Does Gluten Effect Children With Autism? Research Proposal

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¶ … Gluten Affect Autism


Effect of Gluten and Casein-Free Diet on Autism

Statistics say that 3-6 out of 1,000 Americans or 1 in every 110 Americans will develop autism, which is more than 90% heritable. There are pharmacological therapies for ASD but up to 27% of parents are drawn to the promise and observed effects of the gluten-free, casein-free diet in reducing ASD symptoms in their children. Naturopathy doctors advocate its use as one of the complementary and alternative medicines or CAM. Autistic persons are gluten and casein-sensitive. These substances produce morphine-line effects, which translate into the symptoms of autism. The rising popularity of the diet motivated an increase in research. Recent studies say there is limited scientific evidence on its effectiveness, has mixed results, helps some autistic persons but not all, misses out on essential nutrients, difficult and expensive to prepare and is outright considered a mere fad treatment.


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Autism or classical autism is the most severe form of Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2010). ASD is a group of complex neurological development disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior. Milder forms in this spectrum are Asperger Syndrome, Rett syndrome, and unspecified childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder. The Spectrum occurs in all ethnic and socioeconomic classes and all age groups. Statistics say that 3-6 out of every 1,000 will develop ASD, four times more in males than females (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke).

Research Proposal on Does Gluten Effect Children With Autism? Assignment

Naturopathic physicians are those who uphold and practice beliefs based on vitalism (Atwood, 2003). Vitalism is a pre-20th century belief that biological processes clash against the physical and chemical principles of modern medicine. Naturopaths believe in the healing power of nature in treating disease. They treat its cause, not just suppress symptoms, which modern medicine does. They perform holistic healing by boosting the immune system with herbs and homeopathic concoctions. They assume knowledge in disease prevention, which is unknown or opposed to medical doctors, public health practitioners, nutritionists and allied health experts. Part of naturopathic claim consists of the actions of toxins from synthetic medicines, allergies, imbalances of the Qi, and natural food substances, such as gluten and casein (Atwood). Naturopaths point to gluten and casein as behind ASD. Gluten is a natural protein found in wheat, rye and barley, which gives them spongy texture (Geraghty & Marschner, 2008). Casein is another natural protein found in dairy products. Casein forms a gel during digestion, which accounts for the long-lasting release of nutrients in the body. The belief is that autistic children are sensitive to these food substances, which result in intestinal permeability or a "leaky gut." A leaky gut is believed to absorb gluten and casein before they are completely broken down. They produce large peptides, which pass out of the intestines and into the blood stream. The peptides behave as opiates in the body. Autistic children exhibit the opiate effect in their eye contact, social interactions and behavior (Geraghty & Marschner).

Review of Literature

Rising Incidence, Cause and Present Medical Approaches

Researchers said that the broadening of diagnostic criteria and environmental factors explained the 8-fold increase of autism cases in the last decade (DeNoon, 2009). The increase was most prominent in California. Parents are also much more aware about the illness than a decade or 16 years ago. A lot of the autism funding has been devoted to genetic studies and the environmental factors, which make certain persons genetically susceptible. Environmental changes include medications, reproductive technology and everyday household substances like soaps, shampoos and toothpaste. Experts expressed concern over the difficulty of testing for thousands of environmental exposures, some of which have gone (DeNoon).

Autism is more than 90% heritable than any other behaviorally defined neuro-psychiatric disorders (Brkanac et al., 2008 p599). Fast-advancing genotomic technologies and large international collaborations have yielded this knowledge and understanding on the molecular genetic causes of autism. Medications are under experiment on two single-gene disorders, fragile X syndrome and Rett syndrome, believed to contain many aspects of the autistic phenotype (Bkanac et al. pp 600-603).

Present pharmacological treatment approaches to autism draw from those, which are effective in addressing behavioral symptoms of other disorders (Bkanac et al., 2008 p 604). Some drugs can reduce symptoms of aggression, irritability and hyperactivity. The National Institute for Mental Health and Research Units on Pediatric Psychopharmacology evaluated selected agents in the management of behavior among autistic children. The evaluation led to the selection of isperidone as the first to be approved by the U.S. FDA in the management of irritability in autism. The use of methylphenidate for both autism and ADHD symptoms was also confirmed (Bkanac et al. pp 605-607).

