Why does a gluten-free diet help autism (Part 2)?

Why does a gluten-free diet help autism (Part 2)?

Welcome to part 2 of this 3 part series on the connection between autism and gluten. You can catch up on Part 1 here.

Gluten is inflammatory.

This is a bit of a general statement, which really applies to everyone, but especially for people with autism. It is inflammatory to the whole body, including the gut and the brain. Eating it causes a range of digestive issues, which are very common in people with autism. 

Gluten causes leaky gut.

A study involving 162 children with autism and 44 neuro-typical children showed that a quarter of the children with autism had increased intestinal permeability (also called leaky gut) and only 2% of the neuro-typical children had this condition.  The conclusion of the study is that the immune system of the children with autism has been triggered by gluten (and casein) and has contributed to the intestinal permeability.  Removing the gluten reduces inflammation and allows the gut to start to heal.

Many children with autism have allergies to gluten.

In the study mentioned above, allergy to gluten was also measured, and IgG to gluten was found to be high in children with autism. A smaller study with 36 children with autism and 20 without autism found that the children with autism were more likely to have allergies to common foods.  Doing an elimination diet for 8 weeks led to an improvement in behavioural symptoms.

Many children with autism cannot digest gluten.

This is partly because they have lower levels of the enzyme DPPIV which is needed to breakdown gluten.  This leads to a build-up of peptides (the molecules that make up protein).  Children with autism have a leaky blood-brain barrier, due to an altered expression of genes associated with blood-brain barrier integrity as well as inflammation of the brain. These peptides are small enough to cross the leaky blood-brain barrier and have opioid effects on the brain. That means they fit into the opiate receptor in the brain, and act like morphine!  That means issues such as foggy thinking, inattentiveness and constipation!

Children with autism have a tendency to autoimmunity

Gluten is implicated in autoimmune disease because of molecular mimicry, where the bodies gets confused between the gluten and its own cells, and starts to attack itself when gluten is eaten.

Hopefully I have convinced you that it is at least worth a try to cut out gluten (and maybe even dairy) for a time to see if it improves your child’s quality of life.

Stay tuned for part 3 when I lay out some strategies to help you get started.

You might also enjoy