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Why Diet Helps
– Science and Research

Parents report positive changes to health and behavior when applying special “autism diets:” which involve removing offending foods and boosting the nutritious foods children eat. They are realizing that they can affect their child’s health through these calculated omissions and additions to diet.  Since parents determine what their children eat, implementing a diet is an empowering step parents can take to help their child(ren) feel better, reduce their autism symptoms, and help them pursue their full potential.

Here is some current science and research about food, diet, and autism:

  • Children with autism have problems with certain foods that affect their behavioral, cognitive, and physical symptoms. 1, 3, 5
  • Food has a direct effect on the gut, intestinal inflammation, and digestive capacity – which in turn affects physiology and brain function. 2, 4,
  • Nutrient deficiencies are common with autism.6, 7, 8
  • Gut problems and insufficient digestive enzyme function are common.9
  • Digestion, detoxification, and immune function are often affected.  Yeast overgrowth is common.  Dietary intervention influences these disordered systems seen in autism.
  • The gut is considered the “second brain” and the “gut-brain connection has been studied in autism.10 Healing the gut positively influences the brain.
  • Addressing digestive issues increases nutrition absorption. As nutrient status improves, systems function better – including the brain.
  • Removing foods containing toxins (such as artificial additives) that adversely affect brain chemistry relieves a burden on the liver and detoxification system, and affects improvement in brain function and behavior.11
  • By avoiding inflammatory foods (gluten, casein, and others) we support in immune and digestive systems.

When you see how much food matters, it’s easy to understand why most people who try dietary intervention benefit! The Autism Research Institute (ARI) surveyed thousands of parents and found that 69% of those applying the Gluten-free Casein-free Diet saw improvement.  For the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), 71% noted improvement. In recent autism diet research funded by Autism Speaks, 82% of parents reported “definite improvement” in their child’s skills. Parents report improvements in eye contact, language, attention, diarrhea, constipation, sleep, hyperactivity, and more.

While “dietary intervention” (change) can seem overwhelming, with learning and focus, even busy moms can, and do, make it work.  As a child feels better, parents often have more quality time with their children and cooking becomes more enjoyable.  And nutritious meals needn’t cost a fortune. While quality, whole foods involve more expensive ingredients; you’re buying fewer expensive processed foods.  A healing diet empowers you to support your child’s health and improved well-being.

This is why I titled my book, Nourishing Hope.  We need to nourish children’s bodies with healthy food, and nourish our minds and souls with hope.  Food nourishes the body, and the positive changes we see nourishes hope. Healthy food preparation even transfers healing energy through the loving intention of the chef. With virtually no downside, everyone should give this a try.

Join me in nourishing hope.

Julie Matthews

Research on Autism

1.     Jyonouchi H, Geng L, Ruby A, Zimmerman-Bier B. Dysregulated innate immune responses in young children with autism spectrum disorders: their relationship to gastrointestinal symptoms and dietary intervention. Neuropsychobiology. 2005;51(2):77-85.

2.     Knivsberg AM, Reichelt KL, Hoien T, Nodland M. A randomised, controlled study of dietary intervention in autistic syndromes. Nutr Neurosci. 2002 Sep;5(4):251-61.

3.     Lucarelli S, Frediani T, Zingoni AM, Ferruzzi F, Giardini O, Quintieri F, Barbato M, D’Eufemia P, Cardi E. Food allergy and infantile autism. Panminerva Med. 1995 Sep;37(3):137-41.

4.     Millward C, Ferriter M, Calver S, Connell-Jones G. Gluten- and casein-free diets for autistic spectrum disorder. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004;(2):CD003498.

5.     Reichelt KL, Knivsberg AM. Can the pathophysiology of autism be explained by the nature of the discovered urine peptides? Nutr Neurosci. 2003 Feb;6(1):19-28.

6.     Tapan Audhya, presentation at the Defeat Autism Now! conference, San Diego, October 2002. Audhya reported his measurements of vitamin and mineral levels in the blood of over 150 children with autism compared to 50-100 controls of the same age. He found that the children with autism on average had much lower levels of most vitamins (vitamins A, C, D, and E; all B vitamins except choline)  and some minerals (zinc; magnesium; selenium).

7.     MA Landgreme and AR Landgrebe, Celiac autism: calcium studies and their relationship to celiac disease in autistic patients, The Autistic Syndromes, Amsterdam:  North Holland; New York; Elsevier, pp. 197-205

8.     Alberti A, Pirrone P, Elia M, Waring RH, Romano C  Sulphation deficit in “low-functioning” autistic children: a pilot study.  Biol Psychiatry 1999 Aug 1;46(3):420-4.

