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ADD or ADHD and Gluten
By Ron Hoggan, Ed. D.

Most of those who are familiar with celiac disease, especially in children, would likely agree that ADD/ADHD symptoms are common among these children. The converse argument is more difficult to make. Dietary interventions have been used to investigate attention deficits, and the inconvenience of maintaining such diets has made stimulant therapies far more attractive.

However, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that psychoactive peptides derived from gluten and casein may be at the root of these ADD or ADHD symptoms. It can take up to 12 months on a strict gluten-free/casein-free diet to eliminate the offending peptides.

Specific EEG abnormalities in celiac disease (more than 90% of celiac disease goes undiagnosed in North America) and specific patterns of urinary peptides, along with some anecdotal reports of symptom resolution with the institution of a gluten-free diet, may increase interest in this area.

Why were previous investigations unsuccessful in identifying gluten and casein as exacerbating factors? The trials were often too short, often lasting a few weeks. And I have been unable to locate any studies that excluded both dairy and gluten concurrently.

The only references I can offer, in support of the high rate of ADD/ADHD in the context of celiac disease are in Polish (1) and German (2). The first indicates that 71% of celiac children, when newly diagnosed, demonstrate EEG abnormalities.

I have no training in reading EEG results. Nonetheless, when I compare the author's descriptions of the EEG abnormalities in celiac children, and the abnormalities in children who have been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, there are some startling similarities. This, in addition to the author's conclusions, is persuasive

Paul et al. (2) are paraphrased by Reichelt et al. (3) saying: "In coeliac children provocation with gluten after diet causes alarmingly high frequency of EEG changes that persist up to a year."

When undertaking a trial of this diet, I would urge you to be very careful to avoid contamination in your child's diet. It is a significantly better approach than stimulant therapy (Ritalin is a brand name of the most commonly used stimulant prescribed for this purpose.) The concept of drugging a child to facilitate learning is upsetting, especially when there is cause to suspect that, on the g-f diet, she/he may improve without any pharmaceutical intervention. I have not found reports that demonstrate any long-term improvements resulting from stimulant therapy. Diet seems a much healthier, more appropriate alternative.

Best Wishes,
Ron Hoggan, Ed. D.

  1. Kozlowska, Z.E. "Results of Investigation on Children with Coeliakia Treated many Years with Gluthen Free Diet" _Psychiatria Polska_ 1991; 25(2): 130-134.
  2. Paul, et. al. "EEG-befunde Zoeliaki-kranken Kindernin Abhaengigkeit von der Ernaehrung" _Zeitschrift der Klinische Medizin_ 1985; 40: 707-709
  3. Reichelt et al. in "THE EFFECT OF GLUTEN-FREE DIET ON GLYCOPROTEIN ATTACHED URINARY PEPTIDE EXCRETION" _Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine_ 1990; 5: 223-239.