Gluten Free Diet

Posted on October 26th, 2012 by Denise | No Comments

Gluten Free Diet


Denise Koonce OTR


What is a Gluten Free Diet?  Gluten Free (GF) describes the elimination of gluten found in many grains such as wheat, barley, and rye.  Gluten is a protein found in these grains and is an integral part of the American diet.  This can feel like an arduous task considering that these items are found in a multitude of food and food products.  Gluten is found in breads, pasta, crackers, cereals, and many processed foods.  It is also found in beer and non food items such as play dough and lipstick.  Individuals who are on a GF diet predominately eat fresh fruits, vegetables, rice, unprocessed meats, fish, eggs and milk.

A Gluten Free diet is the only treatment for the gastrointestinal problem called Celiac Disease.  Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease of the small intestine.  It is found in about 1% of the general population and in about 10% of individuals with Down’s syndrome.  The symptoms for Celiac disease can include abdominal cramping, intestinal gas, chronic diarrhea or constipation, anemia and steatorrhea (fatty stools).  In the infant/toddler population, they will exhibit growth failure, vomiting, bloated abdomen, behavioral changes and failure to thrive.  Many times we will see these children on our caseload because of their failure to thrive, history of vomiting, and résistance to eat but without the diagnosis of celiac.  It is important to work with the patient’s team to rule out celiac disease when therapy efforts are not effecting a significant change.  The diagnosis for Celiac Disease (CD) occurs by specific antibody blood tests and a further small bowel biopsy taken during an endoscopic procedure.  In the presence of CD, when food with gluten is ingested the villa in the small intestine are damaged.  This occurs because of an autoimmune response to the gluten and not from an allergic reaction.

Gluten Free diets have also grown in popularity as an alternative treatment to improve the social behaviors and speech in the autistic population.   In addition to a Gluten Free diet many parents also eliminate casein in their children’s diets.  Casein is a protein found in dairy products and foods containing dairy or lactose.  The theory behind a Gluten Free Casein Free (GFCF) diet for children with autism lies in the possibility of an allergy or high sensitivity to foods containing gluten or casein.  According to theory, children with autism process peptides and proteins in foods containing gluten and casein differently than most people and because of this it may exacerbate autistic symptoms or behaviors. 

Unfortunately there has not been enough research yet to either fully support or refute the effectiveness of a GFCF diet for individuals with autism. However, many parents still want to try the diet to determine for themselves if it will produce positive results for their child.  It is important to remember and remind families that while on a GFCF diet they may need to supplement the diet with extra vitamins, minerals and calcium and should consult their doctor and/or a dietician before starting the diet.

We would like to hear about your experiences involving a Gluten Free Casein Free Diet, whether personal or in regards to a patient.

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