Forbes article ignores abundant science on gluten-free for autism

This week an article was published in Forbes, disparaging the use of the gluten-free diet for autism – a healthful approach that has benefited thousands of families around the world for decades. 

The author’s “bent” seems to be to discourage parents of children with autism from giving needed attention to the food and nutrition their children receive. 

He states, “The science behind the idea that gluten or casein causes (or worsens) autism has always been sketchy.”

I so often hear there is “no science” or “little science”… or “weak” science, as this Forbes article states “weakly supportive evidence for this idea [following the gluten-free diet].”

When I see this claim of “no science” I know they have clearly not done the research because if they did they’d find dozens of studies that support the efficacy of dietary intervention for autism. (We’ll talk about some of them in a moment.)

I do what I do (write and speak), in part, because of these naysayers. I’m a Certified Nutrition Consultant who has worked with children with autism for 17 years. I’m a published nutrition researcher (with a study on diet and nutrition intervention for autism). And I’m a writer (author of Nourishing Hope for Autism and an online nutrition program for parents) that brings together the research and clinical results to help parents and health professionals distill the science and practice into things they can do to help children improve their health, learning, and behavior.

And I write and speak to not only help parents and practitioners learn how to help children, but also to give these parents a voice. A voice of the science and a voice for their experience and passion to help their child holistically and nutritionally.

The recent Forbes article is simply the latest hit piece on dietary intervention for autism.

Each year I see them. A study will come out showing diet does not help and another study showing that it does. The study showing benefit is often well designed and written but it gets no attention. And the study showing diet does not help gets all the press.

Why is this? 

Why is it that the media is much more likely to jump on a story showing that diet does not help autism, than when it does?

Why squash all hope? I may never understand this. 

At Nourishing Hope we are here for the opposite… to share the science AND nourish hope for families that there are things that can help. 

It’s solid science and it is certainly worth trying.

Let’s get into the article.

In this Forbes piece, the author, Steven Salzberg, a computer scientist, claims there hasn’t been a good study until now, saying…

“virtually no good studies have asked the question, do gluten-containing foods actually cause the symptoms of autism?”

That’s not true. There were a number of respected studies before this on gluten-free alone and many more on gluten and dairy. A quick Pub Med search brings up this study “ A Gluten-Free Diet as an Intervention for Autism and Associated Spectrum Disorders: Preliminary Findings”1 showing positive results way back in 1999.

The Old Switcheroo

Whether this is intentional or unconscious I’m not sure. But this is a common tactic many people use… Comparing apples to oranges

The author states, 

However, there are plenty of websites that offer treatments for autism, many of them unproven. One of the more common claims is that autistic children will benefit from a gluten-free, casein-free diet. 

But then he goes on to discuss only “gluten-free diets” which is not the primary dietary recommendation for those with autism. It is the gluten-free and casein-free diet (GFCF) these parents are following and seeing results from, not an ONLY gluten-free diet.  

He doesn’t consider or present any evidence on gluten-free AND casein-free diets. There is a vital distinction we’ll discuss when we talk about the study flaws. 

When he switches the conversation from gluten-free and casein-free to gluten-free only, he’s comparing apples to oranges. 

But first, more about the study.

One Study

The author only looked at one study2 to determine his primary scientific argument. He states:

“The new study, just published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, is the first randomized, well-controlled study of gluten-free diets in children with autism.”

No, it’s not the first (more studies below), and it was not well controlled. 

Let’s look at the study (you can read the full text paper here).

The study had 66 children who were all on a gluten-free diet. 

They were randomly assigned to the gluten-free diet (GFD) group or the gluten diet (GD) group. The gluten-free diet group continued to eat a gluten-free diet once the study started. The gluten diet group consumed one gluten containing food in more than one meal per day.

Flaws with the study

This article is based primarily on this one new study, which is fundamentally flawed in two ways.

1. The gluten free diet was not gluten-free

The study allows for infractions…

 “An incidental episode of consumption of a gluten-containing food (defined as a small piece of gluten product, e.g., bun or cake) or the consumption of yoghurt or spices with infinitesimal amounts of gluten was still classified as being compliant with the GFD.”

This is not a gluten-free diet to begin with. A biochemical response to gluten can occur from a very small infraction, the allowance of a “small piece of gluten product,” or even the small amount found in spices is definitely enough to cause a reaction. 

Since there was enough gluten to physiologically cause a reaction the study was not testing no gluten vs. gluten. It was actually testing a little gluten vs. more gluten, and this is very different. I’d expect not to see any/much difference between these two groups. 

Moreover, they don’t state how many infractions are allowed. We don’t know if they are happening daily or weekly. Regardless, even just a single infraction could throw things off for weeks, if not months. 

So the study cannot measure the impact of the omission of gluten. And this diet would not be able to determine the difference between gluten and gluten-free results. 

2. Dairy and Soy

The greatest flaw is that the diet discussed, a gluten-free diet, is not what’s being recommended by educated and experienced parents and professionals for autism. The science supports following a gluten-free AND casein-free diet.

That’s because casein, a protein in dairy (and soy too) share similar food proteins and properties to gluten (and similar scientific reasoning for removing them from the diet). Without omitting all three, you might not see any beneficial results.

This is because gluten and casein (and even soy) are broken down by the same digestive enzyme (DPPIV). So a deficiency with the enzyme can cause a reaction to all three foods. They are also inflammatory foods that are difficult for many people to digest. And all three have a partially-digested peptide that fits in the opiate receptor mimicking opiates. (I’ll explain more below)

Removing one may not result in any benefit.

In the Forbes article, the author quotes the lead researcher as saying, “There is no evidence either against or in favor of gluten avoidance for managing symptoms of ASD in children.”

I couldn’t find that quote in the paper, which concerns me on the legitimacy of the reporting. But either way, this statement is just wrong. Any pub med search will show you that there is plenty of research (which we will get into in this article).

Parent’s Reporting of Their Experience Matters

The author’s only mention of any past research was a single paper on parent interviews, which he defines as “weakly supportive evidence” and “notoriously unreliable.”

While parental surveys/interviews have their limitations – I disagree about their value. Parents know their children better than anyone. In that way, they can offer astute observations of changes in their child, and provide helpful data. 

