A new study out of the Mayo Clinic and published in the Journal of Pediatrics shows how external factors like medicine and food intake may be the cause of autistic children’s gut problems rather than the autism itself or any potential link to celiac disease. Also a warning for parents about putting autistic children on restricted diets.
Why do autistic children have gut problems?
The study looked at children with and without autism. In each group, approximately 75% of the children had gut problems like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, vomiting and stomach discomfort. When they looked closer they found nearly 34% had constipation compared with 18% of those without autism. 24% of autistic kids had feeding issues compared with 16% of non-autistic children.
“[Researchers] said those differences could stem from neurobehavioral issues connected with autism. ‘The ritualistic tendencies, need for routine, and insistence on sameness that are characteristic of children with autism may lead these children to choose and demand stereotyped diets that may result in an inadequate intake of fiber, fluids and other food consitituents…Thus, behaviorally-related food selectivity may in turn lead to constipation.’” – Healthnews.com
Dr. Samar Ibrahim, a fellow in gastroenterology and instructor in pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic and the study’s lead author also explained how medications may play a role. “In our study, around 50 percent of children were on stimulant medications, and those might affect appetite and might have something to do with issues with food.”
The debunking of celiac & autism
One expert, Keith Young a vice chairman for research in the psychiatry and behavioral science department at Texas A & M Health Science Center College of Medicine told Health News “…he thought it was interesting that the study showed virtually no indication of celiac disease; only once case in the entire group. A possible link between celiac disease and autism was proposed as far back as 1961.”
Because of reports in the last 10-15 years supporting diet restrictions, there has been a wave of supporters; including the Autism Network for Dietary Intervention. You can read several studies and first-hand accounts on their website about how a restricted diet has helped people with autism.
But researchers in the current Mayo Clinic study are urging parents to stay away from restrictive diets [likely including gluten-free].
“The findings from our study suggest that such treatments should not be provided indiscriminately to children with autism unless there is explicit evidence indicating the presence of a gastrointestinal disorder in a specific case…additional dietary restriction may place these children at risk for nutritional deficiencies.” – Researchers quoted in Healthnews.com
I did some additional research and found that several studies in the last 5 years or so were more likely to say there is no link between autism and celiac disease, including information from two reputable celiac resources: celiac.com and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.
However, keep in mind that undiagnosed celiac disease can lead to some behaviors in children that can look like autism. I know of someone in my parents’ group that this happened to. Plus I found this study from this June documenting a case like this. I’m not saying it’s common, just that the chance exists.
It’s always good to look at information from several different sources before making a decision on a hot topic, including this one.
Note: Always consult your doctor before taking any dramatic action on your child’s diet.