Chris Y Perez

Gluten and Autism

I first understood the power of diet and nutrition when I attended my first autism parent training seminar. Some of the best resources at conventions are the parents themselves. They have been there, done that, and have lots of insights to share. I met three parents who saw significant improvements in their children after a Gluten-free (GF) diet or Gluten-free casein-free (GFCF) Diet. While studies have shown the results of nutritional interventions help improve brain function, behavior, and nutrition (Sumathi, 2020), nothing beats getting firsthand information from parents. The parents had very similar observations. Their young children had speech challenges. Some were non-verbal, some were able to say a few words. After they removed gluten for 3 weeks, their children spoke more words. Those who began with more words were able to utter phrases and sentences.

Why did they have to wait for 3-weeks? It takes that long to purge gluten out of our system and thus see reduced symptoms like reduced brain fog, thus better ability to learn and speak.

Unfortunately at that time, I did not think gluten was an issue for my special needs twins since our Asian diet had more rice-based foods and few wheat-based pasta or bread. Thus, I decided to forgo the gluten-free diet.

However, several years later, when my daughter suffered from seizures, I had to re-evaluate her diet. When I removed gluten, including oats, from her diet, we saw better seizure control. I also found that gluten affected my son’s cognition and caused regression in terms of toilet training.

Though removing gluten from the diet may be challenging, will it be worth it? I believe it is. I know my observations are not isolated. Quan et al. (2022) reviewed several studies and found that a gluten-free diet has helped reduce stereotypical behaviors and improved children’s cognition in the autism spectrum.

My advice for parents to want to know if it’s even worth trying:
1. After the decision to try the diet, stick to it for at least 4 weeks to see some results. Then decide if improvements are worth long-term diet changes.
2. Remove all gluten sources and look for good alternatives.
3. Read labels to make sure to avoid hidden sources of gluten.

 

References:

1. Sumathi, T., Manivasagam, T., & Thenmozhi, A. J. (2020). The Role of Gluten in Autism. Advances in neurobiology24, 469–479. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-30402-7_14

2. Quan, L., Xu, X., Cui, Y., Han, H., Hendren, R. L., Zhao, L., & You, X. (2022). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the benefits of a gluten-free diet and/or casein-free diet for children with autism spectrum disorder. Nutrition reviews80(5), 1237–1246. https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuab073