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A Study Of The Gluten Free-Casein Free Diet And If It Benefits Autistic Children

Updated on July 14, 2014


Wouldn’t it be scary to have a toddler who wouldn’t let you hold them, pick them up, or wouldn’t look you in the eyes? Could you imagine watching someone you love hitting their heads against the wall repeatedly, or biting you, or scratching at themselves? Could you imagine the pain of watching the child you love refuse to eat, sleep, use words, or even refusing to acknowledge that you were even in the same room as them? You take the child to the doctors and they sit you down and tell you that your child has severe Autism. It would kill you. You would just watch as your toddler, who should have been talking and playing with dolls, just stared at the wall rocking back and forth. It’s worse knowing that everybody you talk to, doctors and psychologist, tell you that your child will never be stable enough to fit in society. Wouldn’t it just kill you? Wouldn’t you try anything and do everything that you could to find a cure for your child’s Autism?

Would You Try Something That Only Works On 10% Of The Cases?

The Gluten Free Casein Free Diet is a diet that thousands of families of Autistic children are trying in order to cure their children of Autism. The diet started to get popular after a woman named Jenny McCarthy used the diet to cure her son of Autism. From that successful experiment and from her speeches for the support of this diet, the diet started becoming more and more popular. Now, many people are speaking of this diet as a cure for Autism. That is where the problem lies. Though exploring the background of the diet, the diet itself, the case studies, and the various problems with the diet, it will be noted that the diet could not be the cure for Autism.

The Gluten Free-Casein Free Diet was first started as a way to cure Celiac Disease. Celiac Disease is a rare disease that damages the small intestines and interferes with the absorption of nutrition and can leak toxins into the blood stream. The main causes for Celiac Disease are gluten and casein foods. Otherwise, if a person has Celiac Disease, the person has an allergy to gluten and casein. So the Gluten and Casein Free Diet was developed to stop the allergic reactions from happening. So why is a treatment for Celiac Disease being used on Autistic people?

Why Do People Think This Diet Can Work?

The reason is simple. Many Autistic patients have a condition called leaky gut. In normal people, nutrients are able to travel into the bloodstream by moving along the small intestine wall by the villi,(fingerlike projections) (Mellowship 2005). The nutrition are broken down and slip though the stomach lining into the bloodstream. If someone has leaky gut the villi gets damaged and altered causing the intestinal wall to swells which makes it hard for the nutrient to reach the bloodstream. This could lead to considerable delay in moving food from the intestines (Mellowship 2005). The food, which the intestinal villi are unable to breakdown in the usual rapid manner, may stay in the intestines decomposing for a considerable time; causing harmful bacteria to develop. This bacterium is then able to slip into the bloodstream and travel throughout the body, often affecting the body’s major organs. It is the bacterium that ends up going into the bloodstream and traveling to the brain causing developmental issues. The two chemicals that makes the leaky gut worse or causes the most issues to the child are Gluten and Casein.

So the diet is used in hopes that if they stop the chemical allergic reaction in Autistic patients then their Autism like behavior would lessen or vanish. The start of using this diet to cure Autism is still going strong, and although some swear by it, many are still weary about the diet.

Who Approves And Disproves Of The Diet?

The diet started becoming popular in the early 2000’s and had picked up supporters and skeptics. The main supporter for this diet is Talk About Curing Autism (TACA), who had made the diet their golden ticket in regards to finding a cure. They praise the diet and recommend that everyone who has a child of Autism should put their child on this diet. Jenny McCarthy is another huge supporter and a key spokesperson for the diet. She believes in the diet full heartily because she had an Autistic son whom she put on the diet and ‘cured’ her son. She tells everyone with an Autistic child that their child needs to be put on this diet immediately. Although the diet has received, and is still getting more and more supporters they also developed a lot of disbelievers.

The disbelievers of this diet are mostly in the medical realm. Doctors still won’t describe the diet unless they know ahead of time that the child or adult has an allergy of Gluten and Casein. Doctors don’t usually describe it because the child may not get enough nutrients from this diet and if the child won’t benefit from the diet then don’t want to put the child though it.


What The Diet Consists Of?

