Special Diets

There is no question that the types of foods a person eats affect the body in many ways.

For normal growth and development, the body needs a certain amount of calories and nutrients.  It is also known that certain foods provide more energy, affect behavior, and influence mood.  Many substances found in foods have been proven to prevent or treat illness.  In contrast, some foods are known to cause illness or even death in particular people.  A peanut consumed by someone with a severe peanut allergy, for example, can be deadly.  There are also a growing number of neurological disorders that are influenced—either positively or negatively—by the chemicals found in foods.

In the case of the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), many parents have reported a reduction in autism symptoms when certain dietary interventions have been tried.  For some children, dietary approaches have reportedly produced dramatic changes in overall functioning.  As with many other treatment options in autism, good scientific investigation resulting in supportive evidence doesn’t yet exist.  However, many of these special diets, either alone or in combination, are being used by a great number of people in the autism community. These diets include the following:

  • Casein-free diet (casein is a protein found in milk; this diet eliminates milk and all by-products of milk)
  • Gluten-free diet (gluten is a protein found in many grains; this diet eliminates such grains)
  • Feingold diet (eliminates additives and chemicals)
  • Specific Carbohydrate diet (removes specific carbohydrates including all grains, lactose and sucrose)
  • Yeast-free Diet (eliminates yeast and sugar)

The casein-free and gluten-free diets, carried out either separately or in together, are the best studied of these diets.  The theory behind why elimination of casein and/or gluten from the diets of individuals with ASD reduces symptoms is based on more than observation alone.  It has been proposed that the symptoms of autism can be explained by increased activity of certain receptors, known as opioid receptors, in the brain.  The breakdown products of gluten and casein, which are called peptides, may interact with these receptors to either cause or significantly increase autistic behaviors.


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