The CDC estimates that about one in 110 children in the U.S. have an autism spectrum disorder, the umbrella name given to a group of disorders that can range from the mild to the severe that often affect social and communication abilities.
One study shows that 21% of children with autism spectrum disorder are using complementary and alternative medical therapies. Of these, 17% were on special diets, most commonly a gluten-free or casein-fee diet.
Another study shows that more than one-quarter of children with autism spectrum disorder receive at least one psychotropic medication to treat some of their behavioral symptoms such as hyperactivity or irritability.
This paper systematically reviews research on the effects of gluten-free and/or casein-free (GFCF) diets in the treatment of ASD. Database, hand, and ancestry searches identified 15 articles for review. Each study was analyzed and summarized in terms of (a) participants, (b) specifics of the intervention, (c) dependent variables, (d) results, and (e) certainty of evidence. Critical analysis of each study’s methodological rigor and results reveal that the current corpus of research does not support the use of GFCF diets in the treatment of ASD. Given the lack of empirical support, and the adverse consequences often associated with GFCF diets (e.g., stigmatization, diversion of treatment resources, reduced bone cortical thickness), such diets should only be implemented in the event a child with ASD experiences acute behavioral changes, seemingly associated with changes in diet, and/or medical professionals confirm through testing the child has allergies or food intolerances to gluten and/or casein.