A new study by a team from Columbia University, Weill Cornell Medical College and Uppsala University in Sweden has caused somewhat of a stir recently by suggesting that ‘a subset of children with autism displays increased immune reactivity to gluten, the mechanism of which appears to be distinct from that in celiac disease.’ They go on to suggest that in non-coeliac autistic children wheat proteins may not be being properly broken down in the digestion and, via a leaky gut, may be entering the bloodstream from whence they can cross the blood-brain barrier and could be the cause a number of neurological conditions, including autism.
However, welcome though this new research is, the idea that wheat gluten could be implicated in autism in scarcely new. The mechanisms may be slightly different but the Autism Research Unit at the University of Sunderland had identified gluten (and casein) as extremely significant in some cases of autism back in the 1970s. The unit no longer exists but its research work is now carried forward by Espa Research and you can find their full protocol for nutritional interventions in ‘autism and related disorders’, here on the Epsa site.
Moreover, a signifcant number of autistic children have benefitted hugely from the exclusion of gluten and casein from their diet. For more on this see The Story of Matthew, Luke, Joe and Ben or a report on the Salisbury Autism Group’s 2005 conference, or this short report from a 2001 HACSG conference. Or, see this report on PubMed in May this year, of a child with autism and epilepsy who ceased to suffer from either condition on a gluten and casein-free ketogenic diet.
But recent ‘fashions’ for blaming autism on vaccines, chemical exposures, Cesarean sections, or parasite elimination have somewhat pushed wheat/gluten out of the picture. So it is great that the equally recent focus on the existence of gluten sensitivity as a separate entity from coeliac disease may be pulling wheat/gluten back into the autism-significant fold.
As Sayer Ji, author of the Green Med Info article says,
‘(The research fraternity should not be trying to) prove one thing the cause (e.g. “autism genes”), and another not the cause (e.g. vaccines), as if it were some kind of academic sport or past time, rather, to acknowledge all possible contributing factors, and eliminate them whenever possible as a precaution.’