And more importantly, this is only one paper. There are many more studies showing that a gluten-free and casein-free diet can help children with autism, and many that are more solid and well designed.

Studies that show the GFCF diet helps children with autism

Here are five studies showing that diet improves symptoms in autism:

  1. Showed a reduction of autistic behavior, increased social and communicative skills with a GFCF diet, and reappearance of autistic traits after the diet has been broken 3
  2. Found development was significantly better for the ASD group on a GFCF diet 4
  3. Demonstrated significant improvement in ASD and ADHD symptoms in children with autism on the GFCF diet 5
  4. Found 91% with autism improved behavior, speech, and/or GI to on GFCFSF 6
  5. Measured 4.5x improvement in developmental age, 6.7 pts increase in non-verbal IQ, improved autism symptoms, anxiety, and gastrointestinal symptoms from diet and nutrition intervention in autism. Same study found statistically significant benefits in communication, social interaction, daily living skills, inattention, and hyperactivity. (This study also included several nutritional supplements in addition to a healthy GFCFSF diet.) 7

The Science Behind Diet for Autism

As I mentioned at the beginning, the article states:

“The science behind the idea that gluten or casein causes (or worsens) autism has always been sketchy.” 

This is not true… the science is not sketchy.

Let’s talk science…

Children with autism routinely exhibit physical symptoms; such as diarrhea, constipation, bloating and GI pain, frequent infections, food allergies, sleeping challenges, and inflammation/ pain. For many children, nutrient deficiencies, imbalanced biochemistry, digestive problems, and inflammation underscore these symptoms.

Taking charge of their diet and nutrition can help.

One strategy is to follow a healthy gluten-free, casein-free, and soy-free diet.

Let’s discuss why the gluten-free and dairy-free diet can help.

What children eat affects how their body and brain operate for several reasons: the chemicals and substances in foods can affect the brain, and the foods we digest become nutrients for the brain to function.”

Nutrients are essential to all biochemical and brain function. Adequate nutritional status requires the consumption of nutrient dense food and proper digestion to breakdown and absorb those foods. Poor digestion can lead to a condition known as leaky gut; marked by malabsorption of nutrients, inflammatory responses to foods that are not broken down, and a burden to the detoxification system.

Poor digestion often stems from environmental factors (as well as genetic susceptibility), lack of beneficial bacteria, inflammation, and immune system response to certain foods. And studies have shown leaky gut 8, low levels of beneficial flora9, inflammation and immune response to food 10, 11 in children with autism. Additionally, the response to certain foods such as gluten and casein can create an opiate or inflammatory reaction that can affect the brain.

Gluten & Casein – Possible Opiates

Certain foods, such as wheat and dairy, contain proteins (gluten and casein) that can form opiate compounds if they are not properly digested. They fit in the opiate receptors of the brain and mimic other opiates like morphine12. This opiate effect can directly influence the brain and result in symptoms similar to morphine—foggy thinking, inattentiveness, constipation, and more.

And there are a number of studies on the opiates in autism 13, 14, 15,  a decrease in GI symptoms on a GFCF diet16, and a reduction in autistic symptoms with a GFCF diet 17, 18, 19.

As a parent addresses matters within their control, i.e. their child’s diet, nutrition, and lifestyle, they are literally supplying the body the nutrients and condition it needs to heal. Improving these underlying factors influences the trajectory of disorder and leads to better overall health and well being, and subsequently improved learning and behavior.

Misleading Inference – Diet and Vaccines?

You’d be amazed at how “controversial” DIET for children with autism is. 

That’s because so many people make it about vaccines. Which it is not. And this author does the same.

“The push for diet-based treatments has its origins in the anti-vaccine movement, beginning with… Andrew Wakefield” 

Oh boy, here we go. Hey, author, your bias is showing.

Do not politicize these poor children. Children are suffering. They need help. 

This is about gastrointestinal, neurological, and nutritional science.  Let’s figure out what’s going on and how we can improve the quality of life and their potential. 

Using Andrew Wakefield as the reason why diet doesn’t work is what’s really weak in this article.

The first observation by a doctor that a gluten-free and casein-free diet could help children with autism was done 40 years ago, well before Andrew Wakefield was on the scene.

The science of nutrition for autism is clear and has nothing to do with Andrew Wakefield or the “anti-vaccine movement.”

The Science is in and the Discussion is Over

That’s what this author wants you to believe…

He writes,“This study should put to rest all of the claims that a gluten-free diet can somehow improve the symptoms of autism.”

ONE study!. One flawed study should “put to rest all of the ‘claims’” and the research and clinical experience?

That’s silly. 

That’s not the scientific method. Putting to rest an entire intervention based on one poorly designed study is foolhardy. 

Unless your objective is less about finding the scientific answers and more about pushing a narrative.

In the end, it concludes with, 

“But let’s hope that parents get the message: don’t feed your autistic child a restricted diet.”

He hopes he’s taken away hope?

That’s terrible.

I’d be happy to talk with Steven Salzberg anytime to share the science on this subject. And I’d even be open for debate. Maybe Joe Rogan (my favorite podcaster) will have us both on to discuss the science of why and how diet helps children with autism improve.

Nourishing Hope

I founded Nourishing Hope to stand for the efficacy of improved diet and nutrition for autism. 

In my book, Nourishing Hope for Autism, my websites, and programs, I give hundreds of scientific references to support the scientific rationale for making improvements to diet and nutrition. I also provide detailed “how to” guidance to encourage success. 

And routinely, when families give it a try, they find it beneficial and worth the effort.

If you’re a parent, I’m here to say, keep nourishing hope. 

It is possible that improving diet and nutrition can help your child. 

Children can and do get better, and with 1 in 59 children affected by autism, THAT’s what Forbes should be writing about.

Share your story

Parents (and practitioners), share your comments. 

Show the naysayers that diet can help, and provide families hope.

With your comments AND the science on your side, maybe they will finally hear us.

Did a gluten-free, dairy-free or other diet help improve your child’s life? 

Please share your story (leave a comment below) with other parents looking for hope and help.

