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Special Diets
by Cari Ansbro

Many thousands of families have implemented, and swear by, special diets for their loved ones with autism.  So far, these diets have not done well in clinical trials, but science does recognize that many people with autism also have digestive problems.  And it is a fact that how well we absorb the nutrients we consume can directly affect our health.  With that in mind, let's look at a couple of the most popular and arguably effective diets for autism.

At the top of the list is GFCF (Gluten Free Casein Free).  This is the diet that has made headlines for many years, and continues to do so.  It centers on the belief that the primary dietary culprits are the proteins gluten and casein.  The idea is that people with autism cannot properly break down these proteins, resulting in components with morphine-like properties being released into the bloodstream.  And that this is what causes a person's autism symptoms. 

The GFCF diet completely cuts out all sources (food and non-food) of gluten and casein.  Soy is also off the menu.  Beyond food, you'll need to check the ingredients list on everything your loved one touches from glue to toothpaste, and even shampoo.  Gluten, casein, and soy are just about everywhere.  It requires total commitment and vigilance to do this.  Reported success rates can vary from 65-91%.  You can go to the GFCF Diet Support Group, herefor more information.

Next up is the SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet).  The SCD takes a somewhat different approach to diet, and is more restrictive than the GFCF.  Some who don't see enough improvement on the GFCF may find the SCD to be more helpful.  While the GFCF diet allows grains that don't contain gluten, the SCD removes all grains.  One other notable difference is that the SCD is not necessarily casein-free.  But experts recommend avoiding it on the SCD until sensitivity to casein can be positively ruled out.  It also removes all complex carbohydrates including starchy foods, potatoes, and most forms of sugar.  Meat, fish, vegetables, nuts, and low-sugar fruits make up the majority of this diet.  Talk About Curing Autism reports an 80-85% success rate for this diet.  For more information on the SCD, you can go to pecanbread.com, here.

There are many other dietary approaches to helping improve the health and symptoms of people with autism.  These include the BED (Body Ecology Diet), Paleo diet, the Ketogenic diet, the Feingold diet, and various forms of a low carbohydrate diet. 

The one thing most of these diets have in common is a belief that the key to improving overall health lies in healing the digestive system.  Whether targeting pH balance, eliminating yeast over growth, encouraging growth of good bacteria in the intestines, or ridding the body of toxic byproducts, helping to improve the gut and digestion will likely make a positive difference in your loved one's health.  And, possibly, their symptoms.  While most of these diets present little to no potential for harm, it's strongly advised that you check with your doctor before starting your loved one or yourself on any of them.  ​Whether or not you decide to pursue a special diet, I wish you luck.

The Autism Website