Could Gluten be to Blame for Your Child’s Behavioral Issues?

Some kids simply can’t tolerate gluten and that can manifest in different ways. The array of complaints can include, but aren’t limited to, stomach aches and other digestive issues, nasal congestion, headaches, itchy/watery eyes, skin rashes, and mood complaints such as anxiety or depression. It’s also becoming more and more apparent, especially among functional medicine pediatricians, that a gluten sensitivity can negatively impact a child’s behavior.

At GetzWell, we’ve seen this correlation firsthand and have seen miraculous results with nutrition counseling and gluten elimination. In this post we’ll give you an overview of gluten’s potential impact on your child’s behavior, and share how we were able to help a young girl find her joy thanks to a gluten-free life.
But first off, what exactly is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in certain grains, in particular wheat, barley, rye, kamut, and spelt. It’s also found in many processed foods (unless labeled “gluten free”), including salad dressings, sauces, soy sauce, ketchup, cookies, crackers, French fries, to name a few. (Click here for a list of gluten-laden foods).
What damage can gluten do?
Gluten is a powerful activator of zonulin, an inflammatory protein that helps to regulate the opening and closing of gaps or “junctions” between the cells that line our intestines, allowing food particles and other molecules to pass through the intestine and directly into the bloodstream.

Kids with a gluten sensitivity may have higher levels of zonulin in their system and as a result, the gaps between their intestinal cells with stay open longer, creating a channel for foreign and immune-stimulating substances to enter their bloodstreams. This is exceptionally worrying to functional medicine pediatricians because increased zonulin levels in children can put them at risk for autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes, thyroiditis, and celiac disease.

Gluten sensitivity can also cause anxiety and depression because in addition to allowing immune and brain-stimulating proteins into the body. It may prevent the absorption of essential nutrients like zinc, tryptophan, and B vitamins, all of which are necessary for producing fundamental neurotransmitters such as serotonin (a deficiency of which has been linked to depression and anxiety).
So, what’s the solution to gluten intolerance?
Kasey is one of the many valued patients in our San Francisco practice. She first came to us as a 5-year-old because her parents were struggling to figure out why she was having ongoing tantrums and overall negative mood and behavioral issues outside what was considered typical for a child of her age.

Prior to seeking GetzWell’s help, Kasey’s parents had taken her to a developmental psychologist who diagnosed her with ADHD and anxiety disorder. As is common in mainstream medicine, the only option offered to them was to put Kasey on a stimulant like Ritalin which studies show may actually do more harm to children than good. Hoping to avoid putting their young daughter on an amphetamine like Ritalin, Kasey’s parents came to us in search of a safer solution.

As functional medicine pediatricians, we always seek to get to the root of the problem. Going beyond the usual practice of making a diagnosis in order to find the “right” medication, we want to understand the “why” of a child’s issues. And, we often begin with the gut when assessing our little patients because it’s where most of the immune system lives — if a child is struggling with a chronic problem, it often begins there.

Given our familiarity with the link between gluten and behavior, we worked with Kasey and her family on an elimination diet following the 5-R program. Through a five-step process, we eliminated gluten from Kasey’s diet and healed and sealed her gut. When gluten was eliminated from her system, Kasey’s parents noticed an almost immediate improvement in her behavior. She stopped throwing tantrums and she blossomed into a bright, bubbly, fun-loving little girl.

In a matter of a few short weeks, she no longer had an ADHD or anxiety diagnosis.

This is an example of the power of food and the resilience of the human body. We believe in helping stimulate a child’s innate healing capacity in order to allow them to thrive.
But! There’s more to Kasey’s story…
In Kasey’s case – yes, gluten played a very important role in her mood and behavior — but it doesn’t tell her whole story. There was something more that was “genetically” informed that surfaced as she grew older.

We were able to uncover this through an intriguing and cutting-edge process. Please stay tuned for a future post where we dig a little deeper into Kasey’s story. It’s really quite remarkable.
We’re gluten gurus!
If you suspect that your child might have a gluten sensitivity, please contact our San Francisco offices at 415-826-1701. Kasey is a prime example that all children come with their own set of unique needs. As functional medicine pediatricians, our goal is to provide custom care that addresses your child’s uniqueness.