Signs of gluten sensitivity in autism

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child_spaghettiA few weeks ago, results of an American study conducted at New York Columbia University and evaluating the presence of gluten sensitivity markers in autistic subjects were published in PLos One journal (Lau NM et al, PLoS One. 2013 Jun 18;8(6):e66155. Print 2013).

Basically, this work found out that autistic individuals present signs of Gluten sensitivity significantly higher if compared to healthy people, that is, they are affected by a non-celiac disease gluten intolerance form. In practice, people affected by autism are also characterized by an important reaction to gluten.

By reading the whole article describing the work, it is clear that this piece of research has been conducted in a very rigorous and precise fashion, starting from the correct description of the diagnosis of autism, recently re-defined internationally.

This finding does not specify (and it indeed could not do that) if food-related inflammation linked to gluten sensitivity may be the cause of the autistic disorder, but it is limited to inform that autistic subjects present a specific pattern of symptoms and antibody markers indicative of a gluten intolerance, without those subjects being affected by celiac disease.

Certainly, this work tackles a very thorny social topic, both for autistic people (for many years various organizations have supported a role for gluten sensitivity in the origin of the disease) and for the general public, which starts seeing food-related reactivity, underestimated in its importance for a long time, as a potential co-participant in the development of important physical and psychological disorders.

Therefore, it becomes vital that research lines on the role of gluten as an autism inducer employ a new, free approach. Instead, gluten sensitivity is studied today using the same rationale behind the study of any food allergy, while the fundamental standard should be of evolutionary type, linked mainly to the existence of a possible excess in gluten intake and to the typical signals that the organism conveys in case of food-related inflammation.

We believe that studying inflammatory biomarkers (like B-cell activating factor BAFF, platelet-activating factor PAF and many more) may be a great way of interpretation to characterize an individual dietary profile and it may help anyone in keeping the personal well-being; we are grateful to studies like the one above, although non-conformist, as indeed it may allow to step forward in the understanding of various diseases and their relationship with food-related issues.

The Columbia University scientists have defined, at last, a solid controlled study, by comparing celiac disease and gluten sensitivity markers among cohorts of patients diagnosed with autism, of disease-free siblings and of healthy controls. The research has been conducted on 140 kids, in which genetic foundations of the disease have been studied, along with the production of antibodies against gliadin (a class of proteins made by 28 different varieties of gluten) and other serological features typical of the canonical celiac disease diagnosis.

An extended group of autistic kids highlighted a significantly strong immunological reaction to gluten, following a mechanism of action totally different from the one of celiac disease. The growing presence of antibodies against gliadin and its association with gastrointestinal symptoms led to assume the presence of an immunological mechanism able to alter the intestinal permeability of the affected children.

All this comes with a question: is the excess of gluten intake causing autism or is autism itself leading to Gluten sensitivity?

Following the formal scientific scrupulousness, so far it has not been possible to reply to this question, but it is legitimate to suppose an answer, while waiting for more studies able to confirm or contradict the inductive/co-causal effect driven by an intestinal inflammatory stimulus in the genesis of autism.

For many of us, the possibility to know the personal sensitivity profile and to maintain, accordingly, a varied diet may represent a real chance to fight these “ghosts” off, meanwhile keeping healthy.

In our SMA practice in Milan, we have been following patients allegedly affected by gluten sensitivity for many years, directing them towards healing with a specific therapeutic path.