Mood and Behavior May Be the Only Indicators of Gluten Intolerance
Many patients diagnosed with celiac disease also deal with behavioral and neurological disorders.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that is marked by an immune response to the body’s own intestinal cells.
Autoimmunity is an inside job, and disease comes from a confused immune system, rather than an infectious bug. During a flare-up, the immune system will tag cells lining the small intestine and begin destroying them.
According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, 3 million Americans have celiac disease. And symptoms are not only limited to the gut. Many of those with celiac disease also deal with depression.
As it turns out, there is something called non-celiac gluten sensitivity. It affects as many as 18 million Americans.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity has all the symptoms of celiac disease, but a doctor cannot diagnose it with standard celiac tests. These patients will have negative lab results, and a biopsy of the small intestine will reveal nothing remarkable.
However, these patients only respond to a gluten-free diet.
Like celiac disease, those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity have a physical response to gluten – except they may never know it. This physical response could appear to be nothing more than anger management issues, depression, or unexplained mood swings.
Patients with schizophrenia and children with autism show a marked improvement when placed on a gluten-free diet. So much so that results have encouraged researchers to investigate the link between mood disorders and gluten. (1)(2)
Other signs of non-celiac gluten sensitivity include:
- Headaches or foggy mind
- Tingling or numbness in hands and feet
- Muscle spasms
- Joint pain
- Missed menstrual periods
- Itchy skin rash or eczema
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Gas and bloating
What Is Gluten?
The good news is that your doctor may no longer seem mystified or dismissive when you explain the gluten-free diet. This is because many journals are now publishing material on the effects of gluten on mood and behavioral disorders, as well as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. (3)(4)(5)
Gluten is blend of proteins, gliadin and glutenin. It is found in not only wheat but also in related grains, such as barley and rye. Gluten gives food structure, chewiness, and texture.
While breads and pasta obviously contain gluten, you may be surprised to learn that food producers use gluten to make things like imitation meats, ketchup, and ice cream.
It is tough to avoid gluten. And for many, it is simply not worth the trouble.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is not the same as a wheat allergy.
A wheat allergy is diagnosed using an IgE (immunoglobulin E) blood test. IgE is a class of tags that the immune system uses in an allergic response or hypersensitivity that can affect the skin, the respiratory system, or the gut. Those who have symptoms of gluten intolerance may test negative for a wheat allergy.
So far, there are no pharmaceutical cures for celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The only treatment for celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a 100% gluten-free diet.
Because there are no laboratory tests that specifically identify gluten sensitivity, diagnosis and treatment are an elimination diet.
If you are sensitive to gluten, besides wheat, you will also want to watch out for:
- Oats, which can be contaminated with gluten
Our Children at Risk
These days, many parents of children with behavioral disorders are finding themselves with limited options when it comes to soothing their child’s needs. What do you do when your little baby suddenly becomes a violent and hysterical toddler?
Fortunately, new research over the last 10 years has revealed that emotional sensitivity and behavioral disorders in both children and adults respond, sometimes completely, to a gluten-free diet.
If your child has non-celiac gluten sensitivity, chances are that you will welcome the (sometimes) difficult transition to a gluten-free diet.
Often, changing your child’s diet means changing the diet of your entire family.
3 Steps to Transition to a Gluten-Free Diet
1. It’s okay to start slow.
Sometimes people and especially children get hooked on one or two foods. Transitioning to gluten-free foods may seem impossible. If you start slow, the process will naturally unfold and ends up being easier than you anticipated.
I recommend adding coconut water kefir to your diet daily and to whatever juice your child drinks. This one step will inoculate the gut with beneficial bacteria, which will dampen the desire for sweet and bready foods.
2. Avoid gluten-free flours and specialty foods.
While gluten-free breads, pastas, and flours may sound tempting, it is best to avoid them altogether. Many of these replacements are full of sugar and refined oils. Both excessive sugar and refined oils can keep the body in an acidic state, which inhibits the healing process.
3. Approach the change in diet with dedication.
It may take some time for the signs of gluten sensitivity to calm down. As you and your family transition to a gluten-free diet, stay positive. Once the trigger foods have left the system, the difference in mood, energy, and digestion is often quite noticeable.
If you need support in transitioning your child to a gluten-free diet, BEDROK – Body Ecology Diet Recovering Our Kids – is a tremendous resource for parents. For tips, insight, and wisdom, you can find more information at www.bedrokcommunity.org.