Do you know someone with autism? Then you may have heard about the Gluten Free Casein Free (GFCF) diet.
Working with special diets nutrition is my full-time job, so I get lots of questions about the GFCF Diet for autism.
When people learn I have a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, one of several Autism Spectrum Disorders, the questions really start rolling in! I love that! It is a true honor to be able to share my personal and professional experience about autism and the GFCF Diet.
We parents of autistic children are some of the most passionate I know. Even if we do not always see eye-to-eye on how to manage and live with autism, there is generally tremendous mutual respect for the desire each of us has to learn more about this serious neurological condition. We share a common goal, to enhance the lives of our children.
Sometimes this involves alternative treatments. That’s where the GFCF Diet comes in.
What is the GFCF Diet?
The obvious answer is that it is a diet free from gluten and casein.
Gluten is the protein portion of certain grass-related grains such as wheat (including spelt and kamut), barley, rye, triticale, and malts.
Casein is a protein in milk and milk products.
So, in addition to following a gluten free diet, a person on the GFCF Diet would also be dairy free. (Casein shows up in foods besides dairy, too; we’ll cover those in an upcoming article.)
Can the GFCF Diet really help individuals with autism?
Some doctors and scientists believe, “Yes!”, it can. One reason why is because drugs, liquids, and even the foods we put into our bodies trigger the release of certain brain chemicals.
Because autism is a neurological condition, one theory suggests children with autism may be highly sensitive to proteins like gluten and casein found in the foods they eat.
It is possible autistic individuals even process these proteins differently from those who do not have autism. This may lead to the production of chemicals in the body that cause the symptoms of autism to be more pronounced.
To test this theory, scientists have observed autistic children on a GFCF Diet. Some have shown improvement, particularly with their behavior and speech, as well as with the gastrointestinal issues that are somewhat common for autistic individuals.
Why isn’t everyone with autism on the GFCF Diet?
The answer is simple: No definitive body of research exists that shows the GFCF Diet to be effective in autism.
In May 2011 at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Philadelphia, researchers announced the diet “didn’t show significant benefits”. That was a strong headline. But before we leave it at that and discount the GFCF Diet, it is important to understand more about the study that was referenced.
The study was extremely small, including only 14 individuals. Compared to the nearly 1.5 million Americans believed to be on the autism spectrum, this is just not enough evidence to make such a broad statement.
From the years of research experience I gained earning my Masters Degree in behavioral neuroscience and working at the National Center for Natural Products Research, I know it was risky to make this claim regarding the ineffectiveness of the GFCF Diet for autism based on such a small sample size. The study could hardly be called definitive.
Scientific research requires a great deal of time and funding. As a result, many studies fall short when it comes to the number of individuals evaluated. Often, the necessary resources aren’t available to study the thousands required to reveal adequate results that can be generalized to the autistic population. When this is the case, study findings should be handled with extreme care.
In addition to the lack of definitive evidence ruling out the efficacy of the GFCF Diet for autism, there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence in favor of the diet. It is not difficult to find stories written about the positive results of the GFCF Diet in magazines and journals. I also hear directly from parents I work with on nutrition about how the GFCF Diet has helped their child.
These positive reports reveal the diet helps with increased alertness in autistic children, as well as its leading to marked improvements in social interaction, sensory perception, and other behaviors after as little as two weeks on the GFCF Diet.
Given this disparity regarding the efficacy of the GFCF Diet for autism, what is the right answer?
In my professional and personal opinion, the GFCF Diet is not radical. It is simply about removing foods from the diet for a period of time to see what happens. The decision to try the GFCF diet is a personal one and before making it you should consult your physician.
If you would like to learn more about the GFCF Diet for autism, be sure to visit my website, GlutenFreeGigi.com for information and terrific GFCF recipes. You’ll also find great recipes right here on this site that fit the GFCF Diet.
And whatever you do, feel confident in what you find that works for you and your family, whether that means a GFCF Diet or not.
Until next time, to our gluten free health!