Autistic Children - Possible Link Between Gluten, Dairy
Products Will be Tested
Researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center
at Houston have embarked on one of the first double-blind,
clinical studies to determine whether gluten and dairy
products play a role in autistic behavior as parents
have anecdotally claimed.
The pilot study is one of seven current studies on autism in
the Department of Pediatrics and the Department of
Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at The University of
Texas Medical School at Houston.
“There’s a lot of misinformation, so that’s why this study
is so important,” said Fernando Navarro, M.D., assistant
professor of pediatrics at the medical school and lead
investigator of the study. “Hundreds and hundreds of parents
think this works but we need serious evidence.”
Autism is a complex neurobehavioral disorder linked to
early abnormalities of brain development. According to
the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke,
it affects up to six of every 1,000 children and is
characterized by impaired social interaction, problems with
verbal and nonverbal communication and unusual, repetitive
or severely limited activities and interests.
Researchers have discovered that there are differences in
the central nervous system’s anatomy and function in those
diagnosed with autism, but the cause of the disorder is
unknown. Experts theorize it may be a combination of
genetics and environment.
“A lot of children with autism have gastrointestinal
problems such as constipation and diarrhea. Whether these
problems are related to brain development is open to
question,” said Katherine Loveland, Ph.D., co-investigator
and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences,
pediatrics and biomedical sciences at the health science
center. “There are neurotransmitters and neuroreceptors in
the gut that correspond with those in the brain. There are
some scientific reasons to think that some kids may benefit
from this diet.”
For the double-blind study, funded in its initial phase by
supplemental funds granted by the Department of Pediatrics,
researchers will enroll 38 autistic children ages 3 to 9.
They will look at the influence of gluten and milk
proteins in the intestinal function. Gluten is a
protein in wheat; casein and whey are proteins in milk.
Casomorphin, a peptide in milk; and gliadomorphin, a peptide
in gluten, are thought to be related to changes in behavior
in these children. Children will be taken off gluten
and dairy products before the four-week study and then
half will be given gluten/milk powder and half will be given
a placebo powder.
Researchers will study intestinal permeability (leaky gut)
through urine collection and behavior through psychometric
Co-investigators for the study are J. Marc Rhoads, M.D.,
professor and director of gastroenterology at the medical
school, and Deborah A. Pearson, Ph.D., professor of
psychiatry and behavioral sciences.
Children will be enrolled through the UT Physicians
pediatric gastroenterology clinic and The University of
Texas Mental Sciences Institute. Navarro and Rhoads are
attending physicians at Memorial Hermann hospitals.
The University of Texas
Health Science Center, 6 August 2008
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