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Autism and The Gluten Free Casein Free Diet (GFCF)

Written by Olivia Cerf.

Effect of The Gluten Free Casein Free Diet (GFCF) on Autism

Gluten and Casein are proteins. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats. Casein is found in milk, cheese, and other dairy products.

People with autism have been reported to have abnormal levels of peptides in their urine and cerebrospinal fluid. Digestion of the proteins gluten and casein results in high levels of peptides as byproducts. When present in excess, peptides may be incompletely broken down and absorbed in excess. They are passed through the intestinal lining to the central nervous system, where they cause opioid activity and disrupt the CNS’ normal functions. Preliminary studies have suggested that diets containing gluten and casein may either cause or exacerbate symptoms of autism.

Other elimination diets have been explored and found to be successful to treat autism and other illnesses. For more information on how diet can influence the brain, see GAPS diet, High Fructose Corn Syrup and Autism, elimination diet, and Gluten-Free diet.

Read more details about The Gluten Free Casein Free Diet (GFCF).

Research Evidence on The Gluten Free Casein Free Diet (GFCF)

One small preliminary study at the University of Sunderland studied of 22 children who had a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder on a gluten-free diet over five months. This elimination diet removed all wheat, oats, barley, and rye. The participants’ mean age was 47.2 months, or just under 4 years old. After the elimination diet, there was no decrease in the urinary peptide compounds, but parental satisfaction surveys and teacher observations both reported improved behavior after three months. Behaviors reported as improved were

  • verbal and nonverbal communication
  • attention and concentration
  • decreased aggression
  • increased affection-seeking1

In addition to the trial group and a control group, there was also a group who had already been on a gluten free diet for six months who volunteered to reintroduce it for the study. There was a reported gradual regression of improvements, meaning that

  • language and communication skills regressed
  • hyperactive and impulsive behavior increased
  • aggression increased

There has only been one double blind study of the GFCF diet, published in 2006. Fifteen children on the autism spectrum were provided foods to take home by researchers so that parents didn’t know which diet the child was on. This experiment resulted in unchanged urinary peptide levels. The authors report no statistically significant change in behavior, but when it was revealed which participants had been on the GFCF diet, parents of nine children chose to continue their children on it and parents of seven reported that there were improvements in

  • language
  • decreased hyperactivity
  • decreased tantrums

Weaknesses of this study include its small sample size of fifteen and the homogeneity of the subjects – all were white except for one Asian child.2

Types of Professionals That Would Be Involved with This Treatment

Removing two major food groups from the diet may cause malnourishment if the diet is not constructed or supplemented correctly.


1 Jennifer Harrison Elder. “The Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet in Autism: Results of a Preliminary Double Blind Clinical Trial”. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 36, no 3(2006): 413.

2 Paul Whiteley et al. “A Gluten-Free Diet as an Intervention for Autism and Associated Spectrum Disorders: Preliminary Findings”. Autism 3, no 1(1999): 45.

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1 Comment

Posted 11 years ago

Great Article! Lots of help!

1 0
Olivia Cerf 11 years ago

Thanks a lot Henry! If you or someone you know tries this, please share your experience and help us strengthen our info.

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