Photo: Courtesy Of PETA.
As any parent of a child on the autism spectrum knows all too well, scientists' inability to find a cause for the disorder — let alone a cure — is deeply frustrating. Which, of course, makes any attempt to tie it to a political or ideological crusade not only upsetting, but offensive. Jenny McCarthy, for example, has been widely criticized for insinuating that standard vaccines caused her son's autism (which, incidentally, he may not even have). Toni Braxton made headlines recently for saying that her son's autism was "God's punishment" for her having had an abortion years earlier.
This week brings yet another outlandish autism theory to add to the bunch — courtesy of everyone's favorite animal-rights crusaders, PETA. According to the group's latest signage campaign (which has apparently been pulled by its billboard company), there is "a link between autism and dairy products."
Yep, you read that right. PETA cites a study of 20 children with autism, published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience. According to PETA, the study found that reducing the children's intake of casein (a protein found in milk) resulted in "a major reduction in autistic behavior." Parents, clean out your fridges — it's time to go vegan!
One problem, though: The study in question (which you can access here) tested the effects of a diet free of both casein and gluten. Logic would suggest that removing gluten from the picture could just as easily have been the cause of the kids' symptom improvement. And, of course, in removing dairy (casein) and wheat products (gluten) from the subjects' diets, the scientists may have nixed a variety of things that can come hand in hand with those ingredients — sugar, for example, or preservatives, or dyes — any of which may have played a role in the results.
There's a pretty wide gap between one or two small studies suggesting a relationship between casein and autism symptoms and the hefty research that should be done to back up a billboard that claims there is a link between cow's milk and autism. To insinuate a causal relationship between giving a child a glass of milk and an exceptionally awful chronic condition about which most people — scientists included! — know very, very little? Irresponsible doesn't even begin to cover it.