Naturopathic Approach: Glute-and-Casein-Free Diet

Naturopathic doctors treat earaches, allergies and medical problems using different complementary therapies to strengthen the body's natural life force (Atwood, 2003). They look for the underlying cause of a disease or disorder instead of focusing on symptoms. Their treatments include enemas and fasting for "detoxification," hydrotherapy, homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic manipulation, aromatherapy, herbs, rigid dietary regimens and other "natural remedies." They also sell preparations suited to these treatments to their clients at a profit (Atwood).

A licensed naturopathic physician or ND has a four-year, graduate-level naturopathic medical school education, consisting of the same basic sciences learned by a medical doctor or MD (Atwood, 2003). An ND's theory and practice are, however, not based on the same basic knowledge of an MD and which is widely accepted by the scientific community. The scope and quality of an ND's education does not prepare him for adequate diagnoses and appropriate treatments. MDs say that naturopathy should not replace conventional methods of treatment. They expect NDs to act responsibly in the awareness that they do not possess either the medical training or required scientific skepticism for the task. Instead, NDs present themselves as primary care physicians and yet have only a small fraction of MDs' training in primary care. NDs use homeopathy and other questionable and ineffective methods to deal with medical conditions (Atwood).

Diet Treats Actress' Autistic Son

Actress and book author Jenny McCarthy related her ordeal and experience with her young son, autism and the gluten-and-casein-free diet (Roberts et al., 2007). A first doctor diagnosed her son Evan with epilepsy and a second doctor said he has autism. The revelation also greatly affected her marriage. In a desperate search, she found a controversial solution to her son's condition in the internet in the form of a gluten-free and casein-free diet. She learned that many parents like her already believe that the protein content of wheat and dairy damage their children's brains. A pediatrician who specializes in treating autistic children, Dr. Jerry Katzinel, said that the two substances act like morphine to autistic children. They make them lethargic or giddy after eating foods with these substances. Jenny immediately put her son on the diet and she was amazed by the results. Evan began to speak and communicate and have eye contact. After two and half years of combination therapy, Evan can now engage in full conversation. His therapy consisted of medication, daily therapy, the diet, and supplements. Despite the lack of evidence on the merits of the diet, parents of autistic children like Jenny stand by its benefits. Medical experts remain skeptical about it (Roberts et al.).

The Diet Works

Dr. Paul Nash, a nutritional wellness practitioner, said that the body appears not to completely break down gluten and casein (Santanielli, 2008). He and other doctors who share his belief believe that the substances can change autistic children's thinking and behavior. They drew their position from the results of lab experiments on animals, which exhibited behaviors similar to autism and schizophrenia, after an infection of the substances. Medical doctors, on the other hand and expectedly, are hesitant to accept that a change in diet can change children's behavior (Santanielli).

Dr. Bryan Jepson is a biomedical expert on autism at the Thoughtful House Center for Children in Texas (Santanielli, 2008). Medical doctors would warn parents that the diet would be an expensive option, which offers only false hope. With 60-70% of his patients showing positive response, parents continue to be drawn to Dr. Jepson and his practice. Penni Ruben, director of Lakewinds Natural Foods, offers what customers ask for. He sells wheat-free, gluten-free, yeast-free and dairy-free foods. He also hosts cooking classes for parents who want to know how to prepare such foods. His wife, Janette, admits that the diet is hard to prepare and expensive. It costs $100 or more per month. But she considers it a food therapy, something that an autistic child needs to help his body and mind think and behave better (Santanielli).

Mechanism of Gluten Toxicity

This is best explained through a condition called gluten sensitive enteropathy or celiac disease (Department of Pediatrics Staff, 2010). This is an inflammatory condition in the intestines, which develops in response to small peptides from incompletely digested large gluten molecule.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Does Gluten Effect Children With Autism?.  (2010, June 29).  Retrieved February 24, 2020, from

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