Autism, digestive problems, special diets- A new study
Parents of kids with autism commonly observe that their children suffer from gastric distress, toileting problems, along with, in many cases, fussy eating that borders on the obsessive compulsive. (For example, I’ve heard about youngsters who insist on eating nothing but chicken nuggets for breakfast, lunch and dinner.) Issues like these have led numerous parents to switch their kids to special diets like the gluten-free, casein-free regimen popularized by DAN (Defeat Autism Now). But research on G.I. issues, diet and autism has lagged.
A new study published in the current issue of Pediatrics addresses the question of G.I. issues and autism, but it seems unlikely to settle the matter. Using Mayo clinic data from Olstead County, Minnesota, the study looked back at the medical records of 121 young adults who had been diagnosed with autism and compared them with 242 healthy controls from the same population and of the same age. Researchers, led by pediatric gastroenterologist Samar Ibriham, found that there was no difference between the two groups in the overall rate of G.I. problems from birth to age 21, though those with autism were much more likely to be plagued by constipation and feeding/food selectivity issues.
A third of those with autism (33.9%) had constipation vs. 17.6% in the control group. And a quarter (24.5%) with autism had feeding issues or food selectivity issues v. 16.1% of the controls. Ibrahim thought these differences could be attributed to behavioral issues (for example, not taking in enough fiber and water due to food rituals) and medication side effects as opposed to intrinsic G.I. differences.
In a commentary on the study, also published in Pediatrics, Dr. Mark Gilger and Dr. Anne Redel of Baylor College of Medicine, praised the study but also pointed out a number of big limitations, beginning with the fact that the study is retrospective and missing a lot of data. For example, it id not examine the duration, severity or recurrence of G.I. problems. In other words, a child who suffered from gastric bloating for months at a time could be counted the same way as a kid with a transient episode. In summary, they say this:
Ibrahim et al are to be commended for a well-performed study, with which they attempt to put to rest the nagging suggestion that there exists a link between autism and gastrointestinal disease. Unfortunately, there is more work to be done.
A good summary of the study can be found at webmd.com here.