  1. Whiteley, P., Rodgers, J., Savery, D., & Shattock, P. (1999). A gluten-free diet as an intervention for autism and associated spectrum disorders: preliminary findings. autism, 3(1), 45-65.
  2. Piwowarczyk, A., Horvath, A., Pisula, E., Kawa, R., & Szajewska, H. (2019). Gluten-Free Diet in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Randomized, Controlled, Single-Blinded Trial. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 1-9.
  3. Knivsberg AM, Reichelt KL, Nodland M. (2001) Reports on dietary intervention in autistic disorders. Nutritional Neuroscience, 4(1):25-37.
  4. Knivsberg AM, Reichelt KL, Hoien T, Nodland M. (2002) A randomised, controlled study of dietary intervention in autistic syndromes. Nutritional Neuroscience, 5(4):251-61
  5. Whiteley P, Haracopos D, Knivsberg AM, Reichelt KL, Parlar S, Jacobsen J et al. The ScanBrit randomised, controlled, single-blind study of a gluten- and casein-free dietary intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders. Nutr Neurosci 2010; 13(2): 87-100.
  6. Jyonouchi, Harumi, Sining Sun, and Nanae Itokazu. “Innate immunity associated with inflammatory responses and cytokine production against common dietary proteins in patients with autism spectrum disorder.” Neuropsychobiology 46.2 (2002): 76-84
  7. Adams, J., Audhya, T., Geis, E., Gehn, E., Fimbres, V., Pollard, E., … & Matthews, J. (2018). Comprehensive nutritional and dietary intervention for autism spectrum disorder—A randomized, controlled 12-month trial. Nutrients, 10(3), 369.
  8. D’Eufemia P, Celli M, Finocchiaro R, et al. Abnormal intestinal permeability in children with autism. Acta Paediatr. 1996 Sep;85(9):1076-9.
  9. Finegold SM et al. Gastrointestinal microflora studies in late-onset autism. Clin Infect Dis 2002 35(Suppl 1):S6-S16. 
  10. Jyonouchi H, et al. Proinflammatory and regulatory cytokine production associated with innate and adaptive immune responses in children with autism spectrum disorders and developmental regression. J Neuroimmunol. 2001 Nov 1;120(1-2):170-9.
  11. Jyonouchi H, Sun S, Itokazu N. Innate immunity associated with inflammatory responses and cytokine production against common dietary proteins in patients with autism spectrum disorder. Neuropsychobiology. 2002;46(2):76-84.
  12. Zioudrou, Christine, Richard A. Streaty, and Werner A. Klee. “Opioid peptides derived from food proteins. The exorphins.” Journal of Biological Chemistry 254.7 (1979): 2446-2449.
  13. Jinsmaa Y, Yoshikawa M. (1999) Enzymatic release of neocasomorphin and beta-casomorphin from bovine beta-casein. Peptides, 20:957-962.
  14. Reichelt KL, Knivsberg AM, Lihnd G, Nodland M: Probable etiology and possible treatment of childhood autism. Brain Dysfunction 1991; 4: 308-319.
  15. Shattock P, Whiteley P. (2002) Biochemical aspects in autism spectrum disorders: updating the opioid-excess theory and presenting new opportunities for biomedical intervention. Expert Opin Ther Targets. Apr;6(2):175-83
  16. Jyonouchi H, Geng L, Ruby A, Reddy C, Zimmerman-Bier B. (2005) Evaluation of an association between gastrointestinal symptoms and cytokine production against common dietary proteins in children with autism spectrum disorders. J Pediatr. May;146(5):582-4.
  17. Knivsberg AM, Reichelt KL, Nodland M. (2001) Reports on dietary intervention in autistic disorders. Nutritional Neuroscience, 4(1):25- 37.
  18. Knivsberg AM, Reichelt KL, Hoien T, Nodland M. (2002) A randomised, controlled study of dietary intervention in autistic syn- dromes. Nutritional Neuroscience, 5(4):251-61
  19. Whiteley P, Haracopos D, Knivsberg AM, Reichelt KL, Parlar S, Jacobsen J et al. The ScanBrit randomised, controlled, single-blind study of a gluten- and casein-free dietary intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders. Nutr Neurosci 2010; 13(2): 87-100.

Hi, I’m Julie Matthews, a Certified Nutrition Consultant, Author, and Published Researcher. I teach parents and practitioners that children with autism, ADHD, and related disorders can improve and heal, and that there’s hope for their children. Then I educate and empower them to make strategic dietary changes that positively affect children’s health, which in turn helps their learning and behavior. With 17 years of experience and my unique range of knowledge, from nutrition research and clinical experience to cooking in the kitchen for my own family, I’ve created a much-needed community for parents and practitioners looking to help children with autism live happy, healthy lives. Join us.

Join the Nourishing Hope email list to get the latest news, articles, tips, recipes, and FREE access to The 6 Essentials to Improving Health, Learning, and Behavior Through Nutrition.
 

64 responses to “Forbes article ignores abundant science on gluten-free for autism”

  1. Michelle Hoover says:

    I love you and the work that you do to help families. I have implemented the GFCFSF diet in my practice. Especially, in working with Early Intervention Children with special health needs.. I have developed a reputation in the St. Louis market for helping children heal but in Il where I live, I am met with resistance.
    Simply said, your interventions /program works.
    I have a well-nourished thirteen year old daughter as proof . She was born prematurely and later diagnosed with ADHD and sensory processing disorder.

    Keep doing what you . You are an awesome teacher.

    Keep hope alive!

    Michelle Hoover
    MA, RDN

  2. Kristin Farber says:

    Thank you for your rebuttal to this unfortunate article. As a parent of a child on the spectrum, I can say that many dietary interventions, including a GFCFSF diet, have helped my son immensely. As per the usual, main stream media is ignoring the abundant amount of science “on our side”, and ignoring parents who witness their children’s behavioral and physical changes (sounds like another area that I won’t mention here). I personally think the problem is that there is no money for big pharma to make in a “cure”, when a healthy diet is used to help and heal the body. So, they will do what they can to debunk actual science. Bravo for your response and for your amazing work. Parents: you can help heal your child with nutrition, there is hope. It may not be easy, but it is totally worth it!

