At a glance: Elimination diet
Type of therapy
Alternative
The claim
Reduces the characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Suitable for
People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Research rating

Find out more about this rating system in our FAQs.

Not yet reviewed by our research sources.
Warnings
Warning   Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can have restricted diets based on food choice. Some concerns have been raised about further restricting their diets with therapies like this.
Time

Estimate of the total time for family in hours per week and duration

10-20
Parents and carers need to spend time buying and preparing food for the diet.
Cost

Estimate of cost to family per session/item or week

 

$30-120
Parents and carers might need to purchase gluten-free and casein-free food.

What is an elimination diet?

An elimination diet involves removing foods containing the proteins gluten, which is found in wheat, or casein, which is found in milk, or both from the diet of a person with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Who is elimination diet therapy for?

Anyone with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can go on an elimination diet. There are no age restrictions.

What is elimination diet therapy used for?

Supporters of elimination diets claim that this therapy reduces characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by minimising disruption to brain function. According to the theory, problems with diet and digestion can cause brain disruptions.

Where does elimination diet therapy come from?

In the 1980s and 1990s, it was suggested that people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) might not digest food proteins very well, especially the proteins casein and gluten.

Based on this theory, certain therapies were developed. First were elimination diets. After some difficulties with these, enzyme therapy was developed as an alternative treatment to help with protein digestion.

What is the idea behind elimination diet therapy?

Our bodies have natural chemicals called ‘opioids’, which have an effect on pain similar to morphine. Some people believe that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is caused by too much opioid activity in the brain.

When the proteins gluten and casein aren’t properly digested, they release chemicals called exorphins. The exorphins can end up in the nervous system – this is sometimes called ‘leaky gut’ syndrome. The idea is that once these chemicals are in the body, they cause an increase in opioid activity, which disrupts the brain and so ‘causes’ ASD.

By eliminating foods containing gluten and casein from the diet, this therapy aims to reduce opioid activity in the brain, thus reducing the characteristics of ASD.

What does elimination diet therapy involve?

This therapy involves completely eliminating from the diet foods that contain gluten, casein or both. The therapy starts with a complete review of the person’s entire diet.

Cost considerations

Some cost might be involved in this therapy if you need to buy gluten-free or casein-free food.

Does elimination diet therapy work?

There’s limited evidence to support the use of elimination diets. In addition, there have been concerns about the safety of restricting children’s diets in this way.

Who practises elimination diet therapy?

Although you can do this therapy yourself at home, it’s best to speak with your GP or paediatrician or a paediatric dietitian before starting an elimination diet.

Parent education, training, support and involvement

If your child is doing an elimination diet, you need to choose, shop for and prepare food for the diet.

Where can you find a practitioner?

It’s best to speak with your GP or paediatrician about elimination diets, or consult a paediatric dietitian. You could also talk with your NDIA planner, NDIS early childhood partner or NDIS local area coordination partner, if you have one.

There are many treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for children with ASD takes you through the main treatments, so you can better understand your child’s options.

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Last updated or reviewed
01-08-2017

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