Based on previous research studying a link between celiac disease and autism, some researchers held on to the belief that the 2 were linked. However, a Swedish nationwide study of 250,000 people, conducted by Dr. Jonas Ludvigsson of Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, dismantled that idea.
Celiac disease is estimated to affect 1% of the American population. It’s characterized as a person’s small intestines reacting aversely if gluten is consumed; the immune system attacks its own body. The mistaken link came about when people diagnosed with celiac disease switched to a gluten-free diet, their autism symptoms decreased. However, trials involving larger groups haven’t shown a link between these two conditions.
The study did point out an important connection though; one between Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) and blood testing positive for celiac disease. This link can be explained one of two ways. According to Ludvigsson, either this could be a result of doctors overtesting patients with ASDs for a link to celiac disease, or there could actually be a link.
An integral note Ludvigsson pointed out is that this study does not show that a gluten free diet can help improve ASD symptoms. “I think the next step would be for someone to carry out a well-performed study on a gluten-free diet in autism,” said Ludvigsson. The studies that have focused on this idea just haven’t been large enough.
Furthermore, according to Ludvigsson, even though a link wasn’t established between celiac disease and autism, a connection between other intestinal conditions and autism cannot be ruled out.
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