University Park, PA—While parents of autistic children often sing the praises of a gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet, skeptics point to the lack of data support. Now, however, a group from Penn State has added some fuel for the fire.

The research is said to be the first of its kind to survey parents about how well a GFCF diet improves behavior in autistic children. Some 387 parents and caregivers completed a 90-item questionnaire about their autistic child’s food allergies/sensitivities and any gastrointestinal (GI) problems. They also provided information about how their children use the GFCF diet.

In children with GI issues and food allergies, the GFCF diet helped improve behavior, physiological symptoms and social behaviors. This included improved language, eye contact, attention span and more. Children that strictly followed a GFCF diet seemed to have the most benefit. Parents who used the diet for six months or less didn’t have as good results.

The Penn State team believes autism is not just a neurological disease; it also could involve the GI tract and the immune system.

Laura Cousino Klein, study co-author and associate professor of biobehavioral health and human development and family studies, stated, “A majority of the pain receptors in the body are located in the gut, so by adhering to a gluten-free, casein-free diet, you’re reducing inflammation and discomfort that may alter brain processing, making the body more receptive to autism spectrum disorder therapies.”

Nutritional Neuroscience published this study.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, April 2012, online 3/1/12