Doctors have long theorized that children with autism may also suffer from the digestive disorder celiac disease, but two new studies cast doubt on that connection.
Autistic children frequently have gastrointestinal problems and physicians often prescribe a strict gluten-free diet with the idea that avoiding wheat proteins will help their behavior.
But a study published last month in the journal “JAMA Psychiatry” refutes the link between autism and celiac disease as well as the notion that a gluten-free diet helps autistic children.
Doctors in Sweden took biopsies of some 290,000 patients and found that 27,000 had celiac disease, 12,000 had symptoms of inflammation without celiac and 3,700 had an immune reaction to wheat proteins but no evidence of intestinal damage (a hallmark of celiac).
They compared the rates of autism in those groups with 213,000 normal patients of the same age and gender and found no convincing evidence that autism and celiac disease are related.
A much smaller study published on the website PLOS ONE, compared markers for celiac disease and gluten sensitivity in autistic children against their unaffected siblings and other healthy children with similar results to the Swedish study.
While autistic children had higher levels of antibodies associated with celiac disease, their rates of celiac were no higher than that of the children without autism.