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Impact of Gluten on Autism

Impact of Gluten on Autism

We all know that gluten and casein are a big deal right now. What is the impact of gluten on autism? Read below to find out.

Autistic children have been found to possess lower levels of digestive enzymes and antioxidants and as a result, may be more susceptible to food chemicals such as gluten and casein. Gluten is a protein found primarily in wheat, barley, and rye while casein is a protein found in dairy products.

Both of these proteins can cause digestive distress in even the healthiest of people, but for those who are gluten or casein sensitive or allergic, consuming these proteins can be dangerous or lethal. Gluten and casein can cause specific complications in the immune systems, nervous systems and digestive systems of those with autism.

Those with autism do not properly digest casein and gluten. Gluten is found in foods that contain wheat and oats, rye, bulgur, durum, barley, spelt, and Kamut and all foods made from any or all of these grains. Gluten may also be found in malt, couscous, semolina, soy sauce, and some vinegar. Casein is found in foods containing milk, whey, butter, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. Casein is also often added to non-milk products and will be labeled as caseinate.

A recent research study funded by the Autism Research Institute found “substantial evidence indicating that contemporary autism is associated with systemic oxidative stress and neuroinflammation” which may be aggravated by a diet high in gluten and casein. These proteins cause systemic inflammation, but also interrupt neurotransmitters in the brain which carry signals for thought and action.

Based on this research and similar studies, some doctors and parents believe that children with Autism MAY experience advances in speech and performance after gluten and casein are eliminated from their diets and follow a strict gluten-free, casein-free or GFCF diet. These results have not been experienced by ALL children and results will vary depending on the severity of the condition of your child. But gradually reducing and then eliminating gluten and casein MAY produce improvements in your autistic child.

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Understand that a GFCF diet is not any type of cure for Autism, but may lessen the symptoms of Autism. You must also follow the diet for several months, not simply a few weeks to produce the best results as it takes a long time to remove the gluten that is stored in the body. Some do experience measurable improvement in the early stages. The impact of gluten on autism varies across the spectrum, but it’s best to avoid it to stay on the safe side.

If you decide to follow this approach in an attempt to lessen your child’s symptoms, many others have found the best way to start is by removing one food at a time. This may also help you identify particular foods that are causing the most problems. It is also suggested that you eliminate milk first, and begin eliminating gluten 2-4 weeks after complete elimination of dairy products. This entire process can take up to 6 months to complete and for the stored offending proteins to be removed completely from the body.

The impact of gluten on autism may seem overwhelming at first, especially when you try to eliminate it from your diet.  That’s why we have a team of nutrition professionals who can guide you through this process.  Contact us today to set up a consultation.


Special Strong provides fitness and nutrition for special needs children, adolescents, and adults with autism and other disabilities. Through our online training platform, we also provide special needs fitness certification courses for personal trainers and service providers who want to work autism and other disabilities.

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