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Monday, October 08, 2007

Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet for Autistic Children Still Controversial

Actress and Playmate Jenny McCarthy wrote two light-hearted books on pregnancy and the first year of motherhood, Baby Laughs and Life Laughs.

Her new book, Louder Than Words: A Mother's Journey in Healing Autism, is much more serious. When he was two, her son Evan was found to be austistic. Since that time, McCarthy has spent seemingly much of her life investigating autism. She found a diet that has had much anecdotal success in helping austistic children, the gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet. Even some of the reviewers of the book on Amazon mention how helpful removing gluten or casein from their child's diets has been.

The problem for many of us is that the science does not as yet back up the anecdotes.

Mary Beckman wrote a good article on this for the Los Angeles Times, Science aside, food therapy for autism has support.

What is the current state of long-term medical studies on the GFCF diet?

A 2002 study of 600 children registered with the General Practice Research Database in the United Kingdom found that at the time of diagnosis, the percentage of autistic children with gastrointestinal disorders was the same as in healthy children of the same age. "There doesn't seem to be that kind of gut problem," says experimental psychologist and autism researcher William Ahearn of the New England Center for Children in Southborough, Mass.

But a 2006 study of 50 autistic children in New York who were compared with healthy children of the same age and sex, found that autistic children were more than twice as likely to have GI problems by age 7 than their healthy peers.

Ahearn points out that parents with the understanding, drive, and discipline to satisfy such a demanding diet for their children are likely, like McCarthy, to be trying as many other things as possible. This mixes the message. How is anyone to know which individual projects - or mixture of them - of all the good that the parents are doing is making a difference?

Researchers at the University of Rochester are in the middle of a five-year study on the GFCF diet. Results are expected to be announced next year. That will probably set the standard for the medical community for the near future.

Until then, a major source of information is the GFCF Diet website. Another perspective is found at AutismWeb.com.

You can find casein-free and gluten-free cookbooks, as well as cookbooks aimed at children with multiple allergies at my Milk-Free Bookstore.

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