When you’re faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem you’ll likely do anything to fix it, especially if it’s for someone you care about. When my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer I read through reams of literature to figure out what was going on and what the best course of action could be for him, making sure that the doctors didn’t miss anything. Thankfully it was caught very early on and surgery, combined with 6 months of chemotherapy, was all that was required to send him into remission. Still the amount of utter bullshit I had to sift through when looking for the best treatments was absolutely phenomenal and all I could do was hope that no one else would fall prey to it. Unfortunately it seems that the bullshit machine never stops turning and PETA is the latest offender,
An article linked on PETA’s website makes the dubious claim that milk is somehow causing children with Autism to experience worse symptoms and, by virtue of simply eliminating it from their diet, their conditions markedly improve. They then link to two different studies, surprisingly from PubMed (I had honestly expected some quack site), that apparently support their arguments. Indeed if you follow those links both of the articles make the assertion that diet has some effect on Autism Spectrum Disorder symptoms with one taking the rather large hypothetical leap of suggesting that diet is linked to all central nervous system conditions. As you can probably tell from my wording I’m not exactly thrilled with these studies especially after reading the numerous other articles that cite them.
For the first study I quickly found 2 systematic reviews of the literature on this subject that included that particular study. The first says outright that there’s insufficient evidence to make the assertion that a gluten has any effect on ASDs but also suggests that there are likely subgroups with gluten allergies that could benefit from it (seems reasonable enough). The second notes that many children with ASD are also on a wide range of complementary and alternative therapies whilst undergoing these trials which makes the results even more unreliable than what their small sample size already does. It then goes on to say that the evidence for efficacy is poor and that large scale, randomized trials (which the first study PETA linked to didn’t do) are required.
The second paper is less cited but even within the few references I could find there was another study that said the data is inadequate for recommending a diet change as a treatment option. It goes on to note that of the studies it included most of them were uncontrolled, with only one of them being blinded in any way. The second study PETA linked doesn’t mention any blinding or control for factors as far as I can see so the data really can’t be used to make strong inferences, especially if you were using this data as a basis for treating others.
The last nail in the coffin is a recent (as in last month) systemic review on the literature on this subject which notes that all the research done on this has been of extremely low quality, lacking the scientific controls to make the data valid. If you want to determine the relationship between autism and dairy, which currently doesn’t exist as far as we can tell, then the study needs to be broad, encompassing hundreds of individuals and with good control measures so you can understand what’s influencing the outcome. Until then any assertions you make are simply hearsay and should most definitely not be used as the basis for treating someone else.
The only thing that makes bullshit like this worse is when large organisations like PETA get behind it, adding a level of credibility to an argument which just doesn’t exist. This is because the vast majority of the world won’t do the the things I did in order to see if they were right and, should they trust PETA as an organisation, take their word at face value and falsely believe it to be true. Whilst I’m sure you, dear reader, aren’t one of them I can’t say the same for the wider world and that’s exactly why malarkey like this needs to be dealt with head on. At the same time though I’d encourage you to do the investigation yourself as it shouldn’t be a savvy Internet blogger convincing you of the truth, let the facts do that instead.