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Is Gluten Giving Your Child ADHD?

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Recent studies have found that gluten may cause a variety of autoimmune disorders in individuals with gluten sensitivity. Find out the link between gluten and ADHD below.

Today, there is a lot of buzz about the hazards of gluten. If some reports are to be believed, gluten is the source of all illnesses, from the common cold to neurological disorders like depression.

However, although some of the claims from the anti-gluten camp appear dubious, the claim that ADHD is caused by gluten appears to be true in about 20 percent of ADHD cases. Recent studies show that for children with both ADHD and celiac disease, removing gluten from the diet significantly reduces symptoms of ADHD.

Research on Gluten and ADHD

In 2006, a study published in the “Journal of Attention Disorders” looked at 132 people with celiac disease to test for ADHD symptoms using the Conner Scale Hype Scheme. The patients were tested for ADHD symptoms while on a gluten diet, then after 6 months of living gluten-free. The researchers found that the study participants had drastically reduced ADHD scores after removing gluten from their diets. The researchers recommended that all individuals showing signs of ADHD be tested with a gluten-free diet to see if ADHD symptoms improve.

In 2011, researchers examined the role of gluten in children with ADHD in one hallmark study from the Psychiatric Hospital of Rodewisch in Germany. The study found some surprising results. 67 children with ADHD were studied. 10 of the children were found to have celiac disease.

This is a remarkably high percentage, as a 2003 study conducted by the University of Maryland School of Medicine found that the normal risk for celiac disease is only 1 in 133 people. When the German study put the children with ADHD on a gluten-free diet, the ADHD symptoms of the children improved dramatically.

According to the researchers, all children with ADHD should be tested for celiac disease as part of routine care and if children are found to be positive, they should go on a gluten-free diet to see if ADHD symptoms improve before taking other action.

What is Celiac Disease?

People have eaten gluten for thousands of years, seemingly without damage. Gluten is a protein found in all wheat products known as prolamins. Prolamins are found in most grains; but wheat, rye, Spelt, and einkorn are the grains that produce the biggest reaction in individuals with celiac disease.

Celiac disease is the inability to properly digest the grain protein. It is an autoimmune disorder that affects the intestines and makes it difficult to absorb nutrients. When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, the body attacks itself to remove the gluten from the body.

The trouble with celiac disease is that many of the symptoms coincide with other common illnesses and diseases, including depression, lethargy, constipation, gas, other digestive problems, hormonal imbalances, and neurological diseases.

Usually, the best way to tell if you are gluten intolerant is by taking a blood test at your doctor’s office. You can also try an elimination diet for 2-3 months. However, there are a few clear signs that you may be gluten intolerant:

Symptoms of Celiac Disease or Gluten Sensitivity 
  • Pimple-like bumps on the back of the arms (known as Keratosis Pilaris and triggered by malabsorption of nutrients from fatty acids and vitamin A)
  • Frequent constipation
  • Brain fog after eating gluten
  • Migraines
  • Joint swelling and joint diseases
  • Mood swings
  • ADHD

Why Can’t People Digest Gluten?

For thousands of years, many people around the world ate grain-based diets. Gluten sensitivity is an autoimmune disorder, which is usually triggered by an overactive immune system. There are many theories on why more people today have autoimmune problems- from the hygiene hypothesis, which states that our bodies are so “clean” that they start attacking their own cells; to the hybridization of foods, caused by breeding foods to be bigger and grow faster, which increases the content of gluten, sugar, and other unhealthy substances in our foods.

Scientific studies have shown that today’s children and adults are about 4 times more likely to have a sensitivity to gluten than in the 1950s. In 2009, researchers from the Mayo Clinic examined frozen blood samples of over 9000 Air Force recruits from 1950 to test them for autoimmune disorders and gluten sensitivity. Only 0.2 percent of the samples had celiac disease. Samples from a group of study participants from 2009 showed that 0.9 percent of blood tested had celiac disease. This showed an increase in sensitivity to gluten over 4 times in the past 45 years.

Part of the reason why people can’t digest gluten today is that we are consuming more high-gluten foods than ever. It is possible that individuals in the past were sensitive to gluten as well, but since they didn’t eat as many of the worst gluten offenders, they were less likely to be sick.

A study from 2013 and published in the “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry” found that although the gluten content in wheat products has remained about the same since the 1920s, a product called “vital gluten” is added to more products than ever. Many sources of gluten are actually hidden in other foods that you wouldn’t consider as sources of wheat (like fillers in cheese, and thickeners in ice cream).

Today’s varieties of wheat and other cereal products come from fewer sources and include many of the highest-gluten strains. Some of the trouble may also come from how wheat is refined in the modern food system. Grain, in its natural state, contains many beneficial nutrients that are vital to health, like minerals, fatty acids, and vitamins. Many of these nutrients make it easier to break down gluten proteins. However, when wheat kernels are ground, the oils are released and quickly become rancid.

Food manufacturers “solved” this problem in the 1800s by removing the inner part of the wheat from the kernel and extending the shelf life of the wheat. Unfortunately, this refining process, combined with the other preservatives used in today’s manufacturing process, removed most of the nutrients from the wheat. Basically, all you are left with refined flour is gluten that is difficult to digest and nearly useless for the body.

The Significance of Overlooking Gluten in Children with ADHD

Millions of children are diagnosed with ADHD each year. Many of these children have to take medications to help control ADHD symptoms. Children with ADHD are more likely to have social struggles, are more likely to get into accidents while driving, have more trouble in school, and are more likely to drop out, have sleep problems, and have trouble with fine motor skills.

These difficulties can make life hard for a child with ADHD, particularly if the child continues to face ADHD symptoms as he or she reaches adulthood. If the elimination of gluten can help eliminate many ADHD symptoms, it should be one of the first options recommended by health professionals to cure children with ADHD before turning to medication

If ADHD is triggered by nutrient deficiencies caused by gluten intolerance, ensuring children receive enough vitamins and minerals combined with eliminating gluten should drastically reduce ADHD symptoms.

Not all children with ADHD have a gluten intolerance, but the above studies suggest that nearly 20 percent do. If removing gluten for a few weeks does not seem to have the desired effect, there are still a few other steps that you can try.

Gluten and ADHD

There is a clear link between gluten intolerance and ADHD symptoms. All parents of children with ADHD should look into the possibility of reducing or eliminating gluten from their child’s diet. It could be that reversing some ADHD symptoms is as simple as eliminating gluten protein from your child’s diet.

As of August 2014, foods sold with a gluten-free label in grocery stores are required to have fewer than 20 ppm of gluten per serving, so it will be easier than ever to identify which foods are truly gluten-free at the store. Combining a gluten-free diet with the addition of common nutrients missing from the blood of children with ADHD is one simple way to reduce ADHD symptoms without the use of medication.





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