  3. Kim says:

    Oh yes, nutrition does matter!
    Summer before last I had my granddaughter to tutor.
    She was last in her class(1st).
    She is a beautiful sweet girl but just zoned.
    Teachers told my daughter, children like this never change.
    I had her for about 5 weeks.
    I detoxed her while cutting out gluten and most dairy.
    I taught her for like… 30 mins 4 days a week for those 5 weeks.
    When my daughter came and picked her up, the haze was gone from her eyes, she no longer grunted instead of talking, she was retested(same test she had when she left school) and now Aced the test! … And the teacher apologized to my daughter because she had never seen this happen to a child before.
    Nutrition, suppliments, detox, no gluten and limited dairy.

    • What a heartwarming wonderful story, Kim!! What a lucky girl to have a grandmother like you! I’m so excited to hear of your experience. Thank you for sharing this. I bet you changed these teachers lives (and the lives of their other students) too!! Thank you for sharing this. I will be making sure other families see this wonderful example.

  4. Anne Russell says:

    Since the removal of dairy products and wheat products from my child diet, his overall health, behavior and social interaction has improved. Foods do affect our bodies.

  5. Grace Kinsella says:

    When my son truly descended into autism at age 2, I described it like he was slowly poisoned. He vomited for no reason, had chronic diarrhoea, he lost all interest in his surroundings and people. I had the good fortune that one of the first professionals I took him to was a MD, Maps doctors and Gaps practitioner.

    The first thing we did was diet. We removed all casein, gluten, soya and sugar from his diet. If we needed proof of the opiate like affects of gluten and casein we saw it in the first week. He was like a drug addict looking for his fix, even searching the bin for anything with wheat in it! Thankfully we got through it. He became calmer, had better eye contact, his eczema completely cleared, he stopped getting sick, his bowel movements improvements but not as much as we wanted.
    After a year, we went onto the Gaps diet to really fix his gut. He began having normal stools for the first time in his life!! We were able to toilet train him quickly. He went from his very restricted beige diet at age 2 to a 4 year old who helps me juice organic fruit and veg every morning. He eats the rainbow now.

    He still struggles with his autism but we have a far happier, healthier, fun loving child now. Our quality of life greatly improved because of nutritional work.

    We have and continue to do alot of therapies but nothing thus far has improved my child’s life and our family’s life more than diet.

    You know that this writer had their mind made up before even starting this article of whether they believed in nutritional intervention. Did the author take the time to speak to anyone in the autism community?

    If I had read this article and taken it as well researched, I could have missed the opportunity to greatly improve my autistic child’s life.
    If this author walked a day in our shoes….
    Don’t speak of something you know nothing about or even researched well.

    • Wow. What a wonderful story Grace. The GAPS diet can be a great diet, which is why I believe in BioIndividual Nutrition and started an institute to train practitioners (https://bioindividualnutrition.com). Each person is unique and requires a unique approach. The GFCFSF Diet is an excellent place to start, and other diets can be wonderful too. I’m so glad to hear your son is healthier and happier.

    • Laura Rauh says:

      My children have seen a huge improvement going gluten free. Ot is the difference between night and day for thrm going gluten free. Keep spreading the truth.

  6. Ynge Ljung says:

    My experience as an Acupuncture Physician, working wint children on the spectrum and also with older people with Alzheimer’s, is that their condition dramatically improves when they go on a 100% gluten free diet!
    Julie Matthews has a long time experience, with science proven cases, and has written books and papers on the subject
    The article in Forbes doesn’t seem to have any knowledge whatsoever about science or.nutrition, and is right out harmful for families who tries to do their best for their kids!
    Shame on the person who wrote this directly misinformed article!

  7. Thank you Julie Matthews, Your article-response needs to have worldwide distribution. I work with undiagnosed children with speech and language challenges in addition to children on the spectrum. The fuel we put into our body makes a difference. Non identified food sensitivities, especially the inflammatory biggies such as gluten, dairy, soy, when removed from the diet, can promote gut healing…steering towards a reduction in stimming behaviors and smoother, easier communication skills. Parents share their observations with me and I see it with my own eyes. Shame on anyone who takes away hope! Thank you for what you do.

    • Lauren, Thank you for helping nourish hope, and sharing your professional insight and experience. It’s beneficial for parents to hear from a professional who works with many children that improvement is possible. And that you see it with your own eyes.

  8. You are right and this writer is wrong! Diet revision does not work for all individuals diagnosed with autism but it is effective for many and worth six months effort to try. As a professional in the field I always recommend parents try diet revision and see a nutritionist to ensure adequate nourishment. I have seen some amazing results, some moderate to mild improvements and no change. Revision is not limited to gluten and casein but that is where to start.

  9. Lynise Perry says:

    Thanks so much for the rebuttal Julie. In this day and age, parents are overwhelmed with contradictory nutrition and science information. He is definitely not helping the cause. I will be sharing your article with other parents.

  10. Wendy says:

    My autistic son barely spoke a word until we met with a functional medicine doctor, who immediately recommended a gluten, dairy and soy free diet. Within days of starting the GFDFSF diet, my son started talking and communicating. He is a chatterbox now compared to where he was before changing his diet. I would never let him go back to eating whatever.

    • I love that, Wendy. Particularly, when you say “eating whatever.” Tt’s so true. At Nourishing Hope we talk about STRATEGIC dietary omissions and additions. “Eating whatever” is the opposite of strategic. Language is one of the biggest improvements I hear with the GFCFSF diet, and sometimes it’s a very profound change. Thanks for sharing your story of hope.

  11. Laura Pulver says:

    The MTHFR snp is in 45% of the population. This percentage is even higher in the autistic population. When someone has the SNP, whether they are homozygous or heterozygous, they are sensitive to folic acid. Our government has fortified all of our gluten flours with folic acid. The folic acid binds to folate receptors. This impairs the body’s ability to make methylfolate which is used to make certain neurotransmitters such as serotonin which is a feel-good, happy hormone. I know without intervention my son’s serotonin levels were low. He has autism and is heterozygous for the MTHFR SNP. The MTHFR gene makes methylfolate which is also involved in making glutathione,the primary antioxidant of the liver. So individuals with this SNP do not detox well, and with all the chemicals our government allows in our food and products that we use, we need all the glutathione we can get. My son had a lot of acne before I started him on the gluten-free casein-free diet. The ND said that it was from toxins coming through the skin. After being on the gfcf diet for a short time his skin cleared up. He wasn’t even on an organic, non GMO diet at that point. My son has a gene for ASD. I believe this gene was epigenetically turned on by many factors such as stress, toxins which include heavy metals, etc. I believe in bioindividual nutrition, and I believe that many of the individuals with ASD can benefit from the gluten free casein-free diet. However, I believe that diet is one piece of the pie albeit an important piece. Without realizing this parents may think that the diet is not warranted because their child hasn’t fully recovered when,in fact, it is a very important component of the healing that needs to be done. In addition, removing casein/ dairy products is part of the MTHFR protocol.

