Monarch Center for Autism Cleveland Ohio

Gluten Free, Casein Free Diet (GFCF)

Many families of children with autism spectrum disorders are interested in dietary and nutritional interventions that might help some of their children's symptoms. Removal of gluten (a protein found in barley, rye, oats, and wheat) and casein (a protein found in dairy products), in what is known as a Gluten Free, Casein Free diet, or GFCF,225 is a popular dietary treatment for symptoms of autism. It is based on the hypothesis that these proteins are absorbed differently in children with autism spectrum disorders and act like false opiate-like chemicals in the brain. The hypothesis is not based on an allergic response. Neither the hypothesis nor the effectiveness of this dietary intervention has been demonstrated in scientific studies to date. Studies are ongoing in a number of centers. However, many families report that dietary elimination of gluten and casein has helped regulate bowel habits, sleep, activity, habitual behaviors and enhance overall progress in their individual child. No specific laboratory tests can predict which children might be observed by their families to have a positive response to dietary intervention. For that reason, many families elect a trial of dietary restriction with careful observation by the family and intervention team.

applesA trial of dietary restriction requires attention to basic nutritional guidelines. Dairy products are the most common source of calcium and vitamin D in young children in the U.S. Many young children depend on dairy products for a balanced protein intake. Alternative sources of these nutrients require substitution of other food and beverage products with attention to nutritional content rather than solely as a milk substitute beverage. Substitution of gluten free products requires attention to the overall fiber and vitamin content of a child's diet. Vitamin and supplement use may have both positive effects and side effects. Consultation with a dietitian or physician should be considered and can be helpful to families in the determination of healthy application of a GFCF diet. This may be especially true for children who are picky eaters.


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