Researchers have found that most autistic children, especially those with late onset autism (emergence of autism symptoms only after or around three years of age) respond well when gluten and casein are strictly eliminated from their diet. Gluten is a protein found in everyday food that contains wheat, oats, rye, and barley. Where else another protein compound called casein are commonly found in dairy milk products such as yogurt, cheese, ice cream and others.
Furthermore, many autistic children have been known to develop intestinal problems at the same time they are losing acquired skills such as language. This suggests that gut health can play a major role in the development of sensory skills. Here is an interesting news: The brain and gut are derived from the same tissue in the fetus. The gut has a vast network of nerves and neurotransmitter in its tissue lining that is directly linked to the brain. In a study done on 12 late onset autistic children with an early history of normal development followed by a loss of acquired skills: All of them, developed diarrhea and abdominal pain. This highlight the link between the gut and the brain, as the development of digestive problems was correlated with the loss of skills.
Studies suggests that both autistic children and children with learning disabilities suffer from a condition called leaky gut. In a normal gut, the intestinal cells are held firmly by tight junctions that prevent large molecules in the gut from entering the blood stream. In the leaky gut syndrome, the abnormality in the permeability of the gut lining allows large molecules such as bacteria, yeast, toxins, and food particles such as gluten and casein to pass from the gastrointestinal tract into the blood stream and ultimately into the brain. As a result, mood, behavior and learning skills may be affected. In addition, intestinal functions such as digestion and absorption of nutrients will also be impaired.
It is a common take that an overgrowth of microbes such as yeast in the gut can cause the the intestinal mucosa to become inflamed. This upset the intestinal lining and the tight junctions become "leaky." The gut losses barrier function, so most micro nutrients gets are blocked outside (causing nutrients deficiency), while toxins and antigens easily enter the the system. Sometimes ourselves, can create an unhealthy intestinal ecosystem by consuming too much sugar, as our society seem to be doing. This will encourage an overgrowth of bugs, especially yeast as it thrives on sugar.
Nutrients such as LCP (long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids) which are important for brain and visual development, will be deficient. The brain itself is composed of 60 percent fat and major components are LCP Every human thought and action that originates from inside the brain can only occur when the brain receives nutritional support of the LCPs. DHA is one of the component of LCPs that is vital for cells in the retina. This may affect vision and cause difficulty in reading and other problems. Supplementation can help in some cases.
Often, children with autism have a problem with a lack of enzymes, making the situation worse. The enzyme required to breakdown peptides from milk and peptides from gluten is deficient. Unhealthy gut causes these partially digested peptides to leak into the blood system and into the brain. These peptides are known as "Opioid peptides," will cause toxic effect in the brain and interfere with the receptors of neurotransmitter called enkephalins. Opioid peptides are believed to lead to worsening of symptoms found in autism.
Autism is a complex disorder, some will benefit with dietary changes. These special children need to be put on a gluten-casein-free diet for at least six months. Children who do not benefit from such elimination diet for six months should revert back to a normal diet. Casein is a main component of milk protein. It will have to be replaced by non dairy products, such as soy milk products, rice milk or almond milk. Gluten (found in wheat, oat, rye and barley) can be replaced with tubers, (potatoes, sweet potatoes, yam, tapioca), root vegetables (parsnip, turnip, radish), peas and beans.
Leaky gut syndrome is a condition not a disease, so you need to treat it by supplementing the diet with glutamine, probiotics and whey protein. Glutamine is the main source of energy for intestinal cells. Probiotics are helpful to improve the micro-flora and mucosa. Whey protein is also good to treat the mucosa. The treatment is to naturalize the situation in the gut. Increase the level of friendly bacteria to fight yeast and a healthy mucosal lining with better permeability. For further and more detail dietary controls, information can be found in books written by nutritionist/ professionals in their fields under "Autism and Diet." A healthy diet with less sugar and junk food should be beneficial.