How Gluten Affects Behavior

3 of 7 in Series: The Essentials of Gluten Sensitivity

Gluten is sometimes behind the scenes wreaking havoc on behavior and moods. Behaviors including “fuzzy brain” or an inability to concentrate — including attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) type behaviors — irritability and lack of motivation can be caused by gluten.

Other behavioral manifestations of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease include

  • Autism: Evidence shows that some people with autism show extraordinary improvement on a gluten-free (and casein-free) diet. Some people with autism may metabolize gluten and casein into the form of an opiate — much like heroin. Basically, when they eat gluten and casein, they’re getting a high off it.

    This high may account for traits typical in autistic kids, such as monotonous body movements (for instance, finger-flicking in front of their eyes, spinning, and head-banging), as well as being withdrawn and having a fascination with parts of objects (like fixating on one part of a toy rather than the toy itself). Also typical of opiate users and autistic kids is the distress they feel when there are small changes in their environment or routine.

  • Depression and other mood disorders: Clinical depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and a variety of mood disorders can sometimes be associated with or exacerbated by gluten sensitivity and celiac disease, and these conditions can sometimes improve on a gluten-free diet.

    Schizophrenia has been associated with gluten sensitivity and celiac disease since the 1960s, when it was first noted that a gluten- (and dairy-) restricted diet led to improvement in some institutionalized patients. Interestingly, the same opiate-like chemicals found in the urine of autistic people are often found in schizophrenics.

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