More gluten-free hype: Flawed research linked to behavior in children with ASD and remember when yeast was bad?

More today on gluten-free diets

First, we have THIS story on gluten-free (and casein-free) diets and autism. It raises so many red-flags and sirens, I hardly know where to begin…

Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet May Help Some Children With Autism, Research Suggests

A gluten-free, casein-free diet may lead to improvements in behavior and physiological symptoms in some children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to researchers at Penn State. The research is the first to use survey data from parents to document the effectiveness of a gluten-free, casein-free diet on children with ASD.

“Research has shown that children with ASD commonly have GI [gastrointestinal] symptoms,” said Christine Pennesi, medical student at Penn State College of Medicine. “Notably, a greater proportion of our study population reported GI and allergy symptoms than what is seen in the general pediatric population. Some experts have suggested that gluten- and casein-derived peptides cause an immune response in children with ASD, and others have proposed that the peptides could trigger GI symptoms and behavioral problems.”

Source: Science Daily

Relating autism to GI problems automatically raises the Wakefield discredited junk research. But, the GLARING problem with this that any non-scientist with half a thought wonders about is THE BIAS in this study. The parents who obviously believe that this special diet is helping their autistic children are asked how the diet is helping their children. I don’t have access to the paper but just the info given makes my first reaction to discard this as worthless propaganda. There are no controls here. I don’t see any evidence for a connection between the GI disorders, ASD and the peptides except “experts have suggested”. Fail.

Here is the key paragraph with highlighted words that reveal the major problem with this study:

Pennesi and Klein and their team found that a gluten-free, casein-free diet was more effective in improving ASD behaviors, physiological symptoms and social behaviors for those children with GI symptoms and with allergy symptoms compared to those without these symptoms. Specifically, parents noted improved GI symptoms in their children as well as increases in their children’s social behaviors, such as language production, eye contact, engagement, attention span, requesting behavior and social responsiveness, when they strictly followed a gluten-free, casein-free diet.

All subjective. And the researcher did not “find the diet effective”, they found the parents said the diet was effective. Two completely different things!

More research needed? Maybe. If there is anything plausible worth looking at. But it’s a tricky thing to test well. Gluten-free, casein-free diets is awful torture especially for kids. You can’t double blind the thing well.

Next is this story from Science-Based Medicine comparing the gluten avoidance fad going on right now to the candida avoidance fad that has passed.

Is gluten the new Candida?

The idea that gluten sensitivity is real and widespread goes far beyond the current scientific evidence, and the well-established facts of celiac disease. Time will tell if gluten avoidance follows the path of Candida, and other dietary fears and fads that preceded it. But it doesn’t need to. Given the protean nature of CD[celiac disease], symptoms cannot be dismissed as nocebo effects: A CD diagnosis needs to be ruled out before NGCS[sic] [Non-celiac gluten sensitivity] is even contemplated. Going gluten-free in the absence of a proper medical evaluation may not be directly harmful, but it complicates a diagnosis. Moreover, it can be expensive, and difficult to maintain 100% avoidance – essential with CD, but not established as necessary with NCGS. Besides, who really wants to cut out all gluten-containing products if they don’t need to? Until better diagnostic criteria are established, the N of 1 trial is probably the most science-based (if impractical) approach: single-blind challenges to measure for subjective or objective symptoms. Our challenge in dealing with dietary fads as health professionals is to recognize that some of our patients are suffering, and evaluate them in a science based way: without dismissing the symptoms, and without advocating dietary transformations that may be unnecessary.

Source: Science Based Medicine

This piece contains a lot of medical terms and is a bit hard to understand but the bottom line is no different than what we pointed out yesterday in a news piece. Gluten avoidance is overhyped and a bit more complicated than suggested by advertisers. Ultimately, scientific evidence is not there to support the use of the scare term “toxic” for gluten and to point to it as the clear cause of digestive issues.

Sigh. Lots of crap out there on this issue. Don’t buy it.

  3 comments for “More gluten-free hype: Flawed research linked to behavior in children with ASD and remember when yeast was bad?

  1. Deb Smith
    March 11, 2012 at 4:18 PM

    This is one study that may be flawed, but there is still significant evidence for the connection between gluten and inflammatory processes. The tendency of the skeptic community to toss it aside as a fad is just as detrimental to health research as are flawed studies that inflate its importance. Research needs to continue. There’s some interesting research with ALS ( and other autoimmune disorders. I was led to it after learning that Stephen Hawking follows a gluten-free diet and has exceeded the life expectancy of ALS by 40 years. I personally saw a significant slowdown in autoimmune kidney disease after adopting a gluten-free diet.

  2. Mel
    March 20, 2012 at 3:34 AM

    I just would like to point that indeed the only way to gain scientific evidence is to have a hypothesis and to test it. Because you personally do not want to believe something does not make it untrue. Personally, I suspect gluten affects many things. Of corse I am one of those crazies with the unscientific antibodies blood work and the equally unscientific biopsy of my damaged bowel to go with my unscientific labs showing I have pernicious anemia and hypothyroidism which I just magically linked to gluten after I shook my magic 8 ball. On a serious note- you do a disservice to those of us who are sick from this disease. I do admit there is a ton of celiac hype currently, however, if it educates people to get testing or improves the quality of life then what is the problem?

  3. Deb Smith
    March 20, 2012 at 8:46 PM

    Mel – I was diagnosed with Pernicious Anemia (Dr. did a schilling’s test because of neuropathy/seizures) 10 years ago. Interesting connection. I never made the connection before, but it makes sense that gluten sensitivity could contribute to it since it damages the small intestine where B-12 is absorbed.

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