Previous studies have suggested that children diagnosed with autism also present gastrointestinal symptoms, which has lead to a popular trend of gluten-free diets. Gluten is a group consisting of more than 70 proteins in wheat and related grains, which has proven to be of concern in children with autism.
In a new study, the first of its kind, researchers at Columbia University Medical Center studied “serologic and genetic markers of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity” [i] in children with autism and a control group. Blood samples were taken and medical records were examined in 140 children, 37 of them having autism. In addition, only the children diagnosed with autism based on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule and the Autism Diagnostic Interview, Revised, were included. Elevated antibodies to gluten proteins were found in the group with autism, furthering the association between these antibodies and the presence of gastrointestinal symptoms. However, a connection was not formed between the elevated antibodies and celiac disease.
This study is a step in the right direction, however, more research has to be done to understand the full meaning and relevance of the antibodies present in the autism population. This association of the high levels of antibodies and the gastrointestinal symptoms lead to “immunologic and/or intestinal permeability abnormalities in the affected children,” according to the study’s lead researcher Dr. Armin Alaedini, assistant professor of medical sciences in the Department of Medicine and the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University Medical Center.
There is no concrete study confirming the positive effects of gluten-free diets for children with autism, although many parents state an improvement in their child’s signs and symptoms. If a gluten-free diet proves to be effective, mothers may begin to live a gluten-free lifestyle during pregnancy and important developmental stages for their child.
[i] “Science Codex” Elevated gluten antibodies found in children with autism but no link to celiac disease. 20 Jun 2013. Web. < http://www.sciencecodex.com/elevated_gluten_antibodies_found_in_children_with_autism_but_no_link_to_celiac_disease-114456>