The researchers believe that boys with autism and ASD are at risk for poor bone development for a number of reasons. These factors are lack of exercise, a reluctance to eat a varied diet, lack of vitamin D, digestive problems, and diets that exclude casein, a protein found in milk and milk products. Dairy products provide a significant source of calcium and vitamin D. Casein-free diets are a controversial treatment thought by some to lessen the symptoms of autism.
Given the numbers of parents who claim that the GFCF diet is effective in treating their children's autism, and the potential risk to children from a diet that may not meet full nutritional requirements, at least if not done correctly, it is important that some quality studies be done to to confirm, qualify, or refute these claims. I am pleased to see the Science News report that such a study has begun:
Researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston have embarked on one of the first double-blind, clinical studies to determine whether gluten and dairy products play a role in autistic behavior
“A lot of children with autism have gastrointestinal problems such as constipation and diarrhea. Whether these problems are related to brain development is open to question,” said Katherine Loveland, Ph.D., co-investigator and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, pediatrics and biomedical sciences at the health science center. “There are neurotransmitters and neuroreceptors in the gut that correspond with those in the brain. There are some scientific reasons to think that some kids may benefit from this diet.”
For the double-blind study, funded in its initial phase by supplemental funds granted by the Department of Pediatrics, researchers will enroll 38 autistic children ages 3 to 9. They will look at the influence of gluten and milk proteins in the intestinal function. Gluten is a protein in wheat; casein and whey are proteins in milk. Casomorphin, a peptide in milk; and gliadomorphin, a peptide in gluten, are thought to be related to changes in behavior in these children. Children will be taken off gluten and dairy products before the four-week study and then half will be given gluten/milk powder and half will be given a placebo powder.
Researchers will study intestinal permeability (leaky gut) through urine collection and behavior through psychometric testing.
Either way, the advancement of our knowledge about the extent of the effectiveness of a GFCF diet in treating autism, based on quality evidence, will benefit autistic children.