The autism/diet connection
The science behind that study was found to be shoddy, and the researcher has been accused of ethical breaches. Moreover, it planted a fear of vaccination in parents in both Great Britain and the United States. That fear is unlikely to be erased by the retraction of the study.
As I write in this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, the study also planted the notion that autism may be linked to gastrointestinal disorders. It promoted a theory that kids with autism may have what's known as "leaky gut," a condition that allows food proteins that normally are too big to pass through the intestinal wall to enter the bloodstream and eventually the brain.
That notion has encouraged many parents of autistic children to believe their children's condition may be managed, treated or even cured through diet. Specifically, many believe that a gluten-free, casein-free diet protects autistic children against food proteins (gluten, found in wheat, barley and rye, and casein, found in dairy products) that may trigger symptoms or worsen the severity of their autism.
The problem is, reputable, solid science hasn't established a connection between diet and autism. In January, the journal Pediatrics published a paper noting just that -- but also allows that many kids with autism, just like those without, may have gastrointestinal disorders that can be diagnosed and treated. It is possible that attending to those underlying ills could make a child feel much better, so much so that his or her autism might appear to have improved.
Parents of children with autism are understandably eager to do whatever they can to help their kids lead happy, healthy lives. If adjusting a child's diet has the effect of achieving that end, that's wonderful.
But those who put all their eggs in the diet basket may risk distracting themselves from the pursuit of autism's true cause.
I'd like to hear from parents of children with autism. Do you believe diet plays a direct role in your child's condition? Or do you believe that's a red herring?
For more health news, please follow me on Twitter! http://twitter.com/jhuget.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
February 9, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Autism , Chronic Conditions , Family Health , Neurological disorders
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