Gluten Sensitivity Linked to Autism: The Brain-Gut Connection

Blog-Gluten Sensitivity Linked to Autism The Brain-Gut Connection

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have been increasing at an alarming rate over the past 20 years. As the fastest growing developmental disability, it is estimated that 1 in every 88 births will now be affected – this equates to around 50,000 children every year. Parents, psychologists, and neurologists have been scrambling to come up with strategies to help these children.

What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can best be described as a grouping of developmental disorders that present a range of symptoms such as: social and communication difficulties; restricted and repetitive behaviors, interests, and activities; and in some cases, cognitive delays.

The autism spectrum includes:
• Autism
• Asperger syndrome
• Rett syndrome
• Childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD)
• Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)

Can Going Gluten-Free Help?

Transitioning to a gluten-free diet is one strategy that has been gaining popularity in the United States, as significant improvements in symptoms such as speech and behavior have been noticed in some children when gluten is removed.

Gastrointestinal symptoms are common in children with autism and until recently, little research has been done to evaluate if there is a true connection between autism, gluten sensitivity, and celiac disease.

Autistic Children Are More Gluten Sensitive Than Their Siblings

A study evaluated:
• Children with autism (with and without GI distress symptoms)
• Their siblings without autism, and age-matched, unaffected healthy children as controls

The researchers tested for antibodies to gliadin, a class of proteins present in the gluten of wheat and several other grains known for producing immune response in sensitive individuals.
The results of the study point to a connection between autism and increased gluten sensitivity. The children with autism showed significantly higher levels of the IgG gliadin antibody as compared to their siblings and unrelated healthy controls.

Gluten Sensitivity & The Brain-Gut Connection

Scientists have hypothesized that autistic children may be more sensitive and allergic to foods containing gluten and casein (milk protein), given the strong correlation between GI disturbances and the severity of autism. Biochemical testing has confirmed that people with autism tend to have higher levels of peptides (gluten proteins) in their urine.

It is believed that the incomplete breakdown and excessive absorption of gluten peptides may react with opiate receptors in the brain, leading to neurological changes that dramatically exacerbate the symptoms of autism.

Even outside of the autistic community, awareness of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease is becoming more common as people start to investigate why they do not feel well. It is said that anywhere from 6-50% of people may unknowingly experience gluten sensitivity while 1% suffer from true celiac disease.

Gluten is poorly digested by the human intestines; this can lead to:

• Inflammation
• Gut damage
• Malnutrition
• Neurological disturbances

10 Common Symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity & Celiac Disease

1. Brain fog
2. Fatigue
3. Headaches/migraines
4. GI distress such as: abdominal pain and bloating, gas, queasiness, acid reflux, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea
5. Weight loss or weight gain
6. Depression, irritability, listlessness, and emotional instability
7. Joint pain, tingling, or numbness in the legs, arms, and hands
8. Acne, eczema and other skin rashes
9. Hair loss
10. Hashimoto’s disease and other autoimmune disorders

What Can You Do Now?

A blood test referred to as the celiac panel can help diagnose gluten-related health problems. The test measures your body’s response to gluten by detecting 4 antibodies that your body produces against it. Speak with your primary care physician to arrange for gluten testing.

The inexpensive gluten test is simply an elimination diet. If you cut ALL gluten from your diet and your symptoms go away, it’s a good indicator that you have a gluten sensitivity. Some people experience improvements very quickly (such as reduction of pain in the gut), yet for some with extreme sensitivities or celiac disease, it can take 6 months to a year for the lining of the small intestine to heal completely.

We Can Help

If you need help getting started with an elimination diet or getting your children on-board with a gluten-free lifestyle, Amen Clinics can help. Connect with us online or call us at 888-288-9834 today.


  1. I have been helped in many ways by Amen Clinic information and publications. Learning that I have ADHD, to diet changes to none medication cognitive changes. I am about to be 90 and only at 80 learned that ADHD was source of my career problems, loss of marriage, etc tearing me apart. The last ten years of my life have been the best. I still long for more help for my remaining years . I am also happy to be part of research or documentation of experience that may help others.

    Comment by Robert Bettinger — March 12, 2018 @ 8:31 AM

  2. I try to eat GF. I’m successful most of the time but not always. I just had some biopsies done in different areas of my colon but it doesn’t matter……….I know that I need to be GF. I feel the change when I eat gluten and it’s not good, I also am heterozygous combination MTHFR.

    Comment by Donna Frank — March 12, 2018 @ 6:58 PM

  3. God Bless you Robert…’s never too late. Be well

    Comment by Donna Frank — March 12, 2018 @ 7:00 PM

  4. To Robert (above),

    Referencing his comment: “I am about to be 90 and only at 80 learned that ADHD….The last ten years of my life have been the best.”

    This made me smile. BIG.

    Comment by Wendy Leonard — March 20, 2018 @ 8:29 PM

  5. Diagnosed at age 61 with Asberger’s after going gluten free. Never felt better in my life. As with Robert Bettinger, it’s made all the difference.

    Comment by Greg Turner — July 22, 2018 @ 8:05 AM

  6. Did you remove milk products as well. What is your diet like?

    Comment by sue wegener — October 5, 2018 @ 7:01 AM

  7. I highly suggest to update the information on the page. Please include that not every person who has an issue with gluten has celiac. Thus, a negative celiac test does not at all mean that it is safe for them to eat gluten. It just means that their the test results indicate that their body does not react as part of an auto-immune disorder. In fact, they might still have an issue with gluten, called NCGS. I happen to have have celiac. However, I know plenty of people that tested negative for celiac, yet, still had GI problems after eating gluten because they have NCGS known as Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. A second problem that arises is that some celiac tests show false negatives because either the person is deficient in IgA or they went on a gluten-free diet in the two months prior to testing. It's imperative that IgA levels are tested at the same time as doing the celiac panel because an IgA deficiency because IgA levels are used to determine celiac, and will never rise to the medically-deemed level that determines celiac, if the person's body never makes enough IgA in the first place. And, if the person was on a gluten-free diet in the two months prior to a celiac panel blood test or prior to an intestinal biopsy called an "endoscopy", the body might have started healing and not show the damage or reaction to gluten that is normally present in the person. For instance, the villi hairs in the intestines might have grown back by that time, and since the doctors are looking for a lack of villi hairs in the intestines to indicate "positive" for celiac, the person will look like they don't have a reaction to gluten, when they really do. They same happens in the blood test. I was told to go back to eating gluten daily for a month prior to my celiac panel blood test. My IgA, IgG and IgE levels were all elevated to indicate a PAST and CURRENT problem with celiac.

    Comment by Denise — June 1, 2023 @ 11:21 AM

  8. Asking quеstіons are really goօd thing if you are not understanding anything entirely, however thiѕ paragraph offers pleasant understanding yet.

    Comment by drapery — December 9, 2023 @ 1:56 PM

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