Dairy, Gluten and Autism

Autism is defined by a set of behaviours. Key symptoms are: [1]

  • an extreme introversion
  • social indifference
  • stereotyped repetitive behaviours
  • language problems
  • problems with hygiene
  • temper tantrums
  • in some cases hyperactivity
  • irrational fears
  • decreased but fluctuating insensitivity to pain.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) monitors the prevalence of autism in 14 states of the US for children with autism at 8 years, as this is the age of peak prevalence. It is not a representative sample of the US. The reference area represents 9% of the US population of the same age.[2]

Median age at diagnosis in the reference area is 53 months which is less than the median age in the total US population.

At 2010, the rate of autism at age 8 was 14.7 per 1,000 which is 1 in 68. Boys are 4.5 times more likely to be affected than girls—rate for boys is 1 in 42 compared with 1 in 189 for girls.

Rates of autism have been rising dramatically. The 2010 rate is:

  • 29% higher than the preceding estimate of 1 in 88 children in 2008.
  • 64% higher than the 2006 estimate of 1 in 110 children.
  • 123% higher than the 2002 estimate of 1 in 150 children.

Black children are affected at a rate 14% higher than Hispanic children and white children affected 45% more than Hispanic children.


The association of autism with severe gastrointestinal problems has been documented since the 1990s.[3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]

A group of 10 children were assigned to a gluten-free, casein-free diet for a year along with a control group of 10 children. The development for the group of children on the diet was significantly better than for the controls.[9]

Below is a table showing the changes in the number of autistic traits in the diet group over the year.

CodeNumber of Autistic Traits
BeforeAfter
A155
B108
C169
D102
E106
F125
G123
H125
I134
J139

Similar results were obtained from an 8 week trial. As well as eliminating wheat and dairy, egg white, rice and soy was also eliminated in susceptible children.[10]

As previously noted, food allergies may have many potential confounding allergies. Simply removing dairy and gluten may obscure other potential issues. Eggs and tomatoes have been shown to be problematic.[11]

Also, people on a gluten-free diet consume a less dietary fibre and polysaccharides which affect intestinal bacteria.[12]

Despite the vast number of bacteria species and people, there are only two types of bacteriological ecosystems in the gut (enterotypes). Enterotypes were strongly associated with long-term diets, particularly protein and animal fat versus carbohydrates diets. Microbiome composition changed within 24 hours of initiating a high-fat/low-fiber or low-fat/high-fiber diet.[13]

There is sufficient evidence to suggest a low-fat, high-fibre, whole-food, plant-based diet would be more effective than a dairy-free, gluten-free diet.


In 2000, Hannah Poling was a 19 month old normal girl when she received a series of vaccinations.

Within 48 hours after immunizations to diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis; Haemophilus influenzae B; measles, mumps, and rubella; polio; and varicella (Varivax), the patient developed a fever to 38.9°C, inconsolable crying, irritability, and lethargy and refused to walk. Four days later, the patient was waking up multiple times in the night, having episodes of opistho-tonus, and could no longer normally climb stairs. Instead, she crawled up and down the stairs. Low-grade intermittent fever was noted for the next 12 days.
Ten days following immunization, the patient developed a generalized erythematous macular rash beginning in the abdomen. The patient’s pediatrician diagnosed this as due to varicella vaccination. For 3 months, the patient was irritable and increasingly less responsive verbally, after which the patient’s family noted clear autistic behaviors, such as spinning, gaze avoidance, disrupted sleep/wake cycle, and perseveration on specific television programs. All expressive language was lost by 22 months. The patient continued to have chronic yellow watery diarrhea intermittently for 6 months, which was evaluated with negative testing for Clostridium difficile, ova/parasites, and culture.
Four months later, an evaluation with the Infant and Toddlers Early Intervention program for possible autism was initiated. Along with the regression, her appetite remained poor for 6 months and her body weight did not increase. This resulted in a decline on a standard growth chart for weight from the 97th to the 75th percentile Evaluation at 23 months showed atopic dermatitis, slow hair growth, generalized mild hypotonia, toe walking, and normal tendon reflexes. The Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS) score was 33 (mild autism range), and she also met Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders-IV criteria for autism. [14]

Her father, Dr Jon Poling, PhD, is a neurologist at John Hopkins Hospital.

A three-member panel of Federal Claims Court ruled in November 2007 that, “the vaccinations received on July 19, 2000, significantly aggravated an underlying mitochondrial disorder, which predisposed her to deficits in cellular energy metabolism, and manifested as a regressive encephalopathy with features of ASD [Autism Spectrum Disorder].” Note that the court ruled that Hannah had “features of ASD” despite the fact that she was diagnosed as having autism.

