Gluten and Dairy-Free Among Them
It has been observed that autistic children have higher rates of constipation and eating disorders, but a new study disputes the finding that these children have more gastrointestinal (GI) problems than other children.
A Mayo Clinic study, published Monday in Pediatrics, finds autistic kids are more likely to be picky eaters, but don’t have more diarrhea, abdominal bloating, reflux or vomiting.
"We did not find a difference in gastrointestinal symptoms in total," said Dr. Samar Ibrahim, lead study author and a Mayo Clinic pediatric gastroenterology fellow.
In this study, Dr. Ibrahim and colleagues tracked 124 children with autism and 248 children without autism. All were residents of Olmsted County, Minnesota home to the Mayo Clinic. They were followed until they turned 18.
The frequency of GI symptoms was about GI symptoms were observed to be roughly equal among the two groups, 77 percent in the autism group and 72 percent among the others, not considered a statistically significant difference.
Researchers urge parents to reject restrictive diets.
Publicity in the 1990s led to gluten-free and milk protein, casein-free diets. Dr. Patricia Manning-Courtney of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital said the evidence backing those hypotheses was “fuzzy”.
Manning-Courtney tells US News, "For me, this study lends support to the recommendation I make to a lot of families that there is no evidence to support restricted diets," she said. "They're dangerous and risky. You have to think long and hard before you, as a parent, make that choice."
What was notable was that about 34 percent of the autistic children had constipation, compared with 18 percent of the non autistic children. Those were defined as diarrhea, bloating, reflux or vomiting, feeding issues or selectivity of one type of food. Feeding issues were more apparent in the autistic children 24 percent compared to those not autistic 16 percent and are suspected to be linked to neurobehavioral issues connected with autism such as performing repetitive rituals.
"Many patients with autism insist on eating the same thing and might not consume enough fiber," said the study's lead author, Dr. Samar H. Ibrahim, a fellow in gastroenterology and instructor in pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic told US News. "We think this may be contributing to the constipation."
About half of the children were on stimulants medication which could also affect eating and appetite.
Because of the differences in constipation and feeding issues, some researchers believe this question is not closed.
Dr. Mark Gilger, chief of pediatric gastroenterology at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, writing in a commentary accompanying the study says "This is where you say further research is needed because that's the honest truth," said Gilger,
It's possible that subgroups of autistic children might have specific gastrointestinal issues that would not be picked up in a general-population study, said Dr. Geri Dawson, chief science officer for the nonprofit organization Autism Speaks tells the Chicago Tribune.
"There is more work to be done," she said. #