News and Notes from The Johnson Center

New Research Finds Children With ASD May Be At Risk for Suboptimal Bone Development

JCCHD | Fri, September 08, 2017 | [News][Research]

New research published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders identifies reduced bone mineral density (BMD) in 4-8 year old boys with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) compared with healthy age-matched controls.

In this study, boys diagnosed with ASD had significantly lower spine BMD compared to age-and gender-matched controls, but this was not correlated with any biochemical markers in the blood, dietary intake of calcium or vitamin D (important for healthy bone development), elimination diets, or gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms.

Specifically, boys with ASD who were on a supported (meaning they were under the care of a qualified nutritionist or other healthcare professional) gluten-free, casein-free diet had greater overall intakes of calcium and vitamin D compared with boys with ASD who did not report any dietary restrictions. This provides evidence that dietary intervention in ASD, such as a gluten-free and/or dairy-free diet, which is frequently implemented to address feeding issues, food allergies, or GI concerns, does not result in deficiencies in calcium and vitamin D, or reduced BMD when implemented under the supervision of a qualified clinician.

The study results also indicate that boys with ASD reported significantly greater GI symptoms than boys without ASD, though this was not correlated with BMD status. And contrary to the interpretation of results in prior published studies, this work finds no evidence of reduced BMD in the managed use of a gluten and casein elimination diet, indicating that other factors are involved.

“The data from this study suggests that nutrient intake and dietary status are not contributing factors to the observed decrease in Bone Mineral Density in boys with Autism Spectrum Disorders” explained Kelly Barnhill of The Johnson Center for Child Health and Development, one of the principle investigators working on the study.


Bone Mineral Density in Boys Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Case-Control Study. Barnhill, K., Ramirez, L., Gutierrez, A. et al. J Autism Dev Disord (2017).