Many children on the Autism Spectrum have benefited greatly from a gluten free diet. Gluten and gluten-like proteins are found in wheat and other grains as well as foods made from those grains. They are also found in food starches, semolina, couscous, malt, some vinegars, soy sauce, flavorings, and artificial colors.
What is Casein?
Casein (from the Latin word for cheese) is a protein found in milk and dairy products. Four types of casein protein make up about 80% of all proteins in cow’s milk.
Casein can be broken down into casomorphin, a peptide fragment with opiate qualities, which may increase the release of histamine.
Many children with Autism may have gastrointestinal difficulties that make it hard for them to digest milk protein properly. The most common effect studied is that ingesting milk protein leads to high levels casomorphines in some Autistic children. Affecting behavior like a drug would, casomorphines reduce their desire for social interaction, block pain messages, and increase confusion and spatial issues.
Casomorphines are more commonly found in the urine of children with Autism than their neurotypical peers. Some scientists have concluded that they leak straight from the intestines into the bloodstream. “Leaky gut” means the casomorphin is absorbed into the general circulation in children with Autism, which then affects behavior as well as causes addiction to these very foods that are causing the issues.
What happens when it is removed?
If milk protein is taken out of the diet, the idea is that this will reduce the level of casomorphines, and behavior will improve as a result. In our house, there is instantaneous feedback when a milk product is accidentally ingested. He becomes a whirling dervish for hours – screaming, crashing into things, and usually getting into major tangles with the dogs.
Like the gluten free diet, parents who choose a casein free diet for their child must become aware of the ingredients of everything in their grocery cart. Products that contain milk or milk proteins include butter, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. Read labels carefully, because milk or mild products can be present in surprising places, like soy yogurt or sausages. Maintaining this diet can be hard at first because casein is present in so many prepared foods.
On food ingredient labels, casein can be listed as milk protein, calcium or sodium-caseinate, often found in energy bars, drinks and processed foods. Since casein is such an excellent binding agent, it is usually also found in dressings, sauces and spreads.
What are some alternatives?
Some milk alternatives are soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, or coconut milk. Many children with gluten and casein sensitivities can have issues with soy as well, so I recommend avoiding it.
Cheese is the hardest food to substitute – most of the rice and soy cheeses we’ve tried simply get a thumbs-down from my son.
Coconut milk has been reported to be one of the best choices, since coconut milk is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral and has a positive effect on the gut. In our house, the So Delicious coconut milk ice cream line is a MUST HAVE!
Does your child have issues with casein? What are your favorite alternatives? Let me know by commenting below or posting them on the SOA Facebook page!