may have noticed the gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms that frequently plague those with ASD. Recent research suggests that cutting out gluten and casein can help improve ASD behaviors, creating compelling evidence of the link between digestion, immune system and autism.

Gluten, Casein and Autoimmune Diseases

Gluten and casein are among the most common proteins that can interfere with the body's natural immune response. When these proteins are consumed by those with sensitivities, they can trigger an autoimmune disease where the body will attack normal, healthy tissues, creating a wide variety of symptoms that include behavior, digestion and other health problems. Cutting out foods containing gluten or casein can reduce or completely reverse their associated autoimmune diseases.

How Does This Relate to Autism?

In results published earlier this year by ScienceDaily, scientists queried nearly 400 parents or caregivers of children with autism and found that in those who had GI symptoms or food allergies, cutting out gluten and casein provided improvement in not only GI symptoms, but also social behaviors such as eye contact, attention span and language production. This improvement was greater than in children who did not already have GI symptoms or food allergies.

These improvements were also much greater in children who followed a strict gluten-free and casein-free diet for more than six months. Researchers also concluded that eliminating both of these proteins was much more effective than eliminating just one.

What Does This Mean for Me?

If your child is suffering from the GI symptoms or food allergies that are more common in children with autism, following a diet that is free from gluten and casein may bring about improvements in digestive health, as well as behavioral issues, but such a diet must be strictly followed for at least six months to see the most benefits.

Research continues to establish the strong connection between digestion, immune system disorders and autism. The more we learn about how diet can impact all of these systems, the better able to treat and improve the symptoms of ASD we will be. For those children suffering from GI issues in addition to ASD, a gluten-free, casein-free diet may provide relief from many of the common symptoms of both of these conditions.


Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet May Help Some Children With Autism, Research Suggests. ScienceDaily, 2012.