Gluten Free Casein Free Diet for a child with autism
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Gluten Sensitivity and Autism
Since the 1960s it has often been suggested that there is a definite link between Autism Spectrum Disorders and intolerance to many food products containing Gluten and Casein. Gluten is usually to be found in all foods containing wheat, rye, barley and oats. Whereas Casein is present in all dairy products e.g. milk, cheese, ice cream, yogurt, butter etc,
In 1991 this theory was given a lot more publicity and credence when Dr. Kalle Reichelt discovered that children with Autism have peptides (a product of protein breakdown) in their urine which is not found in non-autistic children.
Why try a Gluten Free Casein Free Diet?
The theory behind the GFCF diet is that people with Autism cannot break down the gluten in wheat, rye and barley or the lactose in milk derived products. Therefore they cannot properly digest these foods and instead the residue from these foods causes them to form into peptides which will then act like opiates in their bodies. i.e. it causes symptoms in the body similar to taking opium or other drugs. It is then further written about that there is also a leaky gut problem which allows these opiates to leak into the blood stream and it is at this stage that they begin to cause many of the behavioural and gastric problems often present in people with Autism.
There are now also scientists who do believe that peptides can in fact cause abnormal immune system responses in certain people. There is a peptide urinary test that can check for the level of peptides in people with autism which can be ordered from your doctor and can tell if certain proteins are being properly digested.
Are there Medical Tests to check for GFCF Issues?
There are also tests which can also determine if a person has a sensitivity or allergy to gluten, casein, soy or other foods. These tests can be ordered from a doctor who is willing to do these tests. Here in Ireland though such a doctor can often be difficult to find as many still do not acknowledge that any such link may exist. So it is very important to keep looking until you find someone knowledgeable about Autism and who can advise you fully on how to implement such a diet safely and nutritionally. You may also want to consult with a Nutritionist.
Can a specific diet really help a person with Autism?
Many people who have autism or family members with an Autism Spectrum Disorder have found a Gluten and Casein Free diet to be beneficial in alleviating many of the symptoms associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders. They report that issues such as inattention difficulties, meltdowns, speech, overall mood stability and stomach problems have all improved to varying degrees on a GFCF diet.
When we tried the GFCF Diet
Many months ago I tried the GFCF diet myself as did my then three year old son. My son Adam has Childhood Autism and Developmental Delay whereas I have Aspergers Syndrome.
Did I notice an improvement on the diet? Personally I felt I did initially have some withdrawal and did certainly begin to crave things like Pizza, toasted sandwiches and my beloved Lasagne. My son was very agitated in the early days too and had to be constantly restrained from raiding the chocolate biscuit press and was certainly out of sorts during the initial stage of the diet. I did give him some GFCF biscuits to try to curb the withdrawal but I tried to limit them as I was then worried about all the dubious ingredients the GFCF biscuits contained to make them taste like the real thing.
After the initial withdrawal period I found it very difficult to maintain the diet especially if I was out for a day. Although Ireland is starting to improve and you can often if not always get a Gluten free option to a meal or snack (the same however cannot yet be said for Casein free products), this is largely due to the large amount of people who have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease in recent years which my next article will concentrate on.
Try as I might I could not replace staples from my son's diet which were actually good for him nutritionally and he enjoyed. Beef and Vegetable stew being the first as well as chicken stew and wholemeal brown bread which he also loves.
Three months into the GFCF Diet
I am sorry to say that getting my son Adam to stick to the diet was very hard especially as there were two other people living in the house who did not want to hear about trying the diet and temptation was everywhere for both me and my son.
I spent many hours dabbling with GFCF recipes most of which I found to be reasonably adequate and some even very nice but my autistic three year old was having none of it and it was getting to the stage where all he wanted to eat was G.F.C.F. chocolate biscuits despite my best efforts to tempt him with all kind of G.F.C.F. delectable delights.
Did my son improve on the diet?
Initially I thought there was somewhat of an improvement in my son but then he seemed to go downhill again as soon his extremely stubborn personality cottoned on to the fact that all his favourite foods were now gone. Then every mealtime time became a trauma as he didn't want the replacement food. Then my delightfully fussy boy would not even touch anything at all that even remotely smacked of having a supplement or vitamin neatly disguised in it. At this stage I began to seriously worry about his overall general health and feared he would soon be getting no nutrition at all.
In the end I cracked and reintroduced my son to his old diet. I was disappointed in myself for not giving it a longer try and I still hope that when he is a bit older we might try again. I know many will say I didn't give it long enough to see any positive effects and I have to say the fact that I did only see a minimal improvement in my son (and even that only appeared to be temporary) didn't endear me to carry on through the now additional daily tantrums, meltdowns and stressful mealtimes that we were having with the diet.
Did I benefit from the G.F.C.F. Diet?
Initially I found it hard to stick to the GFCF diet but then as the weeks passed I did start to feel less stressed, a bit more focused and I did think my stomach was becoming a bit flatter ( might have had more to do with the home-cooking and fresh vegetables and fruit rather than a decrease in stomach gas and bloating though).
I have to say though that since I re-introduced wheat and dairy back into my diet I feel worse than I did before and in fact I have never felt the same again.
Symptoms when I came off GFCF Diet:
- For months I have been experiencing heart palpitations that there seems to be no explanation for. Tests have since indicated that my heart is fine. I have been told it could be stress or anxiety but that there is no physical cause.
- Most of the time I feel completely exhausted and despite this a;; my routine blood tests have been normal and there just appears to be nothing physically wrong with me.
- My nails have become exceptionally weak and brittle.
- I now find myself avoiding wheat as it also seems to give me occasional headaches and hot flushes after a sandwich so that kind of takes the pleasure out of it anyway.
- My skin does not seem to have been spot free since I gave up the GFCF diet.
Conclusion to G.F.C.F. Diet trial:
I feel I have a definite sensitivity to wheat which has now been intensified since I gave it up and then re-introduced it so now I have concluded it is not worth it and I will be abstaining from it from now on.
The jury is still out on other Gluten products as although wheat seems to be the main culprit without tests I just can't be sure.
Casein doesn't seem to affect me but again I don't know how I can be sure so until I am I plan to avoid all dairy too although I am allowing myself lactose free milk for the moment until I see if the other changes are enough.
There is definitely a link between Autism and GFCF issues in my opinion but to what extent it is impossible to know. I would agree that for unknown reasons it seems to affect some autistic people a lot more than others, hopefully someone will be able to explain why this is so in the near future.
So now that I have decided to go back on the GFCF diet again and then hopefully reintroduce my son to it too when I can explain the whole concept to him (hopefully anyway) and when he can understand the benefit of it to him.
So now I would sincerely welcome any GFCF recipes or links to same that other Hubbers may have written about or be particularly partial to.
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