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Gluten and Autism – Is There a Connection?

Is it True That There’s no Cure for Autism?

If you’re unfortunate enough to be touched by autism, you know the devastating effects it can create not only for the individual suffering, but for their caring family. Imagine having a perfectly normal child who, one day, a veil drops over—one that ends most communication and social interaction. The ability of the child to communicate, as well as the ability of the family to “get through”—both are cut off. It’s truly devastating. But is it preventable? Is gluten intolerance a causative factor?

The Autism Rate is Doubling Every 15 Years

According to Dr. Alessio Fasano from the University of Maryland’s Celiac Research Center, gluten definitely plays a strong role in autism. I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Dr. Fasano at a Forum. He spoke of autism and the frightening increase that we are seeing in its incidence. Autism, along with autoimmune disease, appears to be doubling in frequency every 15 years. This is an astonishing rate and one that isn’t explained by genetic changes. Rather, it is agreed that the increased incidence is due to environmental factors.

What are the Triggers?

What are some of those factors? Diet and lifestyle seem to head the list. Some triggers that Dr. Fasano laid out that relate to gluten intolerance were as follows:

•  Gluten sensitivity & a leaky gut—responsible for 20% of autism

•  Intestinal dysbiosis (probiotic imbalance)—responsible for 30% of autism

Could There Really Be a Cure for 50% of Those Afflicted?

Yes, up to 50% of all autism seems to be related to eating gluten plus the secondary effects it creates on the body. Both a leaky gut and intestinal dysbiosis (an imbalance of the good bacteria in the gut) are two of the known secondary effects of gluten intolerance. One can have a leaky gut and poor probiotic balance for other reasons as well, but gluten intolerance is a known and strong influence.

Parents that were interviewed regarding some of the most successful treatments they undertook, which made a positive impact on their child’s autism, rated a gluten-free and casein-free (the protein in dairy products) diet as the best by far over any other treatment.

A Gluten-free Diet Causes the Veil of Autism to Lift

Dr. Fasano told a beautiful story of an 8-year old who, upon eliminating gluten from his diet, picked up his language and educational level to that of normal 8-year-olds with almost no “lag time”. It was almost as if his brain was assimilating everything on some deeper level, though it couldn’t be expressed. As soon as gluten was removed, he bounced back, almost as if he never had autism.

The Importance of Diet and Intestinal Health

Think about 20% of the children diagnosed with this terrible disease as being completely cured with a dietary change—a gluten-free diet. Now consider another 30% who simply need to restore health to their small intestine by restoring balance to the good bacteria that should be residing there. These two factors add up to a whopping 50% of those suffering!

This latter factor is something we strive for at our clinic in Sunnyvale, California, with every patient—because probiotic imbalance “comes with” gluten intolerance. It is a result of the negative impact that gluten has on the immune system of the gut.

Autistic Children with Celiac Disease See 95% Cure Rate

By the way, as a point of clarification, only 2-3% of autistic children were found to have celiac disease, according to Dr. Fasano. But a full 20% had gluten sensitivity. He went on to say that 95% of the children with celiac disease were cured of their autism on a gluten-free diet.

Could Prevention Be Achieved Relatively Easily?

What about prevention? Most autistic children begin life perfectly normal. What if we intervened immediately and screened children for gluten intolerance? What if we fed our children in such a fashion that they maintained a healthy probiotics population in their small intestines? Could we prevent 50% of all autism from occurring?

It certainly is “food for thought”.

I can tell you one thing: If we don’t begin to seriously change the way we eat and the number of chemicals, drugs, pesticides and genetically modified foods we consume (to name a few), we will continue on this fast track towards increased autism and autoimmune disease. That is a sad thing to picture and certainly not the way we would like to live, nor something we desire for our family and friends.

Not to sound trite, but our children ARE our future. We can, it seems, quite easily make that future brighter and healthier with some effort in the area of diet and lifestyle. Gluten intolerance is a piece of the puzzle, but there are others, as mentioned above.

In the meantime, I will continue to write and speak and blog and video.

I am here to help. Please send me your questions or call us for a free consultation at (408) 733-0400. Our destination clinic treats patients from across the country as well as internationally.

To your good health,

Dr. Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN
Founder of HealthNOW Medical Center
Co-author of “The Gluten Effect”

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