New evidences from recent studies and clinical data are indicating that there is a strong link between gluten sensitivity and neurological conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
This means that ADHD may result from consuming foods containing gluten.
What is Gluten?
Gluten, derived from the Latin word for glue, is a protein present in grains such as wheat, barley and rye as well as in the foods processed from them. Its chief function in grains is to provide the elasticity to make the foods prepared from them chewy as we masticate.
- Gluten is found in the endosperm of grains. It is made up of gliadin and glutelin which are joined together with starch.
- The gluten found in wheat is most associated with sensitivity reactions. It is estimated that about 1% of the population suffers from celiac disease and is, therefore, sensitive to gluten.
- Celiac disease is characterized by the ability of partially digested gliadin to trigger an immune reaction.
- Celiac disease is known to be associated with a high likelihood of ADHD. However, only recently has it come to light that the common bridge between the two disorders is gluten.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is classified as a developmental disorder because its symptoms first appear during childhood. 30 â€“ 50% of the kids diagnosed with ADHD carry the symptoms over into adulthood.
ADHD affects about 5% of the population and there are more boys than girls diagnosed with the disorder. The disease, its diagnosis and treatment are all controversial topics and have been subjected to endless debate in and out of the scientific community.
People suffering from ADHD may lean closer to either hyperactivity or inattentiveness. Alternatively, both subsets of symptoms may occur in equal frequencies.
The inattentive set of ADHD symptoms include:
- Difficulty focusing on any task and frequently moving from one task to another
- Easily distracted and easily bored
- Missing and forgetting details
- Difficulty following or processing instructions
- Confusion and difficulty organizing or establishing the steps to complete tasks
- Daydreaming and poor listening skills
The hyperactivity set of ADHD syndrome include:
- Fidgeting and lack of restraints
- Impulsivity and impatience
- Trouble sitting still
- Trouble staying quiet
Gluten-Free Diet As ADHD â€œCureâ€
Although the strong link between ADHD and celiac disease has been repeatedly reported, there were no controlled studies to examine such link until recently.
The number of clinical cases of ADHD children who do not tolerate grains (especially wheat) very well is increasing. The celiac link is believed to be tied to gluten sensitivity.
These occurrences have led doctors and researchers to believe that celiac disease and gluten sensitivity occur more frequently among ADHD children. A close examination of the symptoms of the 3 conditions show considerable overlap.
For example, both celiac disease and gluten sensitivity share symptoms such as headache, abdominal discomfort, bloating, fatigue, muscle ache and joint pain.
While diet has been known to be a contributory factor to ADHD, the usual suspects are sugar and food additives. With the latest findings, gluten-rich grains should be added to the list of dietary triggers of ADHD.
In addition, it seems right that celiac disease should be included in the list of medical disorders to be checked while diagnosing ADHD. Given the high incidence of gluten sensitivity among ADHD kids, this move can save a lot of time and health cost.
If gluten sensitivity and celiac diseases are really triggers of ADHD then it follows that adopting a gluten-free diet should considerably reduce ADHD symptoms. As it happens, that is really the case.
A 2011 study published in the journal, Primary Care Companion to CNS Disorders, demonstrated the benefits of eliminating gluten from the diets of ADHD patients also suffering from celiac disease.
In that study, 67 ADHD patients aged between 7 and 42 years were tested for celiac disease. 10 of these patients tested positive for gluten antibodies and were placed on gluten-free diet for 6 months. After the study period, all of the ADHD patients who had celiac disease responded well to gluten-free diet.
Regardless of age and other factors, the study showed that eliminating gluten from the diet can improve behavior and daily functioning of this group of ADHD patients. The patients scored higher in both objective and subjective tests measuring their ADHD symptoms after eliminating gluten grains from their diets.
What Wheat Does
Because gluten affects multiple organ-systems and produces silent but serious damages in the body, avoiding it is a good advice for everyone and not only for those with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity and ADHD.
The gliadin protein complex in gluten is responsible for most of the negative effects of this compound.
