Mass General/Harvard University: GI Study

Posted in Professionals and Practitioners

(MA) Tim Buie, MD

Harvard University and Mass General Hospital are collaborating on a study to establish a medical protocol for the treatment of autism. Dr. Tim Buie, a pediatric gastroenterologist from Harvard Mass General, has performed more than 500 gastrointestinal endoscopies with biopsies on autistic children. His findings show that more than half of these children had treatable gastrointestinal problems that ranged from moderate to severe including esophagitis, gastritis and enterocolitis along with the presence of lymphoid nodular hyperplasia.

In a recent conference Buie echoed the opinion of a growing number of clinical researchers and practitioners treating autistic patients. These children are ill, in distress and pain, and not just mentally, neurologically dysfunctional, he said. He believes that many of the symptoms of autism such as self abusive behavior including self-mutilation, head-banging, unexplained outbursts, atypical sleep patterns, disrupted sleep or night awakenings, are actually symptoms of pain that a child is not able to communicate.

The Harvard research team presented their research proposal to the Northwest Autism Foundation and a select group of doctors and scientists in Portland in Autumn, 2001.

Below is a summary of their initial findings:

Over 400 patients evaluated, ages 14 Months to 20 Years
3:1 ratio of male:female patients
Patients undergoing endoscopic procedure all had GI symptoms of pain or diarrhea

Endoscopic findings:Esophagitis in 23 out of 111 (20%)
Gastritis in 14 out of 111 (12%); 4 had Helicobacter pylori
Duodenitis in 11 out of 111 (10%);

2 had Celiac Sprue (According to Dr. Buie, all children with ASD should get a blood test for Celiac Sprue before going on a GF diet. Once they’re on the diet, those antibodies are gone and the test results will be inconclusive.)
Eosinophilic Inflammation in 5 out of 111 (5%)

Duodenal collection of pancreatic enzymes:

10 out of 90 (11%) had unusually low enzyme activity
2 out of 10 (20%) had total pancreatic insufficiency; 5 had multiple enzyme defects

Carbohydrate digestion:

Lactase deficiency was found in 55% of ASD children tested
Combined deficiency of disacchraridase enzymes was found in 15%
Enzyme assays correlate well with hydrogen breath tests


Colitis was found in 11 of 89 patients (12%), none with features of Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s
Histologic (biopsy reviewed) lymphoid nodular hyperplasia was found in 15 of 89 patients (16%)
Eosinophilic inflammation was found in 13 of 89 patients (14%); cause or significance is unclear


More than 50% of autistic children appear to have GI symptoms, food allergies, and maldigestion/malabsorption issues.
We need large, evidence-based studies need to be done in order to fully understand the gut-brain association in autism.

Harvard Medical School/Mass General Hospital: Ladders Program

Timothy Buie, MD
Harland Winter, MD
Rafail Kushak, MD

Find an Informed Doctor:

This is a partial list, and by no means implies an endorsement by ANDI. We at ANDI suggest that you work with a responsible physician who is interested in progressive medicine, and who will support you in your quest to help your child. The doctors listed below have been reported by our members to be knowledgeable about the DAN! Protocol (Defeat Autism Now - Clinical Options Manual for Physicians), or who are supportive of dietary and biological intervention for autism. Please read their websites, if available, and/or see if you can get a reference from another parent before scheduling an appointment. We take no responsibility for the views or clinical practice of those listed here.

List of DAN! Professionals & Practitioners (ARI website)

You can search for doctors registered with the The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, or other practitioners who are more likely to be informed about dietary and nutritional interventions at The Alternative Medicine Network.

If you have a traditional or progressive physician who has been very supportive about testing and treating your child with autism for immune problems, food allergies, and other biological issues, please email us with their name, contact information, and website (if they have one). We will ask if they would agree to be included in this list.

Need help getting your child to an out-of-state doctor's appointment within the U.S.? Want to donate your unused Frequent-Flyer miles so that others may find help for their kids? Unlocking Autism may be able to help you. Please click here for details.


The content on this website is not to be taken as medical advice. We have gathered information here so that you can make an informed decision in partnership with your medical practitioner.

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Lisa S. Lewis, Ph.D.

Lisa S. Lewis, Ph.D. Lisa S. Lewis, Ph.D. is the author of Special Diets For Special Kids I & II, the foremost books on gluten and casein-free diets for children with disabilities.

Karyn Seroussi

Karyn Seroussi Karyn Seroussi is the author of Unraveling the Mystery of Autism and PDD, the story of her son's autism recovery through dietary and other biomedical interventions.

Helping since 1995

Together Lewis and Seroussi created the Autism Network for Dietary Intervention (ANDI.) Since 1995, ANDI has been helping and supporting parents using dietary and biomedical interventions for autism spectrum disorders. Last year, Lisa and Karyn again joined forces and put the sum of their knowledge in a new book, The Encyclopedia of Dietary Interventions. They continue to write and speak on the topic of dietary intervention, and to support other parents around the world.