In addition to the recent [controversial] links made between thimerosal (a mercury preservative commonly used in a number of childhood vaccines) and autism, there have also been links made between diet and autism, though not all studies support the connection. The evidence is sufficiently strong to make a dietary approach worth trying by parents, under the supervision of a doctor or nutritionist [open to ancestral diets], and worthy of further investigation by scientists.
Autism is an autoimmune disease (see Autoimmune Disease Research Foundation, A Theory of Autoimmune Disease, and Autoimmune Diseases, IMMUNOSCIENCES LAB., INC.). Many independent sources have found a link between autoimmune disease and diet. For example, the NeanderThin program, created by author Ray Audette, “is based on the authors’ research into the connection between autoimmune disease … and agricultural foods.” Dr. Loren Cordain of Colorado State University has also researched this connection. He states the following in his book, The Paleo Diet:
Many environmental agents have been suspected in the development of autoimmune diseases. But only one of these types has proved capable of causing a disease. Cereal grains—such as wheat, rye, barley, and oats—are responsible for celiac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis. In celiac disease, the immune system attacks and destroys cells in the intestine, leading to diarrhea and many nutritional problems. In dermatitis herpetiformis, the skin is attacked.
Withdrawal of all gluten-containing cereals causes complete remission of both diseases. Cereal grains, dairy products, and legumes are suspected in other autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Autism has many symptoms and characteristics in common with connective tissue disorders. There is a strong connection between connective tissue disorders, diet and nutritional deficiencies, which is explored in depth at Sandy Simmon’s Web site (www.ctds.info). Symptoms that are associated with both autism and connective tissue disorders include (but are not restricted to): allergies, anxiety, arrhythmia, asthma, attention deficit disorder, autistic-like behaviors, bowel symptoms, eye disorders, food intolerances and allergies, hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli, mood instability, muscle pain, obsessive-compulsive disorder, repetitive language, sleep difficulties, and strong food preferences and aversions. One connective tissue disorder, fragile x, is found in 10% of autism cases.
Research has linked autism to gastrointestinal disorders. A University of Maryland study strongly made the link:
UM DOCTORS FIND FIRST CLEAR LINK BETWEEN AUTISM AND GASTROINTESTINAL DISORDER
1999 Releases - University of Maryland Medical News
Originally Released: December 12, 1999
BMJ 2002;325:419-421 ( 24 August 1999 )
Children with autism have a much higher rate of gastrointestinal disorders than other children, according to a study conducted by doctors at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. The study, led by Karoly Horvath, M.D., Ph.D, further suggests that gastrointestinal disorders may contribute to some of the behavioral problems associated with autistic children and may be caused by low levels of the hormone secretin in the body.
…. Fifty-eight percent of the examined children with autism suffered from chronic diarrhea caused by malabsorption of carbohydrates. ….
Numerous studies have linked autism to diet. Here are links and excerpts from just some of them:
Nutr Neurosci. 2002 Sep;5(4):251-61.
A randomised, controlled study of dietary intervention in autistic syndromes.
Knivsberg AM, Reichelt KL, Hoien T, Nodland M.
The development for the group of children on diet was significantly better than for the controls.
Panminerva Med. 1995 Sep;37(3):137-41.
Food allergy and infantile autism.
Lucarelli S, Frediani T, Zingoni AM, Ferruzzi F, Giardini O, Quintieri F, Barbato M, D'Eufemia P, Cardi E.
“The aim of the present study has been to verify the efficacy of a cow's milk free diet (or other foods which gave a positive result after a skin test) in 36 autistic patients. We also looked for immunological signs of food allergy in autistic patients on a free choice diet. We noticed a marked improvement in the behavioural symptoms of patients after a period of 8 weeks on an elimination diet and we found high levels of IgA antigen specific antibodies for casein, lactalbumin and beta-lactoglobulin and IgG and IgM for casein. The levels of these antibodies were significantly higher than those of a control group which consisted of 20 healthy children. Our results lead us to hypothesise a relationship between food allergy and infantile autism as has already been suggested for other disturbances of the central nervous system.”
Expert Opin Ther Targets. 2002 Apr;6(2):175-83.
Biochemical aspects in autism spectrum disorders: updating the opioid-excess theory and presenting new opportunities for biomedical intervention.
Shattock P, Whiteley P.
“One area of interest … is the opioid-excess theory of autism. The main premise of this theory is that autism is the result of a metabolic disorder. Peptides with opioid activity derived from dietary sources, in particular foods that contain gluten and casein, pass through an abnormally permeable intestinal membrane and enter the central nervous system (CNS) to exert an effect on neurotransmission, as well as producing other physiologically-based symptoms. Numerous parents and professionals worldwide have found that removal of these exogenously derived compounds through exclusion diets can produce some amelioration in autistic and related behaviours. There is a surprisingly long history of research accompanying these ideas. The aim of this paper is to review the accompanying evidence in support of this theory and present new directions of intervention as a result of it.”
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004(2):CD003498.
Gluten- and casein-free diets for autistic spectrum disorder.
Millward C, Ferriter M, Calver S, Connell-Jones G.
BACKGROUND: It has been suggested that peptides from gluten and casein may have a role in the origins of autism and that the physiology and psychology of autism might be explained by excessive opioid activity linked to these peptides. Research has reported abnormal levels of peptides in the urine and cerebrospinal fluid of persons with autism. If this is the case, diets free of gluten and /or casein should reduce the symptoms associated with autism. ….
MAIN RESULTS: The one trial included reported results on four outcomes. Unsurprisingly in such a small-scale study, the results for three of these outcomes (cognitive skills, linguistic ability and motor ability) had wide confidence intervals that spanned the line of nil effect. However, the fourth outcome, reduction in autistic traits, reported a significant beneficial treatment effect for the combined gluten- and casein- free diet.
Food allergy and infantile autism.
Authors: Lucarelli S , Frediani T , Zingoni AM , Ferruzzi F , Giardini O , Quintieri F Barbato M, D'Eufemia P , Cardi E
Department of Paediatrics, University of Rome La Sapienza, Italy.
Panminerva Med 1995 Sep;37(3):137-41
“Researchers at Johnson & Johnson have found a very toxic compound in the urine of children with autism - dermorphin. Dermorphin is only found one other place in nature - the poison of the Amazonian Poison Dart Frog! It is 10 million times more potent and toxic than morphine (Alan Friedman, PhD at J&J). Other researchers have confirmed it is essentially always present in children with autism that receive even tiny amounts of casein or gluten.”
The rate of autism in the population in America has been rising, indicating an environmental factor(s) in causation. Even though thimerosal is being phased out, autism rates have been rising, suggesting that there is another factor(s) involved.
Autism's Surge Mystifies
By Anita Manning, USA TODAY
May 18, 2004, p. 8D
Autism, once a rare and mysterious disorder, is no longer so rare. A generation ago, only two to four of every 10,000 children were labeled autistic. Today, it's more like 60 per 10,000 by some estimates.
But no one knows why. Experts cite a much greater awareness of autism and related conditions, grouped as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), and a broader definition that has allowed children who might otherwise have been overlooked to receive a diagnosis. But they also say there has been an actual increase, and the reasons for that are not entirely clear — though there are plenty of theories.
"We know there are genetic factors," Hollander says, but something else may also be involved. "It is possible there are environmental factors" that trigger the genes.
Several possibilities have been investigated, from junk-food diets, which are high in fatty acids that could interfere with the coating of nerve cells in the brain, to a drug used to induce labor in pregnant women. But no environmental link has been found.