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Gluten Intolerance & Autism – Is There a Connection?

The popularity of the gluten free diet has grown dramatically. More and more parents are turning toward a gluten free diet to help alleviate symptoms of autism and other learning disorders in their children. To a large degree, many in the medical community have ridiculed this, stating that diet and the autistic spectrum have nothing to do with one another. Medical research and anecdotal evidence however shows that thousands of people have had improvement with diet alterations.

What does diet have to do with behavior?

The food we eat is comprised of carbohydrates, fats, protein, nucleic acids, phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, water, and other nutrients necessary to sustain the healthy function of the body. It is the basis of how our internal biochemistry works. Ignoring the possibility that food contributes to disease is a cardinal mistake. Food is a drug and therefor can have drug like properties. One person’s food is another person’s poison. That being said, it goes to say that investigating the potential for a person to react negatively to food should be a primary tool in the “tool-belt” of all physicians.
In the research study below, a case is presented of a 5-year-old boy diagnosed with severe autism at a specialty clinic for autistic spectrum disorders. After initial investigation suggested underlying celiac disease and varied nutrient deficiencies, a gluten-free diet was instituted along with dietary and supplemental measures to secure nutritional sufficiency. The patient’s gastrointestinal symptoms rapidly resolved, and signs and symptoms suggestive of autism progressively abated. This case is an example of a common malabsorption syndrome associated with central nervous system dysfunction and suggests that in some contexts, nutritional deficiency may be a determinant of developmental delay. It is recommended that all children with neurodevelopmental problems be assessed for nutritional deficiency and malabsorption syndromes. Another research study found a strong correlation with autism and intestinal permeability – AKA leaky gut syndrome. The conclusion of the study is below:
CONCLUSIONS: The results obtained support the leaky gut hypothesis and indicate that measuring IPT (intestinal permeability)could help to identify a subgroup of patients with autism who could benefit from a gluten-free diet. The IPT alterations found in first-degree relatives suggest the presence of an intestinal (tight-junction linked) hereditary factor in the families of subjects with autism.


J Child Neurol. 2010 Jan;25(1):114-9. Epub 2009 Jun 29. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2010 Oct;51(4):418-24.

Gluten Free Society’s Stance

This is a great case study example of gluten associated autism. The authors make an excellent recommendation in testing all children with abnormal neurodevelopment for nutritional deficiencies and malabsorption related diseases. This type of testing can be performed by Spectracell laboratories in Houston, TX – You can use the labs physician finder to identify which doctors in your area are capable of performing this testing.

What to Do If Your Child Has Been Diagnosed With Autism

  • Test for both gluten and dairy sensitivity immediately. It would also be prudent to test for other food allergens.
  • Remove sugar and artificial dyes from their diet.
  • Remove processed foods from their diet.
  • Stop any treatments (dental or medical) that introduce mercury into the body. Vaccination and flu shot are common sources.
  • Test for vitamin and mineral deficiencies – especially B-vitamins. The bodies production of neurotransmitters (chemicals that allow proper communication in the nervous system) is largely dependent on vitamin B-6, folate, B-12, B-5, B-1, zinc, copper, magnesium, omega fatty acids, and vitamin C.
It is also important to remember that gluten has been shown in numerous research studies to damage nerve tissue. Anyone with neurological illness of unknown origin should be genetically tested for gluten sensitivity. All the best, Dr. Osborne – The Gluten Free Warrior If you found this article helpful, please like or share it with a loved one who might benefit as well. Together we can help more.  

6 Responses

    1. I am curious about this as well, as I have chronic anemia and my blood work came back negative for celiac and other blood diseases. I do have the MTHFR gene but unknown if I am heterozygous or homozygous. My child has autism and ended up with 2 bad copies of the gene. He also has a lot of gastro and absorption issues. Casein is a trigger for him but his gluten levels came in lower on Gluten-casein peptides test.

  1. Removing Gluten, dairy and soy has helped my autistic son…in so many ways …socially and t academically . Increasing his calcium intake with supplements has also recently made a difference with anxiety and moods. His world and ours is much better because of the diet.

  2. My grandson was given formula for sensitive stomach. After a year someone told us to look at the ingredients. #1 was high fructose corn syrup! Anyone else see a connection with aspergers? Who would think that would be in formula?

  3. I had autism and now i’m cured thanks to my new gluten-free, fat-free, protein-free, all-vegan diet, thanks glutenfreesociety!

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