On the 29th March 2008, Dr Julie Gerberding, who was the Director Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the time, was interviewed by CNN.

Dr Gerberding stated:

Well, you know, I don’t have all the facts because I still haven’t been able to review the case files myself. But my understanding is that the child has a — what we think is a rare mitochondrial disorder. And children that have this disease, anything that stresses them creates a situation where their cells just can’t make enough energy to keep their brains functioning normally. Now, we all know that vaccines can occasionally cause fevers in kids. So if a child was immunized, got a fever, had other complications from the vaccines. And if you’re predisposed with the mitochondrial disorder, it can certainly set off some damage. Some of the symptoms can be symptoms that have characteristics of autism.[15]
  • Gerberding states that she has not been able to review the case files. The court handed down the decision 4 months previously.
  • In the interview, Gerberding does not answer the question, “Does Hannah have autism?” She states that Hannah has “symptoms characteristic of autism”. Hannah does have autism.[16]
  • Gerberding states that this can be a result of a rare mitochondrial dysfunction. An estimate for mitochondrial dysfunction in autistic children is 5%. However, several  biomarkers for mitochondrial dysfunction are much higher: low total carnitine (90.0%); elevated AST (45.6%); elevated creatine kinase (46.8%); elevated ammonia (35.0%); elevated lactate (31.1%).[17]
  • Vaccination-associated adverse events occur in ∼1 of every 6 toddlers receiving measles-mumps-rubella vaccine dose 1, with high fever (greater than 39.5°C) occurring in 1 of 20.[18]

Footnotes

  1. Reichelt, K. L. et al. (2012) Peptides role in autism with emphasis on exorphins.pdf. Microbial Ecology in Health & Disease. 23 (18958),
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014) Prevalence of autism spectrum disorder among children aged 8 years-autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, 11 sites, United States, 2010. Morbidity and mortality weekly report. Surveillance summaries (Washington, DC: 2002). 63 (2), 1-24.
  3. Galiatsatos, P. et al. (2009) Autistic Entercolitis Fact ot Fiction. Canadian Journal of Gasteroentrology. 23 (2), 95–98.
  4. Horvath, K. et al. (1999) Gastrointestinal abnormalities in children with autistic disorder. The Journal of Pediatrics. 135 (5), 559–563.
  5. Furlano, R. I. et al. (2001) Colonic CD8 and γδ T-cell infiltration with epithelial damage in children with autism. The Journal of Pediatrics. 138 (3), 366–372.
  6. Krigsman, A. et al. (2010) Clinical presentation and histologic findings at ileocolonoscopy in children with autistic spectrum disorder and chronic gastrointestinal symptoms. Autism Insights. 2 (1), 1–11.
  7. de Magistris, L. et al. (2010) Alterations of the Intestinal Barrier in Patients With Autism Spectrum Disorders and in Their First-degree Relatives: Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. 51 (4), 418–424.
  8. de Magistris, L. et al. (2013) Antibodies against Food Antigens in Patients with Autistic Spectrum Disorders. BioMed Research International. 20131–11.
  9. Knivsberg, A. M. et al. (2002) A Randomised, Controlled Study of Dietary Intervention in Autistic Syndromes. Nutritional Neuroscience.  5 (4), 251–261.
  10. Lucarelli, S. et al. (1995) Food allergy and infantile autism. Panminerva. 37 (3), 137–141.
  11. Carroccio, A. et al. (2012) Non-Celiac Wheat Sensitivity Diagnosed by Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Challenge: Exploring a New Clinical Entity. American Journal of Gastroenterology. 107 (12), 1898–1906.
  12. De Palma, G. et al. (2009) Effects of a gluten-free diet on gut microbiota and immune function in healthy adult human subjects. British Journal of Nutrition. 102 (08), 1154.
  13. Wu, G. D. et al. (2011) Linking long-term dietary patterns with gut microbial enterotypes. Science. 334 (6052), 105–108.
  14. Poling, J. S. et al. (2006) Developmental regression and mitochondrial dysfunction in a child with autism. Journal of child neurology. 21 (2), 170–172.
  15. Gupta, S. (2008) Unraveling the Mystery of Autism. Health Call. 29 March. [online]. Available from: http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0803/29/hcsg.01.html.
  16. Poling, J. S. et al. (2006) Developmental regression and mitochondrial dysfunction in a child with autism. Journal of child neurology. 21 (2), 170–172.
  17. Rossignol, D. A. & Frye, R. E. (2012) Mitochondrial dysfunction in autism spectrum disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Molecular psychiatry. 17 (3), 290–314.
  18. LeBaron, C. W. et al. (2006) Evaluation of potentially common adverse events associated with the first and second doses of measles-mumps-rubella vaccine. Pediatrics. 118 (4), 1422–1430.

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