Autism, Autoimmune Disease and Gluten

From: Dr. Chun Wong

Last week, I looked at how genetic abnormalities may be linked to autism and today I’m going to take that a bit further and look at the link between the genetic codes, autoimmune diseases, autism and gluten – an interesting recipe!

Some researchers are suggesting that there is a link between parents who suffer with auto-immune diseases like lupus, type 1 diabetes, Graves’ Disease or Hashimoto’s Disease, celiac disease and autoimmune adrenal insufficiency, and children who have autism spectrum disorders. These scientists believe that a parent’s autoimmune deficiency can make their child more susceptible to autism spectrum disorders in the following ways:

  • Toxins or pathogens may be able to damage the developing brain of the developing child.
  • A pathogen may trigger an autoimmune response that could interfere with normal brain functioning.
  • In utero, the mother’s immune deficiency may allow a pathogen to damage the brain of the fetus directly or by triggering an immune response in the mother that then “creates pathogenesis in the fetal brain” – see Utah State University’s Study “Possible Immunogenetic Basis for Autism”

Two studies – “Familial Clustering of Autoimmune Disorders and Evaluation of Medical Risk Factors in Autism” by J Child Neurol (1999) and “Increased Prevalence of Familial Autoimmunity in Probands with Pervasive Developmental Disorders” T L Sweeten et al. (2003)suggested that there is a link between a family history of autoimmune disorders and autistic children because autistic children are more likely to have a family history of autoimmune disorders than healthy children in a control group. It was found that over 40% of families with an autistic child had two or more close family members with an autoimmune disorder and that those with first-degree relatives, particularly their mothers, were most often affected.


Another study has found that the mothers of autistic children are more likely to suffer from psoriasis, asthma and type I diabetes, suggesting that the genes that cause these conditions are also associated with autism (Croen LA, Grether JK, Yoshida CK, Oduli R, Van de Water J – Maternal autoimmune diseases, asthma and allergies and childhood autism). This study also showed that the risks of autism in the child were highest in women who were diagnosed with allergies or asthma during their second trimester of pregnancy, suggesting that a flare up in these conditions is related to “fetal neuropathology”.

A further study led by Dr. William W. Eaton, chairman of the Department of Mental Health at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University found that children whose mothers had autoimmune diseases, like celiac disease, type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, were three times more likely to have autism when compared to the general population.

A paper called “Is autism an autoimmune disease?” by Paul Ashwood and Judy Van de Water looked at some of these studies and concluded that:

“numerous world-wide studies have demonstrated immunological abnormalities in children with ASD. These include the presence of autoantibodies to several antigens pertinent to the nervous system. However, as yet, no definitive autoantibody pattern in ASD has emerged. Admittedly, ASD encompasses a broad spectrum of behavioral anomalies and as such several sub-phenotypes may be represented. In addition, the presence of autoantibodies in the serum of these patients may be a secondary phenomenon. The continued identification and verification of the altered immune response seen in patients with ASD is clearly required.”

So, there isn’t really any conclusive evidence that autism is caused by a genetic code being passed from a parent with an autoimmune disorder to their child, however, the link has not been disproved either! We just don’t know what causes autism in each and every case.

If we believe that genetic codes and susceptibilities are being passed from parent to child, causing inflammation in the body and oxidative stress, then it is well worth avoiding things like gluten in the diet because people with autoimmune diseases are often intolerant of gluten.

If a child is intolerant to gluten, they are likely to suffer from gastrointestinal problems, such as a leaky gut or an inflamed gut, and will be unable to digest gluten properly. Incomplete digestion of wheat (and casein) can lead to peptides being formed which can travel in the bloodstream to the brain where they can have an opiate effect, causing behavior problems, brain damage and autoimmune responses. Many parents have seen significant improvements in their autistic child’s symptoms, both gastrointestinal and behavioral, through using the GFCF Diet – see

Futher Reading

“Possible Immunogenetic Basis for Autism” –

Autism and Autoimmunity –

“Is Autism an Autoimmune Disease?” –

Gluten Intolerance –

Link Between Autism and a Mother’s Autoimmune Disease –

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0 thoughts on “Autism, Autoimmune Disease and Gluten

  • Hi sixpack, you can have your own children without any doubt. Hashimoto  have no adverse effect on the fetus.

  • i have psoriasis, hashimoto’s, psoriatic arthritis, and ulcerative colitis.  all of these conditions have disappeared after going gluten free (except hashimoto’s).  my mother also has a thyroid condition and my father has arthritis.  there are several other family members with autoimmune conditinos.  my husband and i are very open to adoption.  would it be advisable for us to have our own children as well?

  • I know all about autoimmune diseases. I have Graves’ for heaven’s sake. Again, I don’t think there’s one specific cause for autism, but I know Graves’ sure can’t help anything. 


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