Food Allergies & Autistic Children

Food allergies can be a problem for parents as their children have the tendency to avoid certain types of food which is critical in their overall nutrient and body development. In fact, most alternative medicine studies have proven that food allergies play a role in worsening autism towards children. Parents should require rigorous attention towards their autistic children’s eating behavior and detect any early signs of food allergy because these allergies can affect the children’s body development when they grow up.

Food allergies are considered to be the most common immune function abnormalities connected to Immunoglobulin E (IgE)-mediated reactions. Common symptoms of food allergies include gastrointestinal and skin diseases. Other symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, urticaria, atopic dermatitis, angioedema, asthma, rhinitis, and anaphylaxis in severe cases. Common types of allergies found in autistic children according to research are gluten (a type of plant protein) and casein (a type of milk protein) which worsens the autistic condition (Khakzad et al., 2012).

Gluten Allergy

The whole proposed connection between gluten and autism began soon after the original autism description by Leo Kanner which is an ‘innate’ disorder. So far, the connection between autism and gluten is quite complicated in terms of research history. Celiac disease, also known as gluten-sensitive enteropathy or celiac sprue, is a genetically linked, autoimmune disorder triggered by grain-based products present in grains that trigger an immune response that causes damage to the small intestine (Catassi & Fasano, 2008).

The confusion of the connection between gluten and food allergy may begin with the nomenclature of intolerance between celiac disease being specific immune responses to other food allergy reactions to recognizing food allergy if it causes an anaphylactic event. Gluten reactions were typically being detected by the celiac disease. Any individuals with Gastrointestinal or other medical symptoms associated with gluten do not have any celiac diseases but rather have a different reaction to gluten, either by allergic response, poor digestion, or alteration of the microbial or immune environment (Aziz et al., 2012; di Sabatino & Corazza, 2012) .

Any absence of celiac disease criteria or proof of allergy with the withdrawal of gluten products is considered as a ‘non-celiac gluten sensitivity’ which the phrase ‘sensitivity’ currently refers to as limitation of our body’s capability in identifying food allergens or any relevant immune responses to food (Buie, 2013).

There is minimal research that proved the connection between autism and celiac disease but considering the high prevalence of both conditions which autism is seen in 1 in 88 individuals and celiac disease seen in 1 in 133 individuals according to a research within groups in the United States (Fasano et al., 2003).

Casein Allergy

Casein is a protein fraction prominently found in all dairy products, even foods that are considered to be dairy-free or lactose-free (WebMD, 2021). When casein mixes with stomach acid, exorphins are created (Amen Clinics, 2021). Exorphin peptides are derived from incompletely digested proteins which include food containing casein. A research from Reichelt et. al. reported significantly higher levels of exorphins in urine significantly from autistic children compared to normal children (Reichelt et al., 2012). Another research from Lucarelli et al. investigated the effects of both casein-free diet and gluten-free diet towards people with Autism and showed that autistic symptoms worsens when a casein-challenge was introduced (Lucarelli et al., 1995).

Effects of Casein and Glucose Allergies


The main contributor towards helping children reduce their autistic symptoms is folate. Folate is important for cognitive development as they support the metabolism of purines and pyrimidines, the building blocks for RNA and DNA in order to build up energy properly. Reducing the consumption of gluten and casein is key to assist in recovering from the Cerebral folate deficiency (CFD) syndrome which decreases folate transport to the central nervous system and the clinical response to folinic acid (Ramaekers et al., 2008). Casein blocked folate receptors while gluten contains folic acid which is a synthetic, oxidized form of folate difficult to be utilized by autistic children because of genetic polymorphisms, causing the folic acid to float around in the blood and can actually block folate receptors.

Leaky Gut

Gluten usually is high in zonulin which can cause intestinal permeability or leaky gut. If this condition is prolonged, this can contribute to heightened reactions to food components in their intestinal tracts and even anxiety and depression (Clapp et al., 2017). Zonulin is the type of protein that adjusts the gut permeability (Coury et al., 2012). In another research, it was found an abnormally high intestinal permeability in nearly 40% of autistic patients that were researched (D’Eufemia et al., 1996).

Opioid Receptors on Brain

Opioid has an addicting simulation once it hits the opioid receptors. Long chain peptides of gluten and casein are difficult to break down, thus these undigested peptides from those chains can pass through the bloodstream to the brain and then attached to the brain’s opiate receptors, causing addiction to food towards autistic children which then triggers their withdrawal behavior.

Reducing the Effects of Food Allergies on Autistic Children

Gluten-Free/Casein-Free Diet (GFCF Diet)

One way to reduce the effect of autism in children is to reduce the composition of casein and glucose in the children’s body. Thus, doctors usually recommend gluten-free and casein-free diets for children. Gluten-free and casein-free diets are basically what is described as a strict diet avoiding all foods containing gluten which is found in wheat, barley and rye and casein present in milk and dairy products from their daily intake.


Gluten free diet may be effective in controlling gastrointestinal symptoms and ASD behaviors. A research showed that autistic children which put on a gluten-free diet showed significantly less prevalence of gastrointestinal symptoms and behavioral disorders (Ghalichi et al., 2016). GFCF Diet also can improve the quality of life of autism children. According to a research, Nonverbal IQ, interpersonal skills, coping skills, and communication will be improved significantly (Adams et al., 2018).


In summary, parents should keep an eye on their autistic children on their daily meal intake especially how they react to certain groups of foods made of allergic-reaction ingredients. Therefore, preventing their children’s development from being stunted due to their allergies which in fact make their autistic behavior more prevalent. Thus, I recommend planning the best diet possible for your autistic children to reduce their allergic reactions, making their mind and body development continuously uninterrupted.


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di Sabatino, A., & Corazza, G. R. (2012). Nonceliac gluten sensitivity: Sense or sensibility? Annals of Internal Medicine, 156(4), 309–311.

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Ghalichi, F., Ghaemmaghami, J., Malek, A., & Ostadrahimi, A. (2016). Effect of gluten free diet on gastrointestinal and behavioral indices for children with autism spectrum disorders: a randomized clinical trial. World Journal of Pediatrics, 12(4), 436–442.

WebMD. (2021). Gluten Free/Casein Free Diets for Autism.

Khakzad, M. R., Javanbakht, M., Soltanifar, A., Hojati, M., Delgosha, M., & Meshkat, M. (2012). The evaluation of food allergy on behavior in autistic children. Reports of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, 1(1), 37–42.

Lucarelli, S., Frediani, T., Zingoni, A. M., Ferruzzi, F., Giardini, O., Quintieri, F., Barbato, M., D’Eufemia, P., & Cardi, E. (1995). Food allergy and infantile autism. Panminerva Medica, 37(3), 137–141.

Ramaekers, V. T., Sequeira, J. M., Blau, N., & Quadros, E. v. (2008). A milk-free diet downregulates folate receptor autoimmunity in cerebral folate deficiency syndrome. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 50(5), 346–352.

Reichelt, K. L., Tveiten, D., Knivsberg, A.-M., & Brønstad, G. (2012). Peptides’ role in autism with emphasis on exorphins. Microbial Ecology in Health & Disease, 23(0).

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