    • You’re absolutely right Laura. Thanks for sharing this science and underlying rationale for parents. There are many pieces of the puzzle. And folate and methylation are important ones. I’m so glad to hear your son is doing well. Thanks for sharing your story with other families joining us here at Nourishing Hope.

  12. Cynthia A Sidner says:

    Fabulous rebuttal Julie!!! And,of course we could take this discussion into the improvements seen with GF/CF/SF in children with other behavioral and psychiatric manifestations.

    You are submitting this to Forbes? Right? It will be interesting to see if they publish it.

    • Yes! Thanks Cynthia. Honestly, I hadn’t gotten that far yet. I started writing this article for myself and the parents. But I will. Great idea! Thank you.

    • Lisa Surman says:

      Yes, it will be extremely interesting to see if the author or Forbes offers to publish a rebuttal or at least correct some of the misinformation in their original article. If not, I believe that will show the author has some other agenda.

  13. Olinda Paul says:

    Ok…..What a crock….I was desperate to help my son with Aspergers. They said he was high functioning although I wasn’t seeing any high functioning going on. I followed a book by Karen Serroussi called How I Cured My Son Of Autism. It came upon me by my sister in law Gordi. She read an article about this woman. So I bought the book and followed it TO THE LETTER. I was going to write her a seething letter on how dare she give others hope if it didn’t work out. Well….that book was my bible. I had a spine of steel, NO goof ups, solid on the products etc. ..and DAM! It was working. You need to do the diet more than 3 months. Most people quit (lazy) because it’s “too much” for their child which really means it’s too much for THEM. At the 3 month level you will begin to see very small increments of change. Little by little you will see results. Do not expect huge changes…they will be tiny things you notice….that means it’s working. Follow everything to the letter and you will get results. If you can’t afford everything (I certainly couldn’t) do the best you can BUT ….NO GLUTEN! We started when he was 3 ish…and nothing on the internet for help. Now he is 24 with two AA degrees, one in Sociology and the other in Music as he is a metal guitarist . He lives in L.A. to be close to his band and shares an apartment. He cooks for himself, shops for food, clothes, etc. He held down 3 jobs. One at Chipolte, he is a professional dog walker (His Business) and he is an Uber driver. Now that he has moved out of the house he is just Ubering, playing with his band and loving his life. It’s hard to tell him from (“normal”?) people…whatever that is. Was it a challenge? yes, was it hard, yes, was it worth it? YES. Now I know he can take care of himself and for a parent that was told he would end up in an institution because I wouldn’t be able to handle him….I am a happy camper. Institution? NOT ON MY WATCH. Oh and a couple of other things. Check the jaw alignment, they might need braces…he was a heavy snorer and his jaw was miss-aligned. A really good dentist put him in braces, and aligned the jaw…his speech is good and sleeps like a log. No more brain fog. And…if I may for those of you that are open to it…Chiropractic. It helps keeping everything aligned and working properly. Finda a NATURAL Chrio that likes herbs and stuff. I am waiting for the book that talks about them being an adult. I want to know anything about that…what difficulties come up etc. I don’t know of any book. Good luck to everyone…there is hope.

    • This is a wonderful story, Olinda. I have chills reading it. I’m so happy for your son and you too. Thank you for sharing this story of hope with other families. I know it’s going to be very powerful for them. Thanks for nourishing hope for so many families!!

  14. Amy Bondar says:

    Bravo Julie Matthews, Bravo!

  15. Jen says:

    I’m curious if he had a child who was diagnosed and told by doctors that it was genetic and there was nothing he could do to help his child. Would he accept that answer? Would he feel a race against the clock that parents have when they realize there is a small window of time to implement changes that may affect their child’s future outcome? What if he started researching and he found other parents who were making changes in diet, adding vitamins/supplements and seeing tremendous gains. Would he try it? He implies parents are choosing this as if it’s not hard or time consuming or inconvenient not to mention expensive. It’s not easy but it has made a huge difference in my daughter’s life. We are so thankful for the people who continue to help us find hope and healing.

    • What a beautiful sentiment, Jen. You are very right and you did a wonderful job illustrating what it’s like to be in parents’ shoes. And mostly I’m so glad to hear what a huge difference it’s made in your daughter’s life.

  16. Well said and well documented, Julie! Thank you for taking the bull by the horns and also providing a safe forum for parents and practitioners to share.

  17. Within 8 days of going dairy-free, my son with autism went from using a few words at a time to 4-word sentences. He became more aware of others and his environment. He called my father Grandpa for the first time. It was nothing short of amazing. I am now a health coach because I saw the power that food and nutrients had on my son, and I wanted to share that information with other families. I have seen many kids improve through a gluten and/or dairy-free diet. It costs nothing extra, with no side effects. It often starts families on path to other biomedical treatments and healthier eating. Why would anyone take away a parent’s hope with such a promising treatment? It is so frustrating as a parent to constantly have to defend what we’re doing. Thank for this article and for your help to give families a voice.

  18. Sarah Mavrinac says:

    Julie, thank you so much for sharing the article and your rebuttal. I am scandalized!! How can such a seemingly talented educated individual do such poor research and hold such horrifically damaging ideas? He seems to think that leaky gut is also a fabrication! Really?

    Julie, I hope that you might lead the campaign to educate him. Truly, this is not an article in keeping with Forbes normally high editorial standards. This is fake news indeed . Perhaps a letter from you and a petition for a retraction/review of the article is in order? There is SOOO much evidence of benefit from dietary change!! We have large scale studies but also, importantly, the thousands of powerful and very human case studies that provide the hope for devastated parents. The stories above are case in point.