After taking grains such as wheat, the gliadin in gluten activates a protein in the gut called zonulin. This activation leads to the opening of the enterocyte gaps of the villi and allows in partly digested wheat proteins along with some gut bacterial flora.
Although those with gluten sensitivity and celiac disease experience the ill effects of this abnormal absorption more, it is true that the crossing of improperly digested wheat into systemic circulation causes systemic inflammation and disruption of the immune system in everyone.
Gluten, is however, only part of the story. Wheat also contains a kind of lectin called wheat germ agglutinin or WGA.
This lectin, a glycoprotein, is also found in rye, spelt and especially whole wheat which is commonly believed to be the most healthful form of wheat.
Lectins, by nature, are tough compounds. They can withstand high temperature and enzymatic degradation as well as being stable in a wide pH range. WGA is no exception to the lectin rule. In fact, it is solidly held together by disulfide bonds.
Unfortunately, the tough nature of WGA allows it to accumulate in the body while it causes extensive damage.
Some of the damages caused by WGA include:
- Chronic inflammation in the gut caused by releasing pro-inflammatory cytokines from immune cells
- Crossing the blood-brain barrier and then binding to the protective sheaths of neurons and destroying them
- Inducing cell death and disrupting the cycle of cellular growth in multiple cell lines
- Inhibiting tissue regeneration in the cardiovascular system by blocking the clotting and healing abilities of platelets
- Triggering indiscriminate antibody production against useful proteins in the body
- Blocks leptin receptors in the hypothalamus, inhibits thyroid hormone production and lowers the production of secretin in the pancreas; the results of these effects are weight gain, insulin resistance, leptin resistance and type II diabetes
- Disrupts the surface membrane and cellular structure of the gut by increasing cell death, reducing the surface area of the villi and degrading the mucosal layer that protects the gut
Gluten-Free Diet and How to Treat ADHD with Dietary Changes
While conventional medications may be required in the long run, ADHD treatment should begin by simple changes to the diet. In most cases, such changes are sufficient to â€œcureâ€ ADHD.
Some of the effective dietary changes to make are:
- Removing most grains from the diet. Give yourself some time away from grains but especially wheat and the other grains in the same family to see if your ADHD symptoms improve. Also make sure not to be lured back by the health claims of organic, whole wheat as this is not free from gluten
- Eliminating sugars and processed foods from your diet. These are the traditional triggers of ADHD, and it has been conclusively proven that such foods worsen ADHD symptoms. By avoiding processed foods you can avoid food additives and preservatives too. Also, gluten is often added to processed foods as a stabilizing agent. Common food sources of added gluten range from bread and bread products to beer, ready-made soups, ice cream, ketchup and soy sauce
- Increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to rival and even surpass popular ADHD drugs in efficacy, and they are definitely safer and better tolerated. The best source of omega-3 fatty acids is krill oil although fish oil is a more common source
A gluten-free diet does not necessarily mean a grain-free diet. Grains that are free of gluten include rice, sorghum, millet, corn and buckwheat. As much as possible eat organic grains.
Besides these grains, a gluten-free diet should include lots of vegetables, lean proteins and unprocessed milk products.
The gluten-free processed foods bought at the store are not necessarily free of gluten.
A recent survey found quite a number of processed foods do not meet the standards demanded by their gluten-free labels. In most of these cases, cross-contamination with other gluten products taint the products labelled gluten-free during processing.
With all the benefits of adopting a gluten-free diet to help reduce the symptoms of ADHD, it should be noted that such benefits do take some time to show.
Although the time taken differs for each person, it is not unusual to have to wait for 9 â€“ 12 months after adopting a gluten-free diet before changes are experienced. This is mainly because it takes a while for the damaged lining of the gut to heal over and for some of the gutâ€™s content to stop seeping into systemic circulation.
To help reduce the time it takes for gluten-free diets to produce positive results, supplements for ADHD should be considered. These ADHD supplements contain natural micronutrients to help address nutritional deficiencies commonly reported in ADHD patients.