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Risks Related to Dairy-Free Diets for Autism


Updated February 06, 2008

A study from the National Institutes of Health and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center states:
"...dairy-free diets and unconventional food preferences could put boys with autism and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at higher than normal risk for thinner, less dense bones when compared to a group of boys the same age who do not have autism."

The researchers believe that boys with autism and ASD are at risk for poor bone development for a number of reasons. These factors are lack of exercise, a reluctance to eat a varied diet, lack of vitamin D, digestive problems, and diets that exclude casein (a protein found in milk and milk products). Dairy products are a significant source of calcium and vitamin D. Casein-free diets are a controversial treatment thought by some to lessen the symptoms of autism. According to the study:

"Our results suggest that children with autism and autism spectrum disorder may be at risk for calcium and vitamin D deficiencies...Parents of these children may wish to include a dietitian in their children's health care team, to ensure that they receive a balanced diet."

Mary L. Hediger, PhD, one of the researchers, stressed that the current study results need to be confirmed by larger studies. Until definitive information is available, she says it would be prudent for parents of children with autism and ASD to consult a dietitian, particularly if a child's diet does not include dairy products or she is not otherwise eating a balanced diet. This very useful study offers a simple, easy-to-implement take-home message. Parents with children who either won't eat dairy or are on dairy-free diets should be vigilant about their children's nutritional intake, ensuring sufficient intake of vitamin D and calcium. Of course, that's not new information -- but for parents who are considering a GFCF (gluten- and casein-free) diet for their children with autism, it's critically important.


Hediger, Mary L. "Thin Bones Seen In Boys with Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder." Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.February, 2008.

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