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Unrecognized Celiac Disease May be Hidden Cause of ADHD Symptoms







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Gluten Sensitivity and ADHD

Unrecognized Celiac Disease May be Hidden Cause of ADHD Symptoms

© Zoe Langley, May 17, 2009

Celiac disease may be the unknown cause of many ADHD behaviors and switching to a gluten free diet could improve or eliminate the symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 3-5% of children in the United States have ADHD. Research indicates a lot of these children may have ADHD symptoms due to undiagnosed celiac disease or nonceliac gluten sensitivity. For these children, taking drugs designed to treat ADHD may be masking neurological symptoms of a common and often misdiagnosed autoimmune disease.

Celiac Disease is Often Misdiagnosed

Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder of gluten sensitivity. Those who have it cannot properly digest glutens, a type of protein found in wheat, barley, rye and some other grains. It affects about 1 in 133 people in the United States.
Until recently, celiac disease was thought to be a very rare childhood disease. Because the symptoms can affect any part of the body and nervous system, people who have the disease are often diagnosed with psychiatric, digestive or other diseases for years before getting an accurate diagnosis of celiac disease or nonceliac gluten sensitivity.

ADHD-Type Symptoms may be Signs of Celiac Disease

The Common Symptoms of ADHD include:

  • trouble paying attention
  • difficulty controlling impulsive behaviors
  • problems with concentration
  • memory problems
  • irritability

The only symptoms of gluten sensitivity may be neurological, such as those found in ADHD. The behavioral symptoms triggered by gluten sensitivity usually improve when treated with a gluten free diet.

Studies Show ADHD Symptoms are Common in CD

In Israel, Zelnick and colleagues evaluated 111 patients who had celiac disease for neurological symptoms. Theirs is one of the first studies to show a definite relationship between celiac disease and ADHD. About 20% of the patients had learning disabilities and ADHD.

Gluten Free Diet Effective in Italian Study

In 2006, researchers in Italy reported similar findings. They evaluated 132 patients with CD for ADHD symptoms. The ADHD symptoms in their study participants showed significant improvement after six months on a gluten free diet. The authors concluded that, "ADHD-like symptomatology is markedly overrepresented among untreated CD patients and that a gluten free diet may improve symptoms significantly within a short period of time"(Niederhofer).
The authors of both studies conclude that CD should be included among the diseases associated with ADHD -like symptoms.

Gluten Free Diet is Safe and has no Side Effects

Neurobehavioral symptoms may develop years before symptoms of celiac disease appear on tests. When gluten sensitivity is suspected, a trial period on a gluten free diet can help determine whether the ADHD-like symptoms are due to gluten sensitivity or some other cause. When successful, the diet could prevent years of taking unnecessary drugs and their side effects.
Lewey, S; Diagnosing Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity;
Niederhofer H, Pittschieler K.; A Preliminary Investigation of ADHD symptoms in Persons With Celiac Disease; Journal of Attention Disorders, 2006 Nov;10(2):200-4
Zelnick N MD, et al; Range of Neurologic Disorders in Patients With Celiac Disease; Pediatrics vol 113 no 6 June 2004

More About Celiac Disease:
Diagnosing Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity

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The copyright of the article Gluten Sensitivity and ADHD in ADHD/ADD Treatments is owned by Zoe Langley. Permission to republish Gluten Sensitivity and ADHD in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

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A holistic approach for helping children with
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