NFCA Webinar Provides Clarity About Gluten Sensitivity, ADHD, and Autism
Internet searches about gluten-free, celiac disease, or gluten sensitivity yield a plethora of information, but it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. A great source for accurate information is the recent National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) webinar entitled “The Gluten-Free Link: ADHD, Autism, Celiac Disease, and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity” presented by Marie-Nathalie Beaudoin, PhD, Training Director at Bay Area Family Therapy & Training Associates.
Celiac disease affects an estimated 3 million Americans. When a person with celiac disease, a genetic autoimmune disease, consumes gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and contaminated oats, the villi of the small intestine is damaged, which leads to malnourishment and over 300 possible symptoms. Diagnosis involves a blood test to detect specific antibodies, and a biopsy of the small intestine is usually conducted to confirm the diagnosis. A lifelong 100% gluten-free diet is the only treatment for celiac disease.
Research has shown that approximately 18 million Americans suffer from a condition known as Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS). NCGS does not appear to be genetic and inflicts only minimal intestinal damage, if any. Currently, there is no fully reliable test or procedure that can diagnose NCGS. NCGS can present itself with the same symptoms as celiac disease, including abdominal pain, fatigue, headaches, and numbness/tingling. To diagnosis gluten sensitivity, it is essential to first rule out celiac disease before proceeding with a doctor recommended trial of a gluten-free diet.
Given the strong mind-body connection, it is not surprising that there are also correlations between celiac disease, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which includes Asperger’s Syndrome. Dr. Beaudoin discussed many of these correlations during NFCA’s webinar. Studies in 2006 and 2011 showed that patients diagnosed with celiac disease, who followed a gluten-free diet for six months exhibited fewer ADHD-related symptoms. The patients were more focused, remained seated, and were able to complete tasks, according to Dr. Beaudoin. It is important to note that the sample sizes for these studies were small, and that further research is necessary to substantiate these new findings. However, this could be a significant step forward because it suggests that gluten-free diets could dramatically reduce the symptoms associated with ADHD for some people.
The link between celiac disease and Asperger’s syndrome was first noted more than 50 years ago. Dr. Beaudoin pointed out that the original study conducted by Hans Asperger actually involved children with celiac disease. After two years on a gluten-free diet, they became independent thinkers who were friendly and approachable. Research over the years has shown contradictory results; however, case studies suggest a correlation between the severity of autism and gastrointestinal disturbances.
NFCA’s webinar provided key benefits to patients and doctors. No symptoms should be ignored or viewed insignificant unless fully evaluated. While celiac disease may not be present in every case of ADHD or autism, there is a chance that gluten-related disorders may be an underlying factor and that a gluten-free diet might be beneficial. Also, where ADHD and ASD behaviors exist, it may be prudent to screen for gluten-related disorders.
To download and watch this webinar as well as other terrific webinars, visit the NFCA archives. View the schedule and register for upcoming NFCA webinars. Future topics include maintaining a healthy weight, food allergies and intolerances, and managing celiac disease and diabetes.