Casein and Gluten free diet, Autism and ASDs

Parents enthusiastic about the GFCF diet sometimes say "it's almost like I got my kid back"
Parents enthusiastic about the GFCF diet sometimes say "it's almost like I got my kid back"

It's a sad fact that all conventional medicine has to offer a parent with an autistic child is drugs that are designed to treat completely different problems like schizophrenia.

But Jenny McCarthy isn't the only mother with autistic children who seem to benefit from a diet which excludes gluten and casein. Even parts of the medical profession are beginning to come on side and suggest excluding gluten, casein and sometimes other things as a first approach.

Part of this is down to pressure from parents, of course. But part of it is because of research into the effects of celiac disease, which frequently coincides with mental difficulties ranging from “foggy thinking” to ADHD-like symptoms when undiagnosed (and hence untreated). Other researchers have found a link between gluten, casein and serious mental problems like bipolar disorder.

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Parents who have tried the GFCF diet (as it is often known) are often almost evangelical in their zeal, which some find off-putting. But if you had found a cure for a child when they were afflicted by something this serious – wouldn't you be enthusiastic and want to help others in the same boat? Of course you would. So we can't blame mums and dads in this situation if they sometimes seem to be a bit “over the top” in their endorsement of what seems to them like a miracle cure.

It's no miracle, though.

If the mechanism behind gluten and casein's role in autism is what it seems to be, it's really quite understandable. Researchers say that the cause is that when either of these proteins is broken down, it's a two-step process. In normal digestive systems, that is.

But in some people who have a defect of one kind or another, the second part of the process doesn't take place. So the opioid peptides which are produced at the first stage (casomorphin and gliadomorphin) are never broken down further, and may leak into the bloodstream.

Until now, the mechanism behind the “leaky gut syndrome” which allows this leakage was unexplained, but a receptor called CXCR3 was discovered in July 2008 by researchers in Maryland which “opens the intestinal barrier to make it more permeable.”

Imagine a constant drip feed of opium (very similar to the 'first stage' digestive products of casein and gluten) every time your child eats almost anything?

If true, the theory clarifies how eliminating this continuous stream of toxic chemicals can result in a once withdrawn child seeming to come back to life. Like I said, no miracle, but it can seem like it. And all because of a change in diet...

It also explains why adding chemicals to what's already floating round in the bloodstream has very little positive effect. You have to break the addiction to “naturally” produced opiates, not add another layer of dependence.

The gluten and casein free diet is not an easy choice, for sure. Gluten is in almost all processed foods, and what's left most likely contains casein. So it's pretty much a back-to-basics diet, with lots of whole grains (excluding wheat, rye, barley and closely related grains), fresh fruit and nuts, vegetables and meat which haven't been through a factory, and no dairy products. There are plenty of things left to eat, but they are not, in general, things you can just pick up and take home to warm up in the microwave.

Casein is also often added to “non-dairy” cheeses and similar products to make them more like the real thing, so you need to be very careful.

Another problem, in the early days, is that there is often a “withdrawal” process, because opioid peptides can produce an addictive effect. This is hard to deal with, when your child seems in the early stages to get worse instead of better. Just remember, this is not an indication that the diet isn't working. It may just be withdrawal symptoms. Allow enough time for them to wear off before you give up. In many cases, perhaps most, after a little while, this stage passes and you will start to see positive results.

 

GFCF Play Dough to make at home

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