Wednesday, April 25, 2012

GF/CF Anyone?

You may have heard of the Gluten-free/Casein Free diet (GF/CF) as a promising treatment for autism…you might have also heard doctors pooh-pooh it as something we “hysterical parents” try, grasping for any scintilla of hope. Researchers at Penn State recently released some preliminary findings from their study regarding the effectiveness of the GF/CF diet:

  • "Research has shown that children with ASD commonly have GI [gastrointestinal] symptoms," said Christine Pennesi, medical student at Penn State College of Medicine. "Notably, a greater proportion of our study population reported GI and allergy symptoms than what is seen in the general pediatric population. Some experts have suggested that gluten- and casein-derived peptides cause an immune response in children with ASD, and others have proposed that the peptides could trigger GI symptoms and behavioral problems."
  • "There are strong connections between the immune system and the brain, which are mediated through multiple physiological symptoms."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 ASD therapies.

One of the first biomedical interventions I tried with Ryan was a gluten-free diet. He was already casein-free, because of his allergies to milk. The doctor told me not to take Ryan off wheat, despite the fact that the levels of wheat antibodies in his blood were significantly high and he was suffering from eczema. Besides, can it really be good for you to ingest something your body is attacking as if it were a virus? 

I pressed ahead anyway…I’d like to say when I removed wheat and all gluten-containing foods from his diet I saw a great change in his behavior. I didn’t, but did notice he seemed to have fewer tummy aches and less-frequent diarrhea so that in and of itself made it worth the switch. 

I’d also like to say I love quinoa (pronounced, “keen-wa”) and the “pastas” made with it as much as your everyday semolina pasta. I don’t, but fortunately for me Ryan doesn’t seem to know the difference.  And soybean cheese—let’s just say you’d never confuse it with Brie.

I don’t actually find it that difficult to keep Ryan gluten and casein free, but it is more expensive and I’ve lost the joy of buying foods with the wild abandon of not having to carefully read all the ingredients. The stuff that’s in processed foods can be downright puzzling, even scary.  Did you know “Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysate” is not gluten-free? No matter. It doesn’t sound appealing, does it? Fortunately, I have an app on my phone that helps me to determine if there are any gluten or casein offenders.

But there are ordinary items you may not know contain wheat--soy sauce, for example.  Wheat is the second ingredient, and because we live in Hawaii, where foods have a distinct Asian influence, soy sauce is a common addition to recipes here. We only take Ryan out to one restaurant in our town, and order him just the French fries…you may think French fries would always be gluten free, but alas, this is not the case. McDonald’s fries contain both wheat and milk ingredients and caused a severe allergic reaction in Ryan. They contain other unsavory ingredients, but that’s a story for another blog.

The bottomline with a GF/CF diet is you need to be prepared to cook. Buying an entire meal in a black plastic microwaveable dish from Costco is not an option—too many offending ingredients. And even if it doesn’t improve his autism symptoms, if the end result is Ryan eating a nutritious, healthy diet, then I’m all for it.


  1. Quite a few non-autistic folks, including my step daughter, swear by the benefits of a gluten-free diet.

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