    Perhaps Epidemic Answers, the Cleveland Clinic, the Children’s Defense Fund, the Autism Research Institute and Generation Rescue (for examples) also circulate the petition to their mailing lists? Apparently, such a letter could be submitted to: [email protected]

    I would be delighted to help in any way i can.

    Thank you, Julie, for all of the tremendous work you do. You are truly saving lives!

    • Thank you Sarah! Great idea. I’d love to lead this. I’m going to reach out to see if they will publish my rebuttal. And I am copying them on social media. If they don’t respond, I’ll see where we can go from there. Any help you can give would be great! Thank you. Feel free to email us at [email protected] if you have any ideas on how you can help us proceed. Thanks!

      • Lisa Surman says:

        Julie Matthews, I would also be happy to help in this regard as well. Feel free to contact me if there’s anything I can do to help push for a rebuttal.

  19. COLLEEN says:

    Perfect example of a Power Company trying to abolish the “TRUTH”, at a child’s expense,…shame on Forbes,…keep on presenting hope, and the truth for autistic children, the world over!

  20. JSWalker says:

    Julie,
    My 6 year old son was diagnosed with Level 1 Autism earlier this year. My wife and I were absolutely devastated. Needless to say we have been on differing opinions in this situation when it comes to his diet. All three of our kids are on a gluten/diary free diet now (2.5 months now).

    The question/issue I’m struggling with is that in this change over in diet, what should we be expecting in terms of objective/measurable evidence that the change in diet is actually helping? Also, being at Level 1 I assume that as he matures he would likely have “some” level of increase in communication… How are we to gauge what is from maturing and what’s from dietary changes?

    Lastly, are there any studies that “support” what the person in your article writes about? I ask because I want to take in every viewpoint/research source I can.

    Thank you for your efforts in helping parents dealing with kids/family that have autism.

    • In my experience and what we measured in our study in the journal of Nutrients, improvements can be health, learning, behavior, and/or mood… so it might be digestive symptoms, sleep, speech, aggression, irritability, hyperactivity, anxiety, inattentiveness, or autism symptoms. How will you know what it’s do to? Well, if improvements happen fairly soon after implementing changes (and other things remain constant) it’s likely diet is at play. It’s different for each person. But usually parents feel pretty certain when their child benefits. Sometimes a dietary infraction brings back symptoms and they feel even more certain of the dietary cause. In the article the author only mentions two studies about diet that I dissect in my rebuttal article (the rest is commentary). I always encourage people to do their own research.

  21. Patricia de la Garza says:

    Julie my daughter stopped hitting her head, hurting her knees and all other self-injury when we cleaned her diet, removing gluten, casein, sugar, soy. NOTHING ANYONE SAYS can counter that. Today, she’s a beautiful adult that speaks fluently 5 languages and is pursuing university. The low oxalate diet gave us a quality of life we could have only dreamed of. Keep doing what you are doing… parents need to hear correct information!

    No amount of therapy would have given my daughter the chance of a productive beautiful life without the diet. Once her body started to function as it should and only then every therapy gave us gains and allowed her to become the woman she is today. Such a shame people feel entitled to judge something they have not lived. Thank you for your very vocal work!

  22. Kerry Rihtar says:

    My son’s digestion was horrific before changing his diet. It wasn’t until we removed offending foods (gluten/dairy/soy/corn/refined sugar) that his digestion got better and that took about 3 years. He didn’t have a solid bowel movement until he was 11 years old. To say that diet doesn’t make a difference with ASD is absolutely false. Not only did his digestion change, his behavior did. He was no longer screaming in pain and he was became much calmer. You are what you eat as they say. Thank you Julie for putting the truth out there.

  23. Stephanie says:

    I have twin boys who are two and a half and we have been on the gfcf diet for just over a month. I am seeing such amazing improvements in behaviour, hyperactivity and language and social skills. Everyone from intervention, family members, friends and play group teachers are commenting and noticing the difference in both of them since starting the diet changes. I also have Aspergers and have started the diet myself and have notice already that my brain feels less scattered and I can put thoughts together easier.
    Thank you for giving us hope ❤️ It has really worked for us so far

    • This is wonderful Stephanie!! I’m so happy to hear that you and your twin boys are doing so well on the GFCF diet! It’s good to hear from the experience of an adult who can articulate how gluten and dairy make your brain feel. Thank you for your kind words too.

  24. Lisa says:

    I have a 17yr old son with autism. Like so many others, my child got sick and then developed autism symptoms. He was healthy and developing normally then he started to have digestive problems. He became irritable and withdrawn like a lot of small children do when they’re sick. He just didn’t get better and within 6 months, by the time he was 2, had full blown autism. The pediatrician first referred us to a developmental clinic, and after several YEARS of severe gastrointestinal intestinal symptoms, referred us to a pediatric gastroenterologist who basically said, this is just part of autism…? WHAT? If my neurotypical child had these symptoms, it would be investigated. Unfortunately, my son with autism expresses pain with behavior, and would have to be sedated for testing…so somehow getting to the cause of his chronic abdominal pain, constipation and nausea is not going to happen. The only thing that’s helped is a gfcf soy free diet. I’d like to say I’m upset about this article, but I’m not anymore. Current science links diet, the gut microbiome etc. With many illnesses. People who write articles like this demonstrate absolute ignorance to current scientific literature. disregard to people with

    • I have heard that many times to Lisa… Doctors saying severe GI symptoms are “just autism.” That of course makes no sense. I have seen and heard many stories where (pain-based) behaviors like headbanging go away when the gastrointestinal issues are resolved. It’s upsetting that their pain gets dismissed as a behavior or “just autism.” I’m glad you can see this more clearly that these comments are simply ignorance, and don’t get upset by them. Keep nourishing hope! And thanks for sharing.

