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When Food Affects Function

Autistic Child |

Autistic Child |

Revealing the hidden connection between food, allergies and autism encountered a very interesting article authored by Diana Fatayerji, PhD. She uses dietary supplements, including digestive and systemic enzymes, in her practice. She mentions how a gluten- and casein-free diet might help children with the disorder.Most parents know that what they feed their children can affect them in many ways, whether it’s their mood, energy or physical health. For example, caffeine can increase energy (at least in the short term), while food dyes and additives can cause hyperactivity, skin problems and asthma.

Dr. Fatayerji ¬†points out, for those with autistic children, there’s new evidence that food and nutrition could play a significant role in providing support for some of the symptoms of autism, which include social withdrawal, repetitive behavior, communication difficulties, anxiety and hyperactivity.

Foods That Influence Autistic Behavior

The inability to break down certain components of our food is known to affect brain development and behavior. The foods typically associated with this are gluten; the protein in wheat, oat, spelt, kamut, rye and barley; and casein (the protein in milk products).

While most of us use enzymes to break down these proteins into peptides and then amino acids, individuals who lack these enzymes – in particular, children with autism – cannot completely digest gluten and casein. Research has shown that avoiding foods containing these proteins may significantly improve symptoms associated with autism.

In autistic children, peptides produced as a result of breaking down gluten and casein are eliminated harmlessly in the urine, where large amounts of these peptides are found. Although most of the peptides exit the body, incomplete digestion can allow some of them to spill into the blood and, subsequently, the brain. Once in the brain, the peptides affect brain development and behavior, making them responsible for some autistic symptoms.

Along with disrupting normal brain activity, these peptides can have opiate-like effects similar to morphine, producing feelings of well-being and relaxation. As a result, autistic children can become “addicted” to gluten and casein. They may find it difficult to stop eating culprit foods such as wheat and dairy.

If the opiate-peptide theory were correct, we would expect to see an improvement in autistic symptoms with removal of the peptides. One way to remove the opiate-like peptides is through elimination of gluten and casein in the diet – an approach that looks promising for autism.

Various studies on the effects of following a gluten- and casein-free diet have been published over the past 12 years. In all but one study, a gluten- and casein-free diet was found to be beneficial in reducing autistic behavior and increasing social and communication skills. When gluten and casein were reintroduced to the diet, autistic traits became worse.

Allergies Also Play a Role

In addition to the peptide effect, there is often an accompanying inflammatory or allergic reaction to gluten and casein that can exacerbate the situation. This reaction compromises the integrity or permeability of the intestinal tract.

When the intestines become more permeable, there’s a resulting increase in the amount of opiate-like peptides that are able to enter the bloodstream and brain. The more peptides present in the brain, the more severe the effects.

For this reason, it is important to identify and correct any factors that may affect intestinal permeability, such as gastrointestinal problems, food allergies, or poor digestion and absorption. It is estimated that more than 50 percent of autistic children experience these problems.

To maximize the benefits of a gluten- and casein-free diet, it is necessary to correct intestinal permeability. Food allergies, parasites, infections and poor sulphation, which is important in detoxification and maintaining gut lining, shouldn’t be ignored. If these additional factors are not addressed, improvements in autistic symptoms may be slow and the gluten- and casein-free diet may be prematurely abandoned.

Overall, there is strong evidence to support the use of a gluten- and casein-free diet in autistic children. Thousands of families have reported mild to dramatic improvements by following a gluten- and casein-free diet, and the benefits are becoming recognized in the medical community.


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