9.     Horvath K, Papadimitriou JC, Rabsztyn A, Drachenberg C, Tildon JT. Gastrointestinal Abnormalities in Children with Autistic Disorder. J Pediatr. 1999 Nov;135(5):559-63.

10.  MacFabe, et al.,  Neurobiological effects of intraventricular propionic acid in rats: Possible role of short chain fatty acids on the pathogenesis and characteristics of autism spectrum disorders. Behavioural Brain Research. 176 (2007) 149–169

11.  McCann D, Barrett A, Cooper A, Crumpler D, Dalen L, Grimshaw K, Kitchin E, Lok K, Porteous L, Prince E, Sonuga-Barke E, O Warner J, Stevenson J. “Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial.” Lancel. Published Online, September 6, 2007. DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61306-3.

8 responses to “Why Diet Helps
– Science and Research”

  1. jailasy alverado says:

    ok i get that you need a specific diet for your child but my 4 year old son elijah is an extremely pucky eater and i try everything it just doesnt seem to work. i try to stick to diets to make it a routine but it still doesnt work. im also young myself i had him at 13 years old, i just dont know what to do.

  2. I commend your desire to learn and try new things for your son. You may want to explore more about picky eating. Email my office ([email protected]) and ask us to email you a picky eater webinar recording that we did. There are some ideas for texture and other picky eating suggestions, as well as thoughts from a feeding therapist. Also you may want to look at my cookbook and DVD called Cooking to Heal – it has some great recipes for picky eaters.

  3. Candi Cronon says:

    My son will turn 13 next month and his behavior is worse now than it has ever been. He wants milk way too much. He goes through at least a gallon a day. Also, he wants cereal, french fries, and chicken all the time. Could these foods be what is making his behavior so bad?

  4. Candi – it is very common for children with autism and other developmental disorders to be intolerant to wheat and dairy. In these cases, these food proteins can form opiates, be very addicting, and add or cause behavioral problems. If you don’t have it already, I suggest signing up for our free parents guide on our home page. This will share some more information on this subject.

  5. Kelly Hammer says:

    You focus on children, but can these dietary changes also help autistic adults?

  6. I focus mostly on children because this is when they typically get the diagnosis and are looking for answers. However, I do feel that dietary changes can help at any time, even with adults. For instance, if gluten was creating inflammation, it doesn’t matter how old the person is, removing it would remove a source of inflammation. Granted, long term damage from inflammation may limit the benefits in an adult more than a small child, but there would still be benefits. I’ve heard of adults with autism changing their diet and seeing improvements.

  7. Andrea says:

    Julie, I live in Campinas (Brazil). I’m a nutritionist. Recently I was contacted by a friend that let me know about a project that aims to open a multi-disciplinary center for the assistance of autistic and ADHD children. The work you do came straight into my mind. Would you be so kind to exchange some ideas about the work you do with us ? I’d appreciate any light on this. Thank you ever so much. Andrea.

  8. Ashley Thurman says:


    I came across your article on generation rescue and I am almost in tears. To begin with my child has been diagnosed with PANS not autism which means that he is higher functioning and sometimes acts so normal you can’t believe that anything is wrong and sometimes he acts in such a way you can’t deny anything is wrong. In the fall I started him on GAPS and it seemed to help. In fact the next he was a different child, happy, easy, clear headed fantastic. So I stuck with it but I feel that we hit a ceiling and he hasn’t improved beyond that so it helped things go from terrible to manageable but not great. Unfortunately, he has become a very picky eater. He used to eat vegetables (a few), chicken, fish and now all he will eat is chili, beef, peanut butter, applesauce and a chia seed jello that I make and any fruit that I would give him which isn’t much. No processed foods in our house and it has always been that way for him. He still won’t eat bone broth which is a big part of the GAPS diet and I feel that we are spinning our wheels and getting nowhere.

    This week I tried to reintroduce oats (soaked cooked and then soaked again in kefir to make them easily digestable) in order to get more pro-biotics back into his gut. The first few days he was great and things went well but I have learned that can be the calm before the storm. Well, today he had a horrible meltdown and started the self injurious behavior again!

    He is such a sweet and smart boy and I want to get him out and I feel I have no idea where to go from here. I would appreciate any advice. I don’t know what to do.



    Cole’s Mom

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