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Autism & Diet: by John McDougall, M.D.

Elimination diets in autism spectrum disorders: any wheat amidst the chaff? by George W. Christison published in the April 2006 issue of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics reported their analysis of the scientific studies connecting autism with diet, and concluded, “The literature currently available suggests that diets eliminating both gluten and casein (rather than either alone) should be studied first and that outcome measures should include assessments of nonverbal cognition.”1 

The most popular diets evaluated removed both gluten—a protein commonly found in wheat, barley, and rye products—and casein, a protein in cow’s milk.  Benefits described by proponents of this kind of dietary treatment are improvements in a wide range of autism symptoms, with better social engagement and verbal skills commonly experienced. 

Comment by John McDougall, M.D.: Diet therapy should be the first treatment recommended by all doctors—it is low-cost and side-effect free, and could easily lead to a cure.  Besides, what other choices are available—certainly, not anything of real value from the pharmaceutical industry. The mechanisms by which diet can cause autism are easily explainable. Diet can produce an excess of opium-like compounds which affect the brain, and an unhealthy diet can damage the intestinal wall increasing its the permeability—a “leaky gut” forms, which allows passage into the blood of neuroactive substances, like the opium-like compounds. Eliminating casein and gluten from the diet reverses these effects.

The easiest step for a family to take would be to stop feeding all dairy products (including skim milk, cheese, yogurt, and anything else derived from cow’s milk—other animal milks are also excluded) and high gluten foods, such as wheat, barley and rye.  However, the best chance for success, and my recommendation, would be to start an effective elimination diet immediately.  Only the foods least likely to cause harm are consumed. 

My December 2002 newsletter article—Diet for the Desperate—provides guidelines for the most effective elimination diet.  Benefits should be expected to begin to be seen in 4 to 7 days; however, I have seen improvements in similar diseases take as long as 4 months.  Schizophrenia is a related disease, and a similar dietary approach should be tried with this condition.2

Information on a gluten-free diet can be found in my September 2005 newsletter article: Could It Be Celiac Disease?  More reasons to take your child off of all milk products are found in my May 2003 newsletter article: Marketing Milk and Disease.

http://www.drmcdougall.com/newsletter/archive.html

1)  Christison GW, Ivany K. Elimination diets in autism spectrum disorders: any wheat amidst the chaff? J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2006 Apr;27(2 Suppl):S162-71

2)  Reichelt KL, Seim AR, Reichelt WH. Could schizophrenia be reasonably explained by Dohan's hypothesis on genetic interaction with a dietary peptide overload?
Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 1996 Oct;20(7):1083-114

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