Asperger’s Syndrome Diet is a specialized diet created bearing in mind the complex needs of an individual suffering from the Asperger’s Syndrome. It is essentially a Gluten-free, Casein-free Diet or ‘GCFC’ Diet. Asperger’s Syndrome is a neurobiological disorder, classified as one of the Pervasive Developmental Disorders [PDD]. This condition is characterized by significant impairment in social interaction as well as the development of repetitive and restricted fields of interests, and activities. In many respects this is a condition similar to Autism, with the difference that individuals with Asperger’s exhibit average or above average IQ. Essentially a syndrome affecting children, adults also suffer from this condition if it remains unidentified in them till adulthood. Although parents might notice these changes earlier, diagnosis of this condition usually occurs only by the time a child reaches pre-school or sometimes even later.
The causes of Asperger’s Syndrome remain yet unknown. Although a definite genetic abnormality underlies this condition other precipitating factors include environmental influences like pollution, digestive problems, certain food intolerances (to wheat, gluten, dairy, eggs, sugar etc). Gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea or constipation are a common feature of this condition. Such children find it difficult to digest cereal proteins like gluten or milk proteins like casein completely. The incomplete breakdown products that remain accumulated in the digestive tract lead to abnormalities like high pain tolerance, lack of focus and concentration and often repetitive behaviors. Hence it is one theory that a gluten and casein free diet helps in reducing symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome. Diet could form the central core of treatment, however this holds true in addition to several other treatments undertaken simultaneously.
Dr Karl Ludwig Reichelt isolated peptides from casein and gluten that worsened symptoms in children with Asperger’s Syndrome. These complex peptides exercised a strong influence on the brain functions. Dr Reichelt studied how significant improvement was noticed when patients of Asperger’s Syndrome were put on a gluten-free and casein-free diet. The explanation for this comes from the fact that partially undigested proteins i.e. the peptides resemble opiates. These peptides were believed to exercise the same effect as opiates (eg., morphine and heroin) on the brain and nervous system. Thus it may be understood, how long term exposure of the brain to these peptides can have serious detrimental effects on the brain development and affects behavioural patterns just as a narcotic would.
Features of Asperger’s Syndrome Diet
Foods to be avoided-
- Elimination of gluten and casein containing foods such as wheat, rye barley and in some cases oats and dairy products is recommended.
- It is important to reduce or if possible, completely eliminate foods containing artificial ingredients, preservatives and coloring agents.
- Foods of high sugar, salt and fat content must be avoided.
Foods to be included-
- It is essential to incorporate more fresh foods into the diet such as fruits, vegetables, green leafy vegetables.
- A very important beginning to the day is eating a nutritious breakfast as this meal is plays a key role for regulating and maintaining energy levels, brain function, and moods.
- Instant energy providing foods, such as apples and peanut butter, carrots, and celery, granola bars, fruit and nut mixes, hard boiled eggs, cheese and crackers must be kept within easy reach at all times.
- Picky eaters who are not particularly fond of vegetables or ‘healthy foods’, must be encouraged to consume these by making use of homemade sauces, herb vinegars, and dressings without the use of preservatives or chemicals as these add flavor to meals.
Benefits of Asperger’s Syndrome Diet
Reportedly some parents, but not all, believe they see that removing gluten and casein from the child’s diet helps in increasing eye contact, attention span and overall mood. It is also seen to reduce other symptoms like tantrums, involuntary actions like flapping hands, and aggression. Others have reported success in learning daily living skills like dressing, bathing, using the toilet, as well as improved co-ordination and play. In a limited number of cases, the success with such dietary modifications has enabled the child to enter mainstream academics within a few months. However there isn’t sufficient research that would qualify this diet as evidence-based treatment.
Asperger’s Syndrome Diet shows variable levels of improvement among children. Sometimes immediate improvement is noticed although it normally takes almost six months for gluten to clear out of the system and at least one month for casein to be completely cleared. It is recommended to continue the diet for at least a year for discernable changes. Further the diet claims to bring about changes in the body at the cellular level and promote healing of the stomach and intestinal lining, which would obviously require time.
Simultaneously natural herbal and homeopathic alternatives may also be administered with few side effects and little risk. St John’s Wort, Cina, Passiflora, Chamomila are believed to have positive effects on the mental and emotional health, soothing nerves as tonic, reducing irritability and promoting restful sleep.