Friday, October 1, 2010

Gluten-Free/Casein-Free Diets for Autism

The gluten-free, casein-free diet (GF/CF diet) continues to be a popular and widely used treatment by parents of children with. The premise is that avoiding gluten and/or casein (proteins found in wheat, barley, rye and dairy) might directly affect brain function and produce improvements in the cognitive and behavioral symptoms associated with ASD. Surveys suggest that nearly a third of parents of children with mild autism have used an alternative diet in the treatment of their children. The use of alternative diets in the treatment of ASD has also been encouraged by anecdotal reports of effectiveness from parents, celebrities, and the popular media. Given that autism has no know cure, parents and advocates will understandably pursue interventions/treatments that offer the possibility to improving symptoms, especially if the treatment appears to do no harm and is generally accepted. However, there continues to be controversy and debate as to effectiveness and risks of diets as a treatment for ASD (Wilkinson, 2010).

A study appearing in the peer-reviewed journal, Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, examined 14 articles related to research on the effects of gluten-free and/or casein-free (GFCF) diets in the treatment of ASD. Each study was analyzed and summarized in terms of (a) participants, (b) methodological quality (c) specifics of the intervention, (d) dependent variables, (e) outcome, and (e) conclusive evidence. Based on their review, the researchers determined that the published studies do not support the use of GFCF diets in the treatment of ASD (Mulloy, Lang, O’Reilly, Sigafoos, Lancioni, & Rispoli, 2010). They recommend, “Until conclusive evidence is found in support of GFCF diets, restrictive diets should only be implemented in the event a food allergy or intolerance is detected” (p. 335) and “Adverse consequences potentially associated with GFCF diets (e.g., stigmatization, diversion of treatment resources, reduced bone cortical thickness) further the argument against the diet’s therapeutic use.” (p. 337). They also suggest that if future research supports the use of GFCF diets (beyond avoiding allergens), then controlled trials might be initiated to determine whether a GFCF diet has any further benefit for individuals with ASD (Mulloy et al., 2010).

Mulloy, A., Lang, R., O’Reilly, M., Sigafoos, J., Lancioni, G., & Rispoli, M. (2010). Gluten-free and casein-free diets in the treatment of autism spectrum disorders: A systematic review. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 4, 328-339.

Wilkinson, L. A. (2010). A best Practice Guide to assessment and intervention for autism and Asperger syndrome in schools. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

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