Although I have previously written on this topic, an email request from one of my young readers prompted me to write the shorter version for her project:

Dear Dr. Udell,

… I am a senior at Buffalo High School in Buffalo, MN. I am researching gluten-free products and the trend in the increase of people going on gluten-free diets. Through research I have discovered a gluten-free diet may be an effective treatment for autism. I was hoping you could help me by answering the following questions.
     1. Research on the effectiveness of the elimination a gluten-free diet is minimal at this point. Though the research done proves the diet could help autistic patients, do you think the little evidence is enough to place patients on a life changing diet?
     2. Do you believe placing autistic patients on a gluten-free diet is helpful?

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

My answer:
One diet (GF/CF, for example) shouldn’t be helpful for hundreds of thousand of people.

I believe, and my practice has demonstrated, that a person-specific diet can be quite helpful. Modern Western medicine handles inflammation by the use of strong anti-inflammatory drugs such as steroids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (celebrex, others). Such compounds have lots of side effects, so physicians cannot give them to young children for more than a few weeks at a time. The best way to decrease inflammation is to avoid it – so I test for food allergies (94 different foods) and avoid those foods to which the child is most allergic. Sometimes, gluten and casein are the culprits, often they are not the ONLY foods to cause problems.

So, if a child is more allergic to soy, e.g. than casein, and drinks soy milk products, the diet won’t appear to work.

Or, if a child is allergic to peanuts, and is eating lots of peanut butter with the GF/CF diet, the diet won’t appear to work.

Or, if a child is not allergic to gluten or casein, the diet won’t appear to help.

Another problem with gluten and/or casein is that the large protein molecules sometimes “leak” into a patient’s bloodstream, after which the liver tries to rid the body by attaching morphine-compounds. I test for those compounds (urine), and when affected patients avoid those foods, they appear less ‘stoned’ and their attention improves.

Finally, if a “life-changing diet” helps change a person’s life (makes them talk or think better) umm… isn’t it worth it?

Thanks for asking!


Brian D. Udell MD FAAP
Medical Director
Child Development Center of America

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