Autism (and the autism spectrum disorders) are so very frustrating for parents just because there are so few therapies that have been shown to be helpful. Therefore, parents are left to try this or that and see what helps. Dietary manipulation is one that is frequently tried and yet has not been well studied.
Now, USA Today reports that, according to a study presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research, “a popular autism diet free of cereal grains and dairy products did NOT improve symptoms in children.”
USA Today adds, “Fourteen children with autism, ages 2½ to 5½, completed the 18-week study. None had celiac disease, in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged from gluten, or milk allergies.”
The Los Angeles Times “Booster Shots” blog reported that a team from the University of Rochester Medical Center placed the 14 children “on strictly controlled gluten- and casein-free diets (called the GFCF diet).
After at least four weeks, the children were randomized to receive either milk, wheat, both or neither. The food substances were disguised in the child’s favorite foods, and neither the parents nor investigators rating the children’s behaviors knew whether they were receiving gluten or casein.”
On its website, ABC News reported that after evaluating “the children for changes in attention, sleep, stool patterns, and characteristic autistic behavior,” researchers found no “significant changes in any of these symptoms for any of the groups.”
Lead author Susan Hyman, MD, admitted, however, that “it was possible that children with significant gastrointestinal disease would reap some benefits from the diet.
As an aside, it is highly unlikely that such a diet is harmful, so it still may be worth a try. It’s just that parents need to be told that if they don’t notice any changes, it may be easier and more prudent to utilize an easier-to-make and easier-to-provide nutrition plan.