Health Team

Some claim diet can help treat autism

Posted November 17, 2009
Updated November 18, 2009

— About 1 percent of 8-year-olds in the United States are diagnosed with autism, a developmental disorder that can affect social interaction and communication, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cary mom says diet helps autistic son Cary mom says diet helps autistic son

Some celebrities, television talk shows and Internet sites suggest a gluten-free, casein-free diet will improve an autistic child's ability to function and communicate. That means that children can't eat food with gluten proteins, which are found in wheat, barley and rye, nor any dairy products with casein protein.

The theory is that children with autism have a damaged intestine that leaks partially digested protein into the blood stream, with harmful effects on the brain.

Duke University psychiatrist Dr. Rick D'Alli said the few clinical trials to test the effects of the diet have produced inconclusive or contradictory results.

D'Alli said the online and celebrity testimonials that are boosting the popularity of the diet are based solely on anecdotal evidence.

"It's story-telling. It's not scientifically based," he said.

Kim Roberts said her son's physician recommended that her 6-year-old son, Jaden, eat a gluten-free, casein-free diet. He was diagnosed with autism when he was about 2 years old, and his mother is convinced there's a dietary link.

"He had diarrhea (or) runny stools. Some foods came out whole," Roberts said.

She now carefully controls everything that goes onto Jaden's plate. One recent lunch consisted of crinkle-cut fries that had no preservatives, apple slices, grapes and nitrate-free hot dogs without buns.

"Foods started to get a little bit digested better," she said.

The special foods and ingredients Roberts uses for Jaden's diet are more expensive and time-consuming, but she's committed to it.

"He's probably eating better than a lot of children," she said.

Jaden also receives professional therapy, and his mother said she doesn't know if it's the diet, the special attention or both that's helping him make progress.

"He has come a long way," she said.

People who have questions about or want to participate in National Institutes of Health autism studies should e-mail or call 1-800-411-1222.


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  • lettered olive Nov 19, 2009

    This diet, and other biomedical treatments, was around LONG before Jenny Mc. ever started talking about it. I agree she isn't my choice for someone who should be a spokesperson for this stuff. However, there are many credible doctors, pediatricians, dietitians, etc. who have run actual medical tests to see what, if any, treatments might be appropriate. These treatments are not just done as a shot in the dark, they are based on actual blood, urine, or stool tests that show what needs to be treated. So the "Neil Armstrong" analogy is way off base. I used to think the same way, that all this was phony science, and that was before I ever actually read anything about WHY some doctors think this works. Once you read the theory behind the madness, it makes more sense. But the bottom line is, if you try it and it doesn't help, then stop. But if you try it, and it helps, and it's SAFE, who's to argue with progress?

  • happymom Nov 19, 2009

    I agree, charlesboyer & piratepeople2. I get so frustrated with people pulling things out of their rear and telling me how to "fix" my child. I understand the desperation to find something, anything to make the lives of our children better, but I am not about to subject my child to crackpot theories. His life is hard enough as it is.

  • charlesboyer Nov 19, 2009

    Who are you going to believe? Jenny McCarthy, who shed her clothes for a living for most of her career and dabbles in what she calls science, or trained physicians and researchers using carefully conducted double-blind studies that pass the muster of peer review?

    It's like me saying the I **KNOW** the moon is made of green cheese, because I have a pair of binoculars and have seen it for myself. I'm being contradicted by Neil Armstong, who says, "well I have walked on the moon and it is made of rocks, not cheese."

    Who would you believe?

    That's the worth of Jenny McCarthy, Oprah Winfrey and Jim Carrey's cabal of crackpots who "know" more than anyone else. Truth is, they are misleading people with their bad ideas and causing great harm and damage to those who listen to them.

  • lettered olive Nov 18, 2009

    No you can't "cure" autism but you can help alleviate the medical problems that people with autism have. And in turn treating these folks medically does seem to help lessen their symptoms, some significantly, others less so. As prevalent as autism is, you would think we'd know more about it now than we do, but that isn't the as parents we are willing to try anything that is safe and might help our child. And believe me, having done this diet as well as other dietary changes, it is not something I would stick with if I didn't think it helped, even a little! Seriously, if you had daily constipation or diarrhea, and changing your diet made it better, would you go back?!

  • piratepeople2 Nov 18, 2009

    this is garbage and I can't believe you all are even releasing this-you can't cure a congenital neurological problem with any diet!