Mom, My Tummy Hurts!

Autism related tummy troubles linked to the bodys response to gluten and similar proteins

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Gluten-free diets have become very popular for kids with autism. Some parents report a gluten-free diet has improved both their kid’s tummy issues and behavior. Some researchers have suggested gluten may be a culprit in autism-related symptoms. It has been proposed that, in children with autism, the body is unable to properly digest gluten and gluten-related proteins that are found in wheat and other grains. Eating such foods may lead to bowel problems and tummy aches in these kids.

A new study has found an association between these substances and the presence of digestive symptoms in autistic kids.

"Ask your pediatrician about a healthy diet for your child."

This study was conducted by Armin Alaedini, PhD, from the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University in New York, and colleagues from institutions in the US and Sweden.

The aim of this study was to find out if the immune systems of children with autism reacted to gluten. The authors also looked at whether this reaction could be explained by celiac disease, a condition where allergy to proteins such as gluten damages the lining of the intestine and causes digestive problems.

This study looked at 37 kids diagnosed with autism and a comparison group consisting of 76 kids without autism.

Autism is associated with difficulties in social interaction, communicating with others and repetitive behaviors. Kids with autism may also have digestive problems such as constipation, diarrhea and tummy aches.

Blood samples were taken from the kids and tested for antibodies to gliadin, which is another protein found in wheat and other grains along with gluten.

Antibodies are proteins made by the body’s immune system. The presence of IgG antibodies to gliadin means that the body is reacting against certain proteins in wheat and other grains.

The researchers found that the kids with autism had significantly higher levels of IgG antibodies to gliadin in their blood than the kids in the comparison group.

The antibody levels were significantly greater in children with autism who had digestion problems than those who did not have any digestion problems.

The levels of certain other antibodies in the blood that indicate the presence of celiac disease did not differ between the study group and comparison group.

Overall, according to the study, some children with autism reacted to gluten in the diet but this reaction is not related to celiac disease.

The study authors cautioned that the data from this study should be interpreted carefully. According to the authors, the presence of antibodies to gliadin does not necessarily mean that children with autism were sensitive to gluten or that these antibodies have any role in causing autism.

The authors recommended that further studies be conducted to research the link between autism and sensitivity to gluten. Better understanding of this association may help pinpoint what causes autism and identify patients who might respond to specific treatment strategies.

"This article is a very interesting bit of information but of unknown importance," said Thomas M. Seman, MD, a primary care pediatrician and dailyRx Contributing Expert.

"Children with autism commonly have a multitude of gastrointestinal issues including diarrhea, constipation, food allergies, poor digestion and breakdown of foods. The idea that some part of this is related to immune responses is not that inconsistent," he said.

The results of this study were published in June in PLOS ONE.

The study was funded by a grant from the Department of Defense. No conflicts of interest were reported by the study authors.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 18, 2013
Last Updated:
July 29, 2013