I am sure that you may have heard about the Gluten-free Casein-free diet by now. It has been in the news. There are now special cookbooks specifically geared for special populations to try this diet including the "Kid-Friendly ADHD and Autism cookbook." And there are whole blogs devoted to sharing GFCF recipes. This diet has definitely reached the mainstream as more food stores carry these products than ever before. When I started my son on the GFCF diet eight years ago we had to special order foods or go to a health food store to purchase the needed items. Now we can find GFCF foods in our local grocery store and even restaurants have begun to create GFCF items on their menu. The popularity of this diet is growing by leaps and bounds.
So what is all the hoopla about?
I had heard about this diet years ago from other parents who were a part of an on-line support group for parents who had children with autism and/or ADHD. I was hearing all these remarkable claims about the diet and my inner skeptic was provoked. I heard stories of children with autism speaking full sentences for the first time after the implementation of this diet. I heard other tales of children with ADHD who no longer had any of the behavioral traits which define this disorder following their switch to the GFCF diet. I also heard from people who said that this diet was a lot of bunk and should be discredited as a way to help people who have autism and/or ADHD.
I always believe that the truth lies somewhere in between the two extremes.
The theory behind using the diet goes something like this. People who are on the autism spectrum and/or have ADHD may not be able to properly digest gluten (which is the protein part of wheat, barley and rye) and casein (which is a protein found in milk and milk products such as cheese, butter, yogurt and ice-cream). When these proteins are not properly digested the theory suggests that they form substances which act as opiates in the body. And in turn these newly formed substances alter the child's behavior, perceptions, and responses to the environment.
Is there any scientific proof of this?
Actually there is. There are many researchers who are studying the brain/gut connection and their findings are quite interesting. Here is but one study. In a 2006 study by Niederhofer and Pittschieler entitled, "A Preliminary Investigation of ADHD symptoms in persons with celiac disease" the authors found that:
"The data indicate that ADHD-like symptomatology is markedly overrepresented among untreated CD patients and that a gluten-free diet may improve symptoms significantly within a short period of time. The results of this study also suggest that CD should be included in the list of diseases associated with ADHD-like symptomatology."
Here "CD" stands for celiac disease which means you are unable to digest gluten and wheat products.