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Thursday, 18 November, 1999, 09:39 GMT
Autism link to food intolerance
Milk is a common source of food intolerance

Some forms of autism may be linked to food intolerance, according to a study.

Researchers have found that a large proportion of autistic children, particularly those with late onset autism, respond well when fed a diet low in wheat, milk and other products linked to food intolerance.

But autism experts warn that diet is unlikely to be a cure for autism and say that it is difficult to measure whether improvements in autistic behaviour are due to a direct or indirect effect.

The study by Dr Michael Tettenborn, a consultant paediatrician in Frimley, Surrey, was presented to the Allergy Research Foundation on Thursday.

It shows 28 out of 57 autistic children between the ages of two and 15 showed a "definite and sustained improvement" when they were given anti-fungal therapy and/or fed a diet low in yeast and milk products.

Fifteen got worse when taken off the treatment and six had "uncertain improvement" in their symptoms. Most of the school age children are now in mainstream schools.

The children who responded to treatment shared several characteristics in common: most had developed autism after 16 months; many had poor socialisation skills such as poor eye contact; there was often a history of altered bowel habits at the same time that autistic symptoms developed; many had been ill when symptoms developed and had been given antibiotics.

They also shared a tendency to feel excessive thirst, a craving for milk or wheat products, nasal congestion, a very pale face with dark shadows under the eyes and abdominal distension.

Twenty-four of the children were given anti-fungal therapy, a diet low in refined sugar, yeast and fermented products and the drugs nystatin or amphotericin and Fluconazole for at least four months.

Their autistic and physical symptoms got worse before improving.

Eleven were given anti-fungal therapy and a gluten- and casein-free diet and nine had only the gluten- and casein-free diet.

The latter children took longer to respond to the treatment, but did not run the risk of developing side effects to the drugs.

Not a cure

Dr Fiona Scott of the Autism Research Centre said it was difficult to prove whether the improvements were linked to autistic symptoms or a reduction of the side effects of food intolerance, such as insomnia and irritability.

"The children may seem easier to deal with because these symptoms are relieved and this may increase their social skills, but the main core problems of their autism, tend not to improve much," she said.

She added that autism was a complex condition, which could have a number of causes, including genetic and environmental ones.

And she said several autistic children did have an intolerance to certain foods, but she did not think a special diet would "cure" autism.

According to the National Autistic Society, there are some 500,000 in the UK with some type of autism, ranging from the milder form, known as Asperger Syndrome to the more severe.

Numbers are said to be rising, but experts say this could be due to better diagnosis.

Autism is a lifelong learning disability associated with an inability to understand others' feelings and difficulty in the development of play and the imagination and communication problems.

Possible causes already identified are genetic, viral or metabolic, with triggers including German measles.

It is also linked to epilepsy and there may be an association between difficult labour and autism.

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See also:
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Internet first for disabled
03 Nov 99 |  Health
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30 Jun 99 |  Health
Immune link to autism
10 Sep 99 |  Health
Living with allergies

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