Is “Gluten Free” for Your Family?

As moms and co-founders of a children’s food company, we are always working to educate ourselves on food and families.  How do we help families make SMART choices for their kids, knowing that all children are different?  We love getting the latest insight from Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD, and Mom.  Below she shares some of the current research on autism spectrum disorders and following a gluten, casein free diet.

Is “Gluten Free” for Your Family: Autism and Gluten, Casein Free

By Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD, and Mom

There aren’t too many quality research studies reporting on the gluten-free diet and its efficacy for children with autism spectrum disorders. However, you definitely hear the media and parents supporting it. The latest solid research a.k.a. randomized double-blind study only had fifteen children with ASD. This particular study from 2006 looked at the effects of the gluten-free, casein-free diet on autistic symptoms and urinary peptide levels. Surprisingly, there were no statistically significant results, still leaving the need for more research and many parents without answers. When reading the overall research, it seems parents may notice behavioral changes but nothing consistent across the board and nothing significant enough to make the recommendation to follow this diet.

However, when you keep reading, the association between ASD and GI (gastrointestinal) complaints is quite clear. Adverse GI symptoms such as diarrhea and abdominal pain are reported from 9 to 91 percent in different study populations1. The cause of these GI problems is unclear, but it appears to relate partially to abnormal carbohydrate digestion1 and abnormal gut flora possibly due to excessive use of oral antibiotics2. If gut flora is a concern, probiotics may help decrease ASD symptoms.

As parents wait for more information, many are willing to try the variety of diets that promise decreased symptoms. Like any child, a child with ASD is an individual and may/may not respond to dietary changes. It could be like many other foods—there are intolerances or sensitivities not recognizable as food allergies. There are many questions for parents to ask themselves and/or their child’s team. Weigh the pros and cons and decide what you think is best for your child.

TO CONSIDER Before Starting Any Possible Therapeutic Diet:

  1. Is this therapeutic diet supported by top quality research (such as double blind)?
  2. Will my child be at risk for a nutritional deficiency (such as calcium) on such a diet?
  3. Will my child readily accept the new foods? Are tastes and textures already an issue?
  4. Should I ask my child’s physician about the potential to trial probiotics rather than change my child’s diet?
  5. Should my child take a gluten-free, casein-free multivitamin and mineral?
  6. Should I have my child see a LEAP-certified RD?


1. Williams, B. L., M. Hornig, T. Buie, M. L. Bauman, M. Cho Paik, et al. “Impaired Carbohydrate Digestion and Transport and Mucosal Dysbiosis in the Intestines of Children with Autism and Gastrointestinal Disturbances.” PLoS ONE 6, no. 9 (2011): e24585. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0024585.

2. Adams, et al. “Gastrointestinal Flora and Gastrointestinal Status in Children with Autism–Comparisons to Typical Children and Correlation with Autism Severity.” BMC Gastroenterology 11, no. 22 (2011). doi:10.1186/1471-230X-11-22

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