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The Autism-GF Connection

Gluten and Autism are getting a lot of attention in the Autism community. I wanted to do an article that summarized the theories behind this relationship. Some experts say children have shown mild to dramatic improvements in speech and/or behavior after gluten and casein (a protein found in milk products) are removed from their diet. Some also report that their children experience fewer bouts of diarrhea and loose stools after starting a gluten-free, casein-free diet.

Why is this? One theory is that people with autism cannot properly digest gluten and casein. This results in proteins that do not get absorbed by the gut and end up in the bloodstream where they form opiate-like proteins, which can target receptors in the brain. These undigested proteins, which are now acting like ‘drugs’ in the body, alter the persons behavior, perceptions, and responses to his environment.  Furthermore, research has found substances with opiate activity in the urine of a significant number of children with autism.

The possibility of a relationship between autism and the consumption of gluten and casein was first articulated by Kalle Reichelt in 1991. Based on studies showing a correlation between autism and increased urinary peptide levels, Reichelt hypothesized that some of these peptides may have an opiate effect. This led to the development of the Opioid Excess Theory, expounded by Paul Shattock and others, which speculates that peptides with opioid activity cross into the bloodstream from the lumen of the intestine, and then into the brain.

These peptides found in the urine, once identified, were confirmed to be derivatives of both gluten and casein products. Researchers and parents alike confirm that after using this diet for three months, large improvements are observed in social isolation, eye contact, mutism, learning skills, hyperactivity, stereotypic activity, and panic attacks. The protein found in gluten and casein may cause disruption in normal brain activity as well as an inflammatory response resulting in the symptoms seen in autism.

However, the only way to really test this theory is to apply it. If someone you know has autism or autistic symptoms or has been diagnosed to lie on the autistic spectrum, please suggest they consider trying a gluten-free, casein-free diet for six months. It might change their life.

Weekly Recipe

One of foods that I really, really miss is veggie burgers. I used to eat them all the time, both at home and in restaurants. I found this soy-free veggie burger recipe in my daughter’s cookbook, “Kids Fun & Healthy Cookbook” by Nicola Graimes. I modified it to make it gluten-free and conveniently had this recipe follow my Gluten Free Hamburger Bun recipe.

Veggie Burgers with Hamburger Buns

½ cup kidney beans
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot
½ cup gluten free bread crumbs
1 T peanut butter
1 egg
2 tsp Simple Organic Fajita seasoning
1 T gluten free flour
Olive oil for brushing

Place all of the above ingredients, except the flour, in a food processor to a course puree.
Chill in refrigerator for 4 hours.
Form 4 burgers and dust each one in the flour.
Brush with olive oil and grill on the BBQ for 10 minutes per side.
Serve on Gluten-Free Hamburger Buns (see recipe on June 8, 2010)

About Lisa Velick

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