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Celiac Disease and Autism

Currently there is not enough evidence to show that a gluten-free, casein-free diet has an impact on symptoms of autism.

However, the evidence is inconclusive on whether or not there is a connection between autism and celiac disease.

What is Autism?

Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is made up of a group of conditions. Some with ASD are able to function independently with minor symptoms, while others have debilitating symptoms and may require lifelong care.

Symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty in social interactions and reading nonverbal cues, like facial expressions or tone of voice
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Unusual reactions to sensations (eg, intense annoyance at whistles, loud vacuums or motors, indifference to temperature or pain, etc.)
  • May eat from a limited selection of foods or meals, or does not enjoy trying new ingredients or dishes
  • Particular about clothes, may ask for all tags to be removed or avoid certain fabrics
  • Overly focused on details
  • Self-stimulatory behavior, or “stimming.” These are repetitive motions or noises, such as rocking back and forth, hand flapping, repeating words or phrases, etc.

The range and severity of symptoms varies greatly, but generally involves trouble with communication, social interaction, and repetitive behaviors.

Autism is more commonly diagnosed in men than women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 1 in 36 children have autism, while the World Health Organization (WHO) reports 1 in 100 with ASD.

Researchers have suggested that both genetics and environmental factors play a role in the development of this disorder. There is no evidence that autism is linked to vaccines.

What is the Connection between Autism and Celiac Disease?

Studies have not determined a direct link between celiac disease and autism, and research is mixed.

However, two recent research articles suggest that there could be a connection between the two conditions, but call for additional, higher-quality studies with larger populations to determine the precise connection.

  • Authors of a review from 2021 suggest that “Future studies should recruit larger sample sizes, include precise definitions of CD and ASD, and exclude patients with ASD on a gluten-free diet.”
  • A separate review from 2021 found “a modest comorbidity between ASD and CD,” but encouraged further research into whether or not gluten exacerbates symptoms of autism.

Children who have autism may also have gastrointestinal issues. Children who have these issues should be seen by a pediatric gastroenterologist before starting any treatments like the gluten-free diet—they cannot be tested for celiac disease if they aren’t eating gluten. Learn more about getting tested.

What is the Connection between Autism and the Gluten-Free Diet?

There is currently not enough evidence to show that the gluten-free, casein free diet has an impact on symptoms of autism.

Where Can I Learn More?

Think you may have celiac disease?

Symptoms Checklist