Food and Behaviour Research

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12 June 2014 - Autism Daily Newscast - Another piece of the ‘gluten- and casein-free (GFCF) diet for autism’ puzzle?

Paul Whiteley Ph.D.

Compounds derived from cow’s milk may have a similar ability to the analgesic morphine to alter important biochemical processes implicated in autism including those affecting gene function.


Gluten (a protein found in wheat and other grains) and casein (one of the major proteins in milk) are both found abundantly in modern, western-type diets. When digested, both are broken down into smaller fragments known as peptides - some of which have been shown to activate the same signalling pathways as opioid drugs such as morphine.

Research and clinical observations have long suggested that for some people, consumption of gluten and casein might contribute to physical and/or mental symptoms associated with various conditions, including autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia - although direct evidence for so-called 'opioid theories' of either autism or schizophrenia remains limited, and precise mechanisms unknown.

This new study suggests one possible mechanism for such effects, as it shows that opioid peptides derived from either gluten or the form of casein found in cows' milk (known as A1 beta-casein) can limit the ability of cells to absorb an amino acid (cysteine) that is needed to make a key substance within the body called glutathione, important for antioxidant defences. 

Find the related research article here:

See also details of the FAB Research conference where Dr Trivedi presented these and other findings

Questioning Answers blogspot discussion of the research paper can be found here
In a laboratory based study looking at morphine and various food-derived morphine-like compounds – opioid peptides – extracted from foods containing gluten, the primary protein found in wheat and other cereal crops, or casein found in mammalian dairy sources, researchers examined the effects on cell lines.

They concluded that the addition of opioid peptides to cells may interfere with the uptake of cysteine, an important precursor of the cellular antioxidant glutathione, something already quite consistently found to be perturbed in at least a subgroup of people on the autism spectrum.

Researchers further demonstrated that opioid peptides derived from both cow and human milk may also have the ability to increase genome wide methylation levels in the transcription start site region “
with a potency order similar to their inhibition of cysteine uptake” so potentially affecting gene functions.