A small study conducted by US-based researchers is providing preliminary scientific support to the idea that changes in diet can improve symptoms in some people with autism, a neurological disorder that impairs thinking, feeling and social functioning. Autism typically appears during the first 3 years of life and can range in severity and symptoms, from mild to devastatingly severe impairment. Heredity is thought to play a major role in the disease.
Researchers of the San Antonio Autistic Treatment Center in Texas have been investigating the theory that poorly degraded food proteins leak from the gut into the blood, having a drug-like effect that changes brain activity. In the first part of their study, these researchers found that 5 out of 28 children and adults with autism showed improvements in their symptoms after elimination of dairy products and wheat protein (glutens) from their diets.
In the second part of the study, the researchers eliminated several other foods, including buckwheat, soy products, tomato, pork and grapes from the patients' diets. Symptoms changed dramatically in 39.3% of patients during the second phase of the 3-month intervention period. Eight out of 28 patients showed clear improvements, as measured by a variety of quantitative scoring methods, including the Autistic Treatment Evaluation
The researchers argue that autism is not usually a defect in brain development, but is more likely to be a brain dysfunction that is secondary to extraneous factors, such as dietary factors, immune dysfunctions, infections or toxins.
Other experts commented that whether or not dietary treatment is effective does not necessarily imply that an abnormal response to food is part of the cause of autism. Any abnormal response to food could be a result of autism.
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