Autism affects nearly one out of every 110 children,
according to the CDC. That's more children diagnosed with autism than with diabetes, cancer, and AIDS combined. Yet a cure
has yet to be found, and formal autism treatments are limited. So many parents
are trying autism diets and supplements they've heard about
from other parents or the media.
But can a child's diet really have an effect on autism or other autism
spectrum disorders (ASD)? And which nutrients or foods offer promise to improve
behavior, encourage children to be more communicative, or relieve the
gastrointestinal conditions that often accompany autism?
Got a question about diet or nutrition? WebMD asked the experts for answers
about eating healthy and losing weight.
WebMD turned to autism and learning disorder specialist Brian Udell, MD, director of the
Child Development Center of America, for answers.
What are common medical and nutritional challenges for kids with ASDs?
The most common GI symptoms include chronic diarrhea, abdominal distention,
discomfort and bloating, gastroesophogeal
reflux disease (GERD), excessive gas, constipation, fecal impaction,
food regurgitation, and a leaky gut syndrome. Children with autism are also at
risk for many other nutritional problems such as nutrient deficiencies, food allergies, food intolerances, and
What are the treatments for autism?
First, there are no cures for the disorder and there is no one single best
treatment for all children with ASDs. Every child must be evaluated
individually. This can be tricky because the diagnosis usually occurs in 1- to
3-year-olds who are not great communicators. Doctors base their treatment
protocols on lab results, parent reports, and physical exams. Even though there
are no lab tests to diagnose autism, there are tests that can help us manage
Most children show improvement with early-intervention treatment services,
where they learn important skills like walking, talking, and interacting with
Depending on the symptoms, [many] kids are treated with some form of diet.
Medication is common, as are physical, occupational, social, educational, and
communication therapy. And because the research lags behind, some physicians
try complementary and alternative medicine approaches
that are safe.
What are some common dietary changes that may offer symptom relief?
According to the Autism Network, nearly one in five children with autism are
on a special diet. There is no specific ASD diet, but removing certain proteins
may relieve symptoms. The gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet has the most
research and is one of the most common dietary interventions. About 25% of my
patients find relief and improvement with this diet. It excludes gluten, the
protein in wheat, and casein, the protein in milk. In theory, kids improve on
the diet because incomplete breakdown of these proteins create a ... substance
that can inflame the gut. Studies have shown improvement and parents
anecdotally report success when these two proteins are removed from the
Parents can also have their children tested for celiac disease, which responds to
a gluten-free diet.