Posted by: Chris Maloney | April 10, 2012

Is Gluten-Free A Healthier Option Or Just A Fad For Families With Autism?

Cooking gluten-free shortbread cookies.

Cooking gluten-free shortbread cookies. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is Gluten-Free A Healthier Option Or Just A Fad? | Health –

Gluten free is everywhere.  Celebrities are doing it for weight loss.  But what about families with autistic children?  Should they all go gluten-free?

The experts would say no.  (All cites available at my website with much more.)

“9 of 96 (9%) children with a diagnosis of autism (cases) and 41 of 449 (9%) children without autism (matched controls) had a history of gastrointestinal disorders

BMJ. 2002 Aug 24;325(7361):419-21

But parents estimate the food allergies five times as high.  And parents are reliable indicators of other autistic behaviors. 

What does the Cochrane Database have to say about gluten-free for autism?

the fourth outcome, reduction in autistic traits, reported a significant beneficial treatment effect for the combined gluten- and casein- free diet.

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004;(2):CD003498

So given the downsides of gluten-free are dietary constraints and the upsides are improved neurological function,  it makes sense for families with autistic children to go gluten-free for a trial period.  Previously it was thought too demanding, but now we have a range of gluten-free products that mimic many of the bread-lover’s favorites.  Not to presume for a moment that this will meet the discerning palate of your Autistic child, who can smell “fake” bread at twenty yards.   

The reality is that autistic children without gluten symptoms still react to the protein.  So it is worth the trial to make sure twenty years in the child has had a trial to check. 

J Pediatr. 2005 May;146(5):605-10.


Department of Pediatrics, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy/Immunology, and Infectious Diseases, New Jersey Medical School/UMDNJ, 185 South Orange Avenue, Newark, NJ 07101-1709, USA.



To evaluate an association between cytokine production with common dietary proteins as a marker of non-allergic food hypersensitivity (NFH) and gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms in young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).


Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were obtained from 109 ASD children with or without GI symptoms (GI [+] ASD, N = 75 and GI (-) ASD, N = 34], from children with NFH (N = 15), and control subjects (N = 19). Diarrhea and constipation were the major GI symptoms. We measured production of type 1 T-helper cells (Th1), type 2 T-helper cells (Th2), and regulatory cytokines by PBMCs stimulated with whole cow’s milk protein (CMP), its major components (casein, beta-lactoglobulin, and alpha-lactoalbumin), gliadin, and soy.


PBMCs obtained from GI (+) ASD children produced more tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha)/interleukin-12 (IL-12) than those obtained from control subjects with CMP, beta-lactoglobulin, and alpha-lactoalbumin, irrespective of objective GI symptoms. They also produced more TNF-alpha with gliadin, which was more frequently observed in the group with loose stools. PBMCs obtained from GI (-) ASD children produced more TNF-alpha/IL-12 with CMP than those from control subjects, but not with beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactoalbumin, or gliadin. Cytokine production with casein and soy were unremarkable.


A high prevalence of elevated TNF-alpha/IL-12 production by GI (+) ASD PBMCs with CMP and its major components indicates a role of NFH in GI symptoms observed in children with ASD.

PMID: 15870662

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