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At a glance: Elimination diet
Type of therapy
Alternative
The claim
Reduces the characteristics of autism
Suitable for
People with ASD
Research rating

Find out more about this rating system in our FAQs.

Not yet reviewed by our research sources.
Warnings
Warning Children with autism can have restricted diets based on food choice. Some concerns have been raised about further restricting their diets with therapies like this.
Time

Estimate of the total time for family in hours per week and duration.

10-20 Commitment: parents and carers will need to spend time buying and preparing food for the diet.
Cost

Estimate of cost to family per session/item or week.

 

$30-120 Parents and carers might need to purchase gluten-free and casein-free food.
Visit the Autism Service Pathfinder to browse Service Providers information.

About this intervention

What is it?
This therapy involves eliminating foods containing the proteins gluten (a protein found in wheat), or casein (a protein found in milk) or both from the diet of a person with autism.

Who is it for?
An elimination diet can be used for any person with ASD. There are no age restrictions identified.

What is it used for?
Supporters of elimination diets claim that it reduces characteristics of autism by minimising disruption to brain function. According to the theory, such disruptions can be caused by problems with diet and digestion.

Where does it come from?
In the 1980s and 1990s, it was suggested that people with autism might not digest food proteins very well, in particular the proteins casein (found in milk) and gluten (found in wheat).

Based on this finding, certain therapies were developed. First were elimination diets. After some difficulties with these, enzyme therapy was developed as an alternative treatment to help with protein digestion.

What is the idea behind it?
We have in our bodies natural chemicals known as ‘opioids’, which have an effect on pain similar to morphine. People who support this approach believe that autism is caused by too much opioid activity in the brain.

When proteins (gluten and casein) are not properly digested, they release chemicals (called exorphins) that can end up in the nervous system (this is sometimes called ‘leaky gut’). The idea is that once these chemicals are in the body, they cause an increase in opioid activity, which disrupts the brain and so ‘causes’ autism.

By eliminating foods containing gluten and casein from the diet, this therapy aims to reduce opioid activity in the brain, thus reducing the characteristics of autism.

What does it involve?
This therapy involves completely eliminating from the diet foods that contain either gluten or casein, or both. The therapy starts with a complete review of the person’s entire diet.

Cost considerations
Some cost might be involved in this therapy if you need to purchase gluten-free or casein-free food.

Does it work?
This therapy has not yet been rated. In addition, some authorities have raised concerns about the safety of restricting a child's diet in this way.

Who practises this method?
Although this approach can be implemented at home, it is best to speak to your GP, paediatrician, or a dietician, before commencing an elimination diet.

Parent education, training, support and involvement
Parents and carers need to be involved in the selection of, shopping for and preparation of food for this diet.

Where can I find a practitioner?
It is best to speak to your GP or paediatrician about this therapy, or to consult a dietician.

 
 
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  • Last Updated 24-03-2010
  • Last Reviewed 12-03-2012
  • Cass, H., Gringras, P., March, J., McKendrick, I., O'Hare, A.E., Owen, L., & Pollin, C. (2008). Absence of urinary opioid peptides in children with Autism [Electronic version]. Archives of Diseases in Childhood, 93, 745-750.

    Christison, G.W., & Ivany, K. (2006).  Elimination diets in autism spectrum disorder: Any wheat amidst the chaff? Journal of Development and Behavioural Paediatrics, 27(2), 162-171.

    Millward, C., Ferriter, M., Calver, S., & Connell-Jones, G. (2008). Gluten- and casein-free diets for autistic spectrum disorder. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD003498. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003498.pub3.

    National Autism Center (2009). National Standards Report – Addressing the need for evidence-based practice guidelines for Autism Spectrum Disorders. Massachusetts: National Autism Center.

    Roberts, J.M.A., & Prior, M. (2006). A review of the research to identify the most effective models of practice in early intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders. Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, Australia.

    Teschemacher, H., Koch, G., & Brantl, V. (1997). Milk protein-derived opioid receptor ligands. Biopolymers, 43, 99-117.

    Whiteley, P., Shattock, P., Knivsberg, A-M., Seim, A., Reichelt, K., Todd, L., Carr, K., & Hooper, M. (2013). Gluten and casein-free dietary interventions for autism spectrum conditions. Frontiers of Human Neuroscience, 6, 344.