  25. Patti says:

    Yes, my son regressed into autism at 12 months and further at 15 months after an immune system assault. He developed horrible GI issues. At 21 months, we decided to go dairy free and within 1 day there was a noticeable difference in his interaction with us. We then went Gluten free and started seeing many improvements. Unfortunately, diet wasn’t enough to recover him, BUT it was the building block. And as you point out in your article, ONE bite does make a difference. We saw this about 2 months into the diet, when he managed to get 1 small piece of waffle and returned to a stim he had given up weeks before.
    He is almost 15 and is completely recovered from autism, although he still has GI issues. I don’t believe we would have recovered him without the GF/CF diet and later SCD. I believe organic/non-GMO is essential as well. We have used GI meds and a variety of targeted biomedical interventions based on his physical presentations.
    Thank you so much for providing information for parents! It was a parent blog that got me started on GF/CF years ago, even after several books written by doctors said there was no science behind it, it was too expensive and too hard. NO! It becomes one of the easiest and most basic interventions you can do.

    • You summed it up Patti… So many naysayers boil the diet down to “no science, too expensive, and too hard.” And all three of those premises are untrue. Thank you for sharing your son’s story and your experience! And I’m glad to hear he is doing so well.

    • Melissa says:

      I started my daughter on the scd diet in January 2019 and she has improved drastically! Patti, if I may ask, eBay biomedical interventions did you use to help your son? My daughter is 3 and nonverbal she has a handful of words but there’s no communication. I’m just trying to see what I can do to help her recover! Thank you

  26. Tara says:

    Amazing work as always Julie. I have seen nutrition play a huge role in improving the lives of kids with ASD. I personally saw a change in my son’s behavior when I took gluten and dairy away. Since then he has progressed consistently – ASD symptoms and overall health. As time went on I found and implemented other diet interventions, but he continues to be 100% GFCF. Booooo to that Forbes article!

  27. Melanie Ramadan says:

    I have to say it is really hard to believe the Forbes article!
    My son Rami was diagnosed with ASD at 24 months.
    He was stiming physically and verbally, non verbal, no eye contact, no responding to outside noises, his own mame or voices. Rami was waking up every 2 hours, frequently vomiting.

    The first week of removing strictly gluten from his food he slept 5 straight hours and each day the number of hours he was able to sleep increased!

    Once we removed casein and all food containing milk he gave is us eye contact and language. It took 2 years to have a conversation and interaction with his brother and sister.

    Rami is a living example of the positive effects of a GFCFSF diet.

    People can say and study kids on the spectrum all they want. Our special kids are unique. Each case is specific.
    But one cannot say “there is not evidence“ because our children ARE the evidence!

    Thanks Julie for giving this platform to respond, because apparently there is none in the Forbes article!

  28. Dianne Doggett says:

    We put my son on the gluten-free dairy-free diet when he was two years old, and within two weeks he was like a different child. He stopped spinning in circles, he stopped racing through the house uncontrollably, his sense of touch returned, his sound sensitivities were greatly reduced, he could sit and listen to a book being read to him, and he began to respond to his name. That was twenty years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday. When he was seven years old, we accidentally gave him some french fries battered with wheat flour, and he was in outer space for two weeks. The difference was clear. Of all the things we have done to treat his autism, and there have been many, the GFCF Diet was always the most important one.

  29. Melissa says:

    My daughter Ava was neurotypical from birth to age 17 months when she got a double ear infectiom and developed a fever that lasted for a week until I caved and gelave her the antibiotics the doctor prescribed, that same month her head banging started she would get irritable and started having yeast overgrowth problems and her GI issues became noticeable. My baby girl that was not even 1.5 years old went from 400+ words and sentences to a handful of words and no more communication. I lost my cheerful chatterbox daughter and she is now 3.5 years old and has not returned to her former self completely yet. However, I started her on the SCD diet in January 2019 and within a week her words started to come back, her eye contact, her social personality, her dancing, playing, focus, involvement with our family, she started to copy me and showed me emotions that were totally appropriate for situations, like watching Charlotte’s Web and started crying when the spider tells Wilbur the pig she is going to die! My 2.5 year old burst into tears at hearing that sentence. And I told her it was ok that Charlotte was going to be leaving and to not be sad. But she looked at me and said SAD. That was a miracle, she was in her own world spinning toys and counting nonstop and then bam! She was watching a full length movie and crying over it and telling me it was sad! So yes, Jesus bless the fact that he gave us nutrients and a way to help recover our babies. Diet is everything for foundational support to help kids and adults with any health issue!

  30. Amanda Hecker says:

    I am so tired of these position papers by people who don’t care about what families must go through to recover their kids. It feels like a corporate statement they have no business making. Food DOES matter, and so does the inordinate amount of UNREGULATED chemicals in our food and water supply that have no business being there – and are the result of exactly the same kind of myopic thinking and corporate actions as indicated in this agenda-laden Forbes article. I would like to see Forbes print a formal apology.

  31. Lisa Surman says:

    Thank you, Julie, for being a voice of science and reason for thousands of parents who are in the trenches with children with autism. Diet is not the only answer, but it is a huge piece of the puzzle for many, and parents should at least hear both sides of the story so they can make an informed decision or give the diet a try.

    When our son was diagnosed nearly 9 years ago, none of the doctors we spoke to even mentioned that dietary interventions could help. In fact, when we read about it and heard anecdotal evidence that a GFCF diet was helpful, most professionals we spoke to completely dismissed the idea.

    In my opinion, we therefore lost precious time in implementing the diet and treating our son. It wasn’t until about 3.5 years later that we came across your book, Nourishing Hope, and I heard you speak at an event in Berkeley. We were doubtful that diet would make a meaningful impact, as we had mostly eliminated gluten for a short trial without noticing any improvements. But I remember you saying that even small infractions could sabotage the effort. Around that same time, we went to see a respected doctor at UCSF (who specializes in treating kids with ADHD and autism) and he urged us to at least try a 3-week trial on a restricted diet. We decided to give it a go…and we’ve never looked back.

    Our son has made great strides since we implemented a restricted diet, after much trial-and-error figuring out which foods he reacted to. One of our big breakthroughs came after I saw one of your videos mentioning how some kids on the spectrum can’t properly breakdown phenols in foods and it makes them aggressive. At that time, our son was eating apples/applesauce and apple juice on a daily basis and he was struggling with aggression. So we decided to cut out apples and switch to a low-phenol diet and lo-and-behold, within 3 days his aggression substantially subsided. Later, we confirmed with blood testing that our son has methylation and immune system issues that contributed to his food reactions, so that validated why following a restricted diet is so important for him.

