What is an elimination diet?
An elimination diet involves removing foods containing one or both of the proteins gluten and casein from the diets of autistic people. Gluten is found in wheat, and casein is found in milk.
Who is elimination diet therapy for?
Supporters of this therapy say that autistic children and adults of any age can do elimination diets.
What is elimination diet therapy used for?
Supporters of elimination diets claim that problems with diet and digestion can cause brain disruptions. They say that this therapy reduces characteristics of autism by minimising disruption to brain function.
Where does elimination diet therapy come from?
In the 1980s and 1990s, it was suggested that autistic people might not digest food proteins very well, especially casein and gluten.
Based on this theory, certain therapies were developed. First were elimination diets. After some difficulties with these, digestive enzyme therapy was developed as an alternative treatment to help with protein digestion.
What is the idea behind elimination diet therapy?
In our bodies, we all have natural chemicals called ‘opioids’, which are similar to morphine in their effect on pain.
Supporters of this therapy believe that autism is caused by excess opioid activity in the brain, which is related to digestive problems with particular proteins in food. These people say that eliminating foods containing these proteins from the diet can reduce opioid activity in the brain, thus reducing the characteristics of autism.
These ideas are not well supported by research.
What does elimination diet therapy involve?
This therapy involves completely eliminating foods that contain gluten, casein or both from a person’s diet. The therapy starts with a complete review of the person’s entire diet. There can be some time involved in buying and preparing food for an elimination diet.
Some cost might be involved in this therapy if you need to buy gluten-free or casein-free food.
Does elimination diet therapy work?
There’s limited evidence that elimination diets reduce the characteristics of autism. In addition, there have been concerns about the safety of restricting children’s diets in this way.
Who practises elimination diet therapy?
Parent education, training, support and involvement
If your child is doing an elimination diet, you need to choose, shop for and prepare food for the diet.
Where can you find a practitioner?
It’s best to speak with your GP or paediatrician about elimination diets, or consult a paediatric dietitian.
There are many therapies for autism. They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for autistic children takes you through the main therapies, so you can better understand your child’s options.