printer-friendly version   Printer-Friendly Version  

Gluten Can Cause ADHD

Did you know that your hyperactive child may not have ADHD?  According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, many children diagnosed with ADHD actually have a hidden celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder caused by sensitivity to gluten.  Gluten is a complex protein found in wheat, rye, barley, whole grains, and their products.  Children with celiac disease have difficulty digesting the gluten in wheat and wheat products. Partially-digested gluten tends to stay in the gut and form a chain of harmful amino acids called opioid peptides, which block nutrient absorption and overwhelm the gut.  Opioid peptides also get easily absorbed by the bloodstream, where they travel to the brain and cause sedative effects that impair brain function.  This is why celiac disease shares the same symptoms as ADHD – problems paying attention, difficulty concentrating, and inability to control impulses.

What makes it difficult to detect a hidden celiac disease is that there is no test that can identify it. The only way to determine this is through an elimination diet.  For three weeks, all foods with gluten are withheld from the child. This includes pasta, wheat, bread, cereal, pastries, and other baked goods.  You can eliminate the foods slowly, starting with sweets and pastries, then bread, then pasta, etc. until all wheat products are eliminated.  To err on the side of caution, it's recommended that you remove all milk and dairy products as well.  Milk contains a similar protein called casein, which is difficult to digest and forms opioid peptides, like gluten.

At the start of the elimination diet, your child may act worse before any improvements are noted. Opioid peptides are addictive substances, and the worsening behavior is actually a withdrawal symptom that will go away in time.  If there is no improvement after three weeks, then something else may be causing your child's ADHD symptoms.  If you do detect improvement, continue the diet up to a month or so, and then slowly introduce wheat and dairy products to build tolerance for gluten and casein.

An undiagnosed celiac disease is not the only cause of ADHD, but eliminating gluten and casein from the diet helps a number of children overcome ADHD.  There are a number of studies that show how ADHD symptoms disappear after six months of a gluten-free diet.  For instance, researchers from Italy discovered that patients with celiac disease also have ADHD-like symptoms, and that eliminating gluten from their diets reduced instances of inattention and hyperactivity. These findings show that children with ADHD can be helped by removing gluten and giving the gut time to heal, rather than simply medicating them with unnecessary drugs.