Gluten & Casein

Page by Kyra Mandas,Stephanie Watkins and Brooke Durbin

According to the opioid-excess hypothesis, the inability to fully break down and excessively absorb peptides with opioid activity (found in foods containing gluten and casein) leads to autism. Throwing off biochemical processes associated with normal digestion and a variety of systems within the central nervous system, the urine of individuals with autism is been examined to have increased levels of peptides. Further urinary analysis has found elevated levels of other compounds as well, notably indolylacryloylglycine (IAG) which is linked to a metabolic condition known as Hartnup’s disease (Whiteley, Rodgers, Savery, & Shattock, 1999).

This theory involving the overactivity of the brain-opiate system originated  in the late 1970s after findings of the social feelings between animals were generalized to humans.Looking at narcotic addiction and social dependence, early experiments showed that the crying of young animals could be reduced if given low doses of opiate drugs (Panksepp, 1979). While approximately 30 other drugs were tested as well, none were as effective in reducing crying. Many of the symptoms associated with autism were linked to behavior induced by low doses of narcotics, such as the absence of perception of physical pain, clinging poorly, a lack of desire for social companionship, and a tendency to resist change. Because these discrepancies influence psychosocial development, problems may arise in the forms of language and learning deficits. Animals with elevated opiate levels are also known to exhibit motor flurries, unusual body postures, and seizures, all of which are known to correlate with autism. Panksepp hypothesized that, while opiate levels are high in the typical infant (to delay activity before muscles and coordination are developed), a normal maturational decline occurs with age. It is possible that, for individuals with autism, these brain chemistries may remain at an infantile stage of development (1979).

A study by Elder et al examined the efficacy of a gluten-free and casein-free diet in treating autism (2006).  Data on peptide levels and autistic symptoms were collected over a 12 week period.  Though the study did not find any changes statistically significant several of the parents reported improvements in their children.


Elder, Jennifer, Shankar, Meena, Shuster, Jonathan, Theriaque, Douglas, Burns, Sylvia, Sherrill, Lindsay. (2006). The Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet In Autism: Results of A Preliminary Double Blind Clinical Trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.(36) 3.

Whiteley, P., Rodgers, J., Savery, D., & Shattock, P. (1999). A gluten free diet as an intervention for autism and associated spectrum disorders: Preliminary findings. SAGE Publications and The National Autism Society, 3(1), 45-65.


Gluten image:

NourishingHope (2008). Retrieved from

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