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Autism Spectrum Disorders: New Clues Worth Exploring?

The story of autism and autism spectrum disorders is ever-evolving.  Both the source and solution to this increasingly prevalent disorder are the intense focus of current research.  Recently, we featured a blog discussing the therapeutic effect of a specific diet on another disorder that often begins in childhood: epilepsy.  Now, a new article in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience outlines the accumulated evidence that diet may affect symptom severity in autism spectrum disorder.

Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder, affects an estimated 1.5 million Americans and is characterized by difficulty with communication, reduced social interaction skills, and repetitive behaviors.  Autism spectrum disorders are categorized as life-long, although new evidence suggests the condition can be “lost” in some patients.  No universal intervention currently exists for autism; therapy consists of special education programs focused on the individual, behavioral training and a few available medications (Whiteley et al., 2012).

However, specific groups of people show improvements in symptoms when following a specific diet.  Although no formal guidelines exist for doing so, the elimination of gluten, casein, or both gluten and casein from the diet have been reported as beneficial for certain people (Whiteley et al., 2012).  Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains, and casein is a protein commonly found in milk.  This phenomenon has been researched using varying methodologies, but there is no consensus on what may produce a successful outcome.  Some propose that carbohydrate metabolism may affect brain development, and others propose that the abatement of autistic symptoms with a controlled diet may be related to the so-called “gut-brain connection.”

The authors of the current review maintain that the issue deserves a lot of future research and discussion, as diet and food sensitivities may well affect brain function.

What do you think?

Could a food sensitivity exacerbate the symptoms of autism?
What might be the underlying cause or mechanism?
Should a special diet be tried before research evidence is complete?
Would a person’s diet be a cause or an effect of underlying autism?



Further Reading:

Whiteley P, Shattock P, Knivsberg AM, Seim A, Reichelt KL, Todd L, Carr K, Hooper M.  (2012).  Gluten- and casein-free dietary intervention for autism spectrum conditions.  Front Hum Neurosci.  6:344. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00344. Epub 2013 Jan 4.


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