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Cutting out gluten and casein may help some autistic children improve their behavior, researchers from the Penn State College of Medicine say. Earlier studies had already shown a link between autism, and digestive problems. The participants in the Penn State study also had a much higher percentage of gastro-intestinal problems.

What's at the root of this link? Gluten and casein a protein that occurs in milk seem to have a large role to play, according to the study team. The researchers asked the parents of 387 autistic children to participate in a questionnaire about the kids' diet, food allergies, and symptoms pointing in that direction.

People with autism are renowned for their difficulties in making eye contact, concentrating, and using language to communicate. Those children who didn't have gastro-intestinal problems scored much better in these areas, and parents who introduced a gluten and casein free diet saw great improvements in these areas.

Study author Laura Cousino Klein said that autism is likely to be more than a neurological disorder the digestive system appears to be very much linked to autism, as well as the immune system. Many pain receptors are present in the bowels, Klein pointed out, adding that going gluten free and casein free reduces the potential for infections in this area of the body.

Brain processes may be altered by this physical improvement, thereby making autistic children more receptive to treatments. Klein said that long-term dietary changes offer the greatest benefit. Although further study is very much needed in this area, she encourages parents of autistic children to experiment with eliminating gluten and protein and to stick with the new diet for a long time, so that those children will see the greatest possible benefits from the change.

What do you think? If you're the parent of an autistic child, would you consider implementing these suggestions?

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