    So we are eternally grateful to you for the information you’ve shared with parents like us. Please keep spreading the word that diet matters!

  32. Cynthia Stark says:

    My son, who was saying 11 words and phrases, went mute (other than screaming in agony) after his 12-month MMR in 1999. At 18 months he was diagnosed with autism and I was told he wold never speak again. At 20 months he went gluten-free, and could say the alphabet. At 25 months we met Paul Shattock, and we went dairy free too, and my son started to say some words, but without meaning. At 36 months we had him allergy tested and he went soy free too, and within 2 months he was speaking in sentences and reading (yes, he taught himself to read by 38 months!). He needed all 3 of “the evil trifecta – gluten/casein/soy protein” removed out of his diet before he could express himself. He hasn’t stopped chatting since! When he was accidentally fed these things by relatives/sitters/waiters he went mute again. It couldn’t be clearer in his case. The doctor said “do whatever works”. And we do. Many thanks to Paul Shattock and the Autism Research Institiute for their help, there is nothing more beautiful than hearing your child say “love you” again, after 2 years of not hearing it.

  33. Laura Hopper says:

    Thank you, Julie. I was truly angered when I read the article from
    Forbes. Diet changes made a dramatic difference in my kids; removing gluten and dyes/petrochemicals proved helpful in many ways. When my son is exposed to even a slight amount of gluten, we all suffer for about a month. It is truly awful. My only regret is not trying dietary interventions at an earlier age. We were finally “forced” into removing gluten when my son stopped growing at age 8. He didn’t gain an ounce for 2 years. My own gp suggested we do a trial run of removing gluten. We had many other doctors (including his GI) telling us it wouldn’t help. They were wrong, and my son suffered tremendously for too long. It’s sad to think how many kids will be harmed in result of this biased Forbes article. The writer likely has no idea how detrimental this piece is to the autism community, but I truly hope he takes a moment to read your response and these comments. Diet can be a life changing intervention for kids on the spectrum (and in our experience, their siblings as well). Shame on Forbes for printing this garbage.

  34. Thank you for your work Julie.
    When I was 41 years old (I’m 49) I started a GFCF and not long after, it was like coming out of a nightmare. After a time with real withdrawal symptoms, I could nearly say I was going from the hell where I lived for 40 years, to paradise. Really like a second Birth.
    Luckily, I believed this little voice in my head, telling me, people who Don’t think it works, just Don’t know what they are talking about.
    I have to take really good care of what I eat, I must have a restricted diet as you explain, if I Don’t want a restricted life and I even know I wouldn’t be there longer if it was for this diet, because I was olding really fast.
    I react to many foods so it’s quite a camp but that’s the price for an happy life.
    Instead of saying to people that diet doesn’t work, on the contrary they should help to share this message full of hope.
    Because they Don’t do a good job, I’m myself sharing this message but in french.
    Thanks a lot for all your sharings Julie

  35. Sarah says:

    When I read something like the Forbes article I wonder if the author is someone who doesn’t want to change his diet? Is he someone with a child on the spectrum who feels the need to justify himself for not putting the immense resources into changing his diet for the health of his child? Did he need this article to excuse himself to his partner? Or someone else? I remember when we did the GAPS diet to heal our sons of symptoms of Autism there was one doctor who stated something along the lines of, “Well, I couldn’t do that” as if to imply that if she wasn’t capable of doing it then it wasn’t possible or worth doing. I could see that this doctor, who viewed herself as very health oriented, was offended at the thought of someone else outdoing her. Not that it is a competition or that those of us who do put in tremendous effort and resources into healing our children are in some way meaning to offend those that don’t. Yet, I do wonder if that’s what’s happening. Or, did this author make an attempt at a GFCF diet that failed? I don’t know. It really doesn’t make sense to me that people would prefer to be blocked and find flawed resources to continue vehemently supporting their blocks. I wish we could all be doing more celebrating the healing that many of us have done and how we’ve done it. Surprisingly I’ve found the experience to be more like hiding in a closet! Ie we were isolated going through the worst of the experience with the eczema, digestive issues, developmental delays, screaming throughout the day, the sleep issues, the endless cooking, holding and the patience… to now where we’re so much better and we don’t say so much about where we’ve been because people don’t believe us. Or, the Autism diagnosis must have been wrong… All I can say is that for us the GAPS diet (which for us raw milk was beneficial though we don’t tolerate commercial pasteurized milk at all) was the first step in our healing. My sons were 2.5 years and 5 months old when we started. We slowly transitioned to be on the diet completely by my older sons 3rd birthday and the results were miraculous. While for some simply going GFCF may be the answer I know for us we had to take that next step into everything involved in the GAPS diet. And, for us 100% compliance was necessary. I believe the difference between a “therapeutic” diet and a “healthy” diet is difficult for some people to understand. For people needing a “therapeutic” diet there can’t be infractions. For the 4 years we were on the GAPS diet and then followed portions of it, we could not eat sugar, grains or any form of pasteurized milk without my sons having a reaction, which for them was eczema, digestive issues & waking up screaming. (For me because I was nursing I had to be 100% compliant and I found that I did have a gluten intolerance). Sometimes I think we were lucky that my sons reactions were so extreme. Yet, we never would have been able to make those connections if we hadn’t taken those foods completely out of their diets. We did eventually hit a plateau with my sons improvements with diet and then found they had Lyme disease. Yet, diet continues to be an important part of their staying well: GF 100%.

  36. I could not believe he took it to the “anti-vaccine” conversation! (But then again, I can believe it) Thank you for this response, Julie! Enormous applause. As always, you’ve delivered the science and the hope that these children can get better! Thank you for addressing that piece of “journalism” and laying out the facts. Your work, along with the many other brilliant minds in the nutrition and biomed for autism world, has inspired my own tremendously. As a certified speech-language pathologist and feeding specialist turned nutrition and mealtime coach for kids with neurodevelopemental disorders, I have seen remarkable improvements through the use of diet, nutrition, and lifestyle changes that traditional therapy alone cannot account for! Time and time again! Speech, language, improvements in the sensory challenges, improvements in “picky eating”, etc.

    Thank you once more for this response to Forbes laughable article. You’re doing amazing work in this world!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *