An expert panel is calling into question notions that children with autism are more likely to experience gastrointestinal problems and says that research does not support the use of special diets as a primary treatment of the developmental disorder.

In recent years parents flocked toward special diets restricting gluten and casien in an effort to treat autism, a move promoted by celebrities like Jenny McCarthy and supported by a now-discredited British study.

Now a panel of 28 medical experts says evidence does not support the diets as effective as a primary treatment for autism after conducting an exhaustive review of data related to gastrointestinal issues among children with autism.

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The panel’s findings and recommendations were published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

While there are some children who may benefit from special diets, given the risks that restrictive diets pose, the panel says more research needs to be done to determine markers for identifying children who the diets may help.

Further, they say more research needs to be done to determine the prevalence of gastrointestinal problems in children with autism. The group’s analysis found estimates ranging from 9 to 70 percent.

But whatever gastrointestinal issues are present in children with autism are also likely present in their typically developing peers, the expert panel reports, counter to some reports that have suggested that unique issues such as “leaky gut” may only exist in people with autism.

The panel advises that physicians take seriously parent reports of symptoms of gastrointestinal problems, which may manifest themselves in non-traditional ways such as behavior or trouble sleeping, since many children with autism are non-verbal.

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