Though autism is traditionally defined as a psychiatric disorder, we now know that autism has roots in genetics and immunology. Exposure to environmental stressors can profoundly affect neurological and immune development, particularly during the vulnerable times during gestation and early childhood.
Take, for example, the role of damaged intestinal lining present in many autistics. Compared to the general population, autistics have a higher incidence of adverse reactions to the proteins in wheat (gluten) and dairy (casein). These reactions are not primarily allergic in nature, but are a result of toxic byproducts of impaired digestion and metabolism.
Normal, healthy digestion breaks down the proteins gluten and casein into their smallest basic units, amino acids, which play several roles in critical body functions. Amino acids then link together to form peptides that profoundly influence how a person feels and functions.
However, when some autistics with impaired digestion eat wheat or dairy, they form abnormal peptides that function like opiates in the brain. These opiate-like compounds (gluteomorphins and casomorphins) enter the general circulation and can disrupt brain chemistry. Just like opiates, these mind-altering peptides result in the autistic person feeling pleasantly “doped up.” While an opiate addict needs his fix of opium, an autistic child needs his fix of wheat or dairy, and a food craving is thus born.
Every autistic should have a trial of a gluten free/casein free (GF/CF) diet to see if there is benefit from avoiding these foods that can profoundly affect brain chemistry. Additionally, essential fatty acids, zinc, enzymes and beneficial gut-friendly organisms normally present in healthy intestines are often recommended for intestinal immune support.