The human digestive system has not evolved on a diet containing high amount of wheat and dairy products. Humans are the only animals who drink milk as an adult, and the only animal to drink the milk of another animal. Cows milk is perfect food for baby cows, but not for humans, especially past the age of nursing.
Over the past several hundred years, wheat has been bred to greatly increase its gluten content, and a typical US diet contains far higher amounts of wheat than humans were eating 1000, – 10,000 years ago. Gluten (in wheat, rye, barley and possibly oats) and casein (in all dairy products, including milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream, caseinate) can cause two problems that are exacerbated in children with autism or any of the spectrum disorders.
1. They are common food allergens, especially in children and adults with autism.
2. Certain peptides from gluten and casein can bind to opioid-receptors in the brain, and can have a potent effect on behavior (like heroin or morphine), causing problems including sleepiness, giddiness, inattention, zoning out, and aggressive and self abusive behaviors. Like opioids, they can be highly addictive and a lack of them can cause severe behaviors.
These problems appear to be due to:
1. A failure of the digestive tract to fully digest the gluten and casein peptides into a single amino acid.
2. Inflammation of the gut, allowing the gluten and casein peptides to enter the bloodstream and reach opioid receptors in the brain.
So what do you about this problem?
Total 100% avoidance of the gluten products and all dairy products. even small amounts, like a bite of a cookie, can cause an allergic reaction and or opioid problems. Many foods have trace amounts of these products in them, so it may be difficult to avoid them all together. There are very tasty alternatives to products with these elements in them. Try rice or almond milk. Almond milk has the same consistency as regular milk with a slight almond flavor. Try a sprouted bread that is made casein and gluten free, available at most health food stores.
Digestive enzymes can also be helpful, especially if there is an accidental exposure, but they are probably not as helpful as a total avoidance of casein and gluten.
Many children with autism also benefit by removing corn and/or soy products from their diets as well. Children who most crave dairy and/or wheat, and who eat a lot of it are most likely to benefit. Casein free diets usually products benefits within a month, and sometimes within a week. Gluten free diets usually take 1 – 3 months to produce benefits/ In some children there is a worsening of symptoms for a few days (similar to a drug withdrawal) followed by improvement. It is important that a calcium supplement be given to a dairy free child.
I hope you find this information helpful! Let me know what other things you know about improving the effects of autism on children.