Gluten-free, casein-free diet
The molecular structure of the partially undigested proteins, known as peptides, resemble opiates. It is thought that such peptides have an effect much like opiates in the brain and nervous system. From this premise it follows that long term exposure to these opiate peptides can have many damaging effects on the developing brain and also affects behavior, just as any narcotic would.
The opioid peptides involved are identified as casomorphines from casein, and gluten exorphines and gliadorphin from gluten.
Many parents report that removing casein and gluten from their child's diet increases eye contact, attention span, and general mood while decreasing problems like tantrums, self-stimulatory behavior (such as hand-flapping and rocking) and aggression. Many find that providing a diet free of casein and gluten aids children in successfully learning daily living skills like dressing, using the toilet as well as improving coordination and imaginative play activities. In a small number of cases, such dietary changes have resulted in dramatic improvements, enabling the child to attend mainstream educational programs in a matter of months.
Beginning the diet can be difficult but not impossible. Gluten is most commonly found in wheat, rye, and barley and may sometimes contaminate oats grown nearby or processed on the same equipment as gluten-containing cereals, and casein is found in dairy products; wheat and dairy frequently make up a large proportion of the Western diet. One of the biggest obstacles parents face is that individuals needing gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diets often crave these foods much the same as an addict. In fact, parents often report withdrawal symptoms when gluten and casein are eliminated that are similar to addicts experiencing withdrawal from narcotic drugs.
Many parents worry about removing wheat and dairy because these foods are the only ones their child will eat, and because prevailing attitudes in Western culture consider them an essential staple. However, children who eat only or mostly wheat and dairy products often show remarkable improvement once a GFCF diet is underway. Many families have found from experience that their children's menu options actually increase after the effects of eating gluten and casein have subsided.
Some people experience immediate improvement although it may take as long as six months for gluten to clear out of the system and one month for casein to clear. Advocates of the diet recommend trying it for at least a year as it can take this long for some children to show improvement. The diet affects changes in the body at a cellular level and promotes healing of the stomach and intestinal lining, both of which can take time.
Although this diet has been questioned by the medical community, many doctors and university research centers are advocating the use of this intervention for autistic children, especially after seeing results first-hand. Doctors who work with DAN! (Defeat Autism Now) are supportive of interventions such as the GFCF diet.
Although food sensitivites have been known about for decades they are rarely given consideration in diagnosis, therapy and recovery efforts. The specifics of the GFCF diet were introduced to the general public through the combined publications of two women who researched interventions and crusaded for autism recovery. Information about the GFCF diet has since spread around the world and has helped thousands of families cope with this puzzling disorder.
The GFCF diet has been supplemented with a number of new innovations. These include incorporation of the Feingold diet, the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, diets with reduced salicylates and phenols, etc.
There are as yet few studies that prove or disprove the GFCF diet or other diets, but there is growing acceptance in the medical community that restrictive diets affect pediatric and adolescent behavior.
Those suffering from celiac disease and/or dermatitis herpetiformis are instructed to avoid all forms of gluten, though their metabolic disorders are apparently distinct from the autism-related metabolic disorder hypothesized by GFCF proponents. There are anecdotal reports of this diet also being beneficial to sufferers of multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, Tourette syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome and attention deficit disorder. However, in some of these cases (e.g.; Tourette syndrome), there is no evidence that a gluten-free diet has any impact upon symptoms
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