Many parents are finding that a gluten free and/or casein free diet helps to relieve some autism symptoms. Gluten is a protein found in wheat that is responsible for the elastic texture of the dough. It has been increased in today’s cereals, breads and pastas. Many are sensitive to this protein, which causes a variety of symptoms including digestive issues, rashes, brain fog, fatigue, anxiety, hyperactivity, depression, ADD and joint pain that can be mistaken for arthritis. These symptoms are similar to those of an actual wheat allergy.
Casein is a protein found in cow milk and used in many products as a binding agent. Casein sensitivity symptoms include digestive issues, eczema, wheezing, congestion, excess mucous, lethargy and brain fog. The body can become sensitive to these things when the proteins pass through the lining of a damaged/inflamed digestive tract.
Aren’t wheat and dairy products healthy?
Gluten and dairy require a lot of enzymatic activity in the digestive system to break them down. Many autistic children are short on enzymes and are unable to break these things down. The peptides of these foods can cross into the blood brain barrier and have opiate like effects on our children’s brains, causing addictive-like cravings.
Please also see my Research/Studies information on gluten at the bottom of this page for more information on how gluten can affect the central nervous system.
How do I wean my child from gluten and dairy?
It is not recommended to cut out both types of food at once. Most professionals suggest removing dairy first. While some do it “cold turkey”, it may be easier to remove dairy gradually, perhaps limiting cheese intake but replacing that daily glass of milk with a dairy alternative, like almond or coconut milk. There is controversy about the amount of time it takes for dairy to leave the system; anywhere from days to weeks.
After 2-3 weeks, you can begin removing gluten products. Again, it is advisable to remove products on a gradual basis. Because children can truly be addicted to these things, withdrawal behavior may occur. It is believed that it can take approximately 6 months for gluten to be purged from the system.
Some people see benefits with a couple of days; some people see benefits within a few weeks.
How will my child get calcium?
There are plenty of foods that are great sources of calcium outside of dairy. If your child isn’t consuming high calcium foods consider supplementing a bioavailable form, such as calcium citrate. Calcium citrate is found in many multivitamins as well as in dietary supplements. Here are some great sources for calcium on a dairy free diet.
|Collard greens||1 cup, boiled||357 mg|
|Fortified soymilk||1 cup||368 mg|
|Black-eyed peas||1 cup, boiled||211 mg|
|Firm tofu (made with calcium sulfate)||1/2 cup||204 mg|
|Calcium-fortified orange juice||6 oz||200 mg|
|Blackstrap molasses||1 Tbsp||172 mg|
|Baked beans||1 cup, canned||154 mg|
|Kale||1 cup, cooked||94 mg|
|Chinese cabbage||1 cup, raw||74 mg|
|Oranges||1 cup||72 mg|
|Almonds||1 oz||70 mg|
How do I shop at the grocery store?
Most grocery stores are aware of the gluten free movement and many have begun carrying GFCF products. If you don’t see the products right away, ask if there is a specified section for those foods. If your grocer is behind in the times, ask your store manager to start carrying the products that you are interested in.
Cecelia’s Gluten Free Shopping Guide is an award winning resource for providing a list of over 45,000 gluten-free alphabetized products found in grocery stores. Triumph’s Essential Gluten Free Grocery Guide is another one.
If you don’t have a guide, always search for foods that are labeled GFCF as some GF products still have dairy in them. Here are some brands that are typically available in stores:
Udi’s (will find breads in frozen section)
Van’s – Crackers and Waffles
Toufayan – wraps
BOLD Organics – Pizza
Organicville has some good GFCF products
EnviroKids (cereals & bars)
Applegate Farms has GFCF bacon. Check the label for their sausage products.
Purity Farm’s Organic Ghee (Clarified butter does not contain casein)
Welshire Farm’s has GFCF meat products.
Check my Snack/Treat Alternatives section for ideas on those.
The Farmers’s Market
Do we have to stop eating out?
This is definitely where things get difficult. You don’t know what ingredients go into restaurant foods or if they’ve been cross contaminated. In a lot of places, the restaurant manage may not even know. If you can find a restaurant that prepares their foods fresh, and knows what is in their ingredients, that helps. Due to the increasing prevalence of people going gluten free, some restaurants are starting to offer a gluten free menu. The link below provides a list of restaurants that provide gluten free menus.
Dr. Susan Hyman, out of The University of Rochester, published a study stating that there is no evidence to support a gluten free/casein free diet. In addition to the very small sample size, they excluded any children from the study that had known allergies or gastrointestinal issues, thus eliminating any children who may have benefited from the dietary intervention. Please see the re-analysis of this study by Dr. Paul Whiteley here.
Research / Studies on Gluten
Here are just a few scientific studies that show how dangerous gluten is for our bodies and how it seems to be affecting the brain and central nervous system.
Dohan FC. The possible pathogenetic effect of cereal grains in schizophrenia. Celiac disease as a model. Acta Neurol 1976;31:195-205.
Dohan FC, Grasberg JC, Lowell FC et al. Relapsed schizophrenics: more rapid improvement on a milk- and cereal- free diet. Br J Psychiatry 1969;115:595-6.
Dohan FC, Martin L, Gransberger JC et al. Antibodies to wheat gliadin in blood of psychiatric atients: possible role of emotional factors. Biol Psychiatry 1972;5: 127-37.
Gluten as an excitotoxin for those who have a high amount of glutamate receptors.