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Autism and Food Reactions



My grandson is autistic. My question was sent to your doctors and they agreed that the medication he was on was causing many of the strange side effects that were scaring us. Since he has stopped with meds, he is better to a point. The autism is very apparent, but now we are trying to narrow down effects of some foods, has an episode that lasts about 5 minutes after meals, seems enraged (facial expressions), plus tends to develope a tick, a jerking motion, also grabs hold of his hand and squeezes very tightly, almost looks as if he could break his wrist bending hand backward. We also noticed two small welts that appeared on the left side of his head, just below ear and on shoulder next to that. Could certain foods cause this type of reaction? His teacher noted that after lunch at school he exhibits the same reactions. She is the one that mentioned food reactions. If this is a possibility, could you recommend any reading materials concerning what to look for, etc.? I try to read everything that I can for any helpful ideas. Email:


Only about 6 to 8 percent of children under the age of 3 have been diagnosed with true food allergies according to a National Institute of Health Fact Sheet. What may seem like a food allergy may actually be food intolerance. A food allergy occurs when a food protein or other molecule from the food is absorbed from the gastrointestinal system into the blood and produces an immunologic reaction. This reaction results in the production of antibodies to that protein. When no antibody is found, this is then not termed a food allergy and may be called food intolerance.

Food allergies can occur immediately upon eating the food or up to 24 hours later. Reactions can be as severe as anaphylactic shock (closure of the trachea and inability to breathe) and loss of consciousness or as diverse as one or many of the following: tingling sensation in mouth, swelling of tongue and throat, irritated, itchy red eyes, hives, swelling, rashes, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, or drop in blood pressure.

Identifying whether food allergies occur requires allergen testing, and you should consult with your child's doctor to get a referral to a Pediatric Allergist.

Food intolerances are not food allergies because they do not produce antibodies; however, they can produce adverse reactions such as stomachaches, headaches, rapid pulse, nausea, wheezing, hives, bronchial irritation, coughs, and other uncomfortable effects. There can be a whole host of reasons for these reactions which might include the chemicals used to preserve foods, flavor enhancers such as MSG, natural lack of enzymes in the intestine such as lack of lactase, or even psychological or personal dislike of particular food or foods.

Keeping a diary of food and beverage likes, dislikes, and intake may help you to determine food intolerances. A complex series of food elimination trials is often used to isolate foods producing the adverse reactions in the child. Pediatric Allergists and dietitians with this special training are going to be the most helpful health care professionals in these instances.


Formanek R. Food allergies: When food becomes the enemy, FDA Consumer, July/August 2001, 10-16.

Rolfes SR, Pinna K, Whitney E. Life cycle nutrition: infancy, childhood, and adolescence. IN: Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition 7th Ed. pp508-546.

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Response by:

Diane L Habash, PhD, RD, LD
Bionutrition Clinical Research Manager
Center for Clinical and Translational Science
Clnical Associate Professor of the School of Allied Medical Professionals
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University