What does the diet consist of? The first thing to ask is what foods should be avoided. In the book Talk about Curing Autism,the list of ingredients that should be avoid is over two hundred, all together some examples of foods that should be avoided are: Biscuits, Bread, Bread Crumbs, Flour, Cakes, Noodles, Coffee Creamers, Cookies, Croutons, crackers, doughnuts, rice, pastas, flour tortilla, coffee(instant), tea(constant), ice cream and ice cream cones, pasta, pizza, pretzels, chicken fingers, peanut butter, milk,and milk biproducts (TACA 128-129). You may still be able to eat some of these foods by getting them gluten and casein free. In fact, since so many kids are now on this diet many stores have flourished specializing only in Gluten Free Casein Free foods including pizza, pretzels, chicken fingers, and other foods that kids like. Substitutions are also suggested, for example if the child loves milk, a substitution of almond or rice milk can be tried. Even though many preferred foods are junk foods, taking away these gluten and casein foods and drinks may not be easy.

It Is Important to Wean Off Of Gluten And Not Go Cold Turkey

Taking away all of these foods at once will not suit well to any child. So instead TACA made up a ten week plan for slowly reducing the child’s gluten and casein intake.

The ten week plan is as followed:

The first two week it is recommended to remove milk and all milk bi- products including buttermilk, whey milk, cheese, yogurt, and soy milk. The only milk that is recommended is rice or almond milk. Week 3 should consist of finding and trying GFCF foods until you find five that the child will eat for breakfast. Week 4 constants of finding five GFCF foods the child will eat for lunch. Week five is five GFCF foods for dinner. Week six is to replace regular snacks with CFCF snacks. (TACA 130-131).

The reason why it is so important to slowly reduce gluten and casein intake is because gluten is an opiate to the brain. So a child will experience the same withdrawal symptoms as an opiate addict going though withdrawal symptoms would show. The child would have tremors, shock, shivers, tremors, extreme stomach pain, extreme behavioral changes, and some will experience some difficult insomnia problems (TACA 132). Even

though the withdrawal periods could be a scary time for both the child being weaned and the parents, the diet is still worth researching on.

How To Know If It Is Working?

So how do you know if the diet is working or not. If it is working, within the first three months there should be less runny stools, the behavioral problems will lessen, the children might sleep longer hours than ten minute naps (TACA 127). Who really benefits from it? High functioning and late on-set autistic kids seems to be the one benefiting. Thisleads to a really big question about why these kids benefit while kids with early onset and low functioning autism does not benefit.

What Happens To The Child Who Is Not Benefiting From The Diet?

If the child has a rash on their face or bottom the diet is not working and the parent might want to take them off the diet. Some other ways to know if the diet is not working is if the kid starts to have abusive behavior, the stools are strange and ridiculously runny or have diarrhea for more than two weeks, or if the sleeping patterns become too unpredictably.

The problem with this is that most autistic kids have irregular sleeping patterns, some nights they may sleep for three hours, other nights they may sleep for six hours. Autistic kids stem, they have routine behavior, they can’t speak, they have behavioral problems, and they are said to be in a fog. Fog, for Autism, means that the child is trapped in their own little world in which they do not respond to other people or notice other people, its like waking up one day to discover that everyone disappeared, Autistic kids don’t seem to know that there is other people beside themselves.

In conclusion

If the diet is working the fog would be lifted, they can respond and notice other people. They stem less, do less routine behavior, sleep better, their behavior improves, and they might start talking. In the end, regardless of rather or not you think your child can benefit, it is important to research as much as you can to decide rather or not you want to risk it. Ignore what people say, go online and look at as many different research articles that you can find and then make your opinion based off of what information you have found out.



Ackerman, Lisa 2008. TACA: Families with Autism journey guide.

Mellowship, dawn (2005), About Leaky Gut Syndrome, Leaky Gut Syndrome

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    • thefedorows profile image

      thefedorows 3 years ago from the Midwest

      Interesting hub! I have been hearing more families trying to go gluten free but I didn't realize it gained momentum with Jenny McCarthy. I appreciated your overview of the research and perspectives and found it quite interesting that the diet seems to work better for kids with autism of a later-onset and who are higher functioning. Helpful hub! Well done!