Autism and Special Diets: What We Know, What We Don’t
Morgan Medeiros MSc
March 21, 2019

Autism Special DietsDiet: we know it impacts our bodies and minds on a variety of physiological levels.

What you eat (or don’t eat) impacts longevity, organ function, athletic performance, mood, body weight, hormones, and literally every cell in the human body.

Nutrition is powerful stuff. While that power should be underestimated, there are points at which the question marks are so large they bring scientists to a halt. In the world of autism, there are more questions than answers.

Although there are many therapies available to treat autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and it’s array of symptoms, we don’t fully understand what causes autism or how best to treat it.

Dietary interventions and therapies- including specialized diets- have been used anecdotally for autism treatment for years.

Children with ASD regularly experience gastrointestinal distress and selective/picky eating, the reasons for which are unknown.

Common symptoms of gastrointestinal anomalies in children with ASD include chronic constipation, bloating, gas, abdominal distention, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), fecal impaction, and nutritional deficiencies.

While there is little scientific evidence confirming the usefulness of any one diet in treating ASD or its symptoms, gluten free and casein free diets have both been proposed as helpful in children who may experience digestive problems while breaking down the proteins in dairy and wheat.

As a consequence, gut inflammation may increase gastrointestinal distress and pain, increasing ASD symptoms. While this intervention has not been proven, it is nonetheless somewhat popular in the ASD community.

Should parents try a gluten free or casein free diet?

Maybe. If a child has been tested and diagnosed with a food allergy or intolerance, his or her pain or discomfort may contribute to behavioral ASD symptoms. However, nutrition intervention in the absence of a physician’s recommendation may leave a child at risk for a greater nutritional deficiency or increased distress, so always speak to a child’s physician before undergoing any sort of large dietary change.

Morgan Medeiros is a certified nutritionist, holding a both a Bachelor and Master’s Degree in Clinical Nutrition. Morgan completed her undergraduate education at Central Washington University, and her graduate education at Northeastern University. During her time as a graduate student, Morgan focused her area of expertise in health education, weight management, and behavioral change. Morgan has experience working in areas of nutritional neuroscience and disease prevention, obesity prevention, and weight loss. Morgan also works in areas of nutritional analysis and menu labeling for restaurants, where she is able to creatively bridge her interest in food culture and health education. In her free time, Morgan enjoys traveling, reading, writing, running, and spending time with her family and friends (including- most importantly- her dog, Clyde).

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