What’s the deal with gluten?

According to my friend the porblem with glutens is that they cause chemical reactions in the brain that can do all kinds of things. :confused: Umm . . . can you be any vaguer?

She said that like lactose some people are more affected by if than others are, but her point was that her friend’s kid should try a gluten free diet for his ADD.

I’m sorry but this sounds like BS to me. Can someone prove me wrong or steer me in the right direction?

Nope, it’s pretty much impossible to prove this kind of negative. The burden of proof is on those who make such outrageous claims, not on the people who call them on it.

The simplest way to refute the claim is to point out that gluten is a protein. Proteins can’t pass through the gut at all, so how can it possibly get to the brain? More importantly, if gluten did manage to pass though the gut and enter the bloodstream, you would rapidly die from a massive allergic reaction.

So how exactly can this material be causing “chemical reactions in the brain” when it is physiologically impossible for it to ever leave the gut?

Unless you have gluten intolerance or Celiac Disease, there is no evidence that gluten is harmful. It’s a fad treatment for autism and ADD, but it hasn’t actually been shown in studies to help the patient - although in a roundabout way, it may help for the parent feel like they’re more in control of the situation.

As the mom of a gluten intolerant six year old, I think it would be a pretty mean thing to do to a kid absent evidence of effectiveness. It’s not easy, it’s not cheap, and it makes her feel like a freak when she can’t have what everyone else is having. I wouldn’t do that to her if she didn’t start vomiting whenever she eats gluten.

On the other hand, gluten intolerance is maddeningly hard to diagnose and it can cause myriad symptoms. The common tests for it are notorious for false negatives so many parents, myself included, resort to allergy elimination diets to try and see what makes their kid’s symptoms better or worse. If she decides to do that, she should read up on it and do it correctly, and document her observations. Just a vague sense of “Well, I think he’s doing a little better…” wouldn’t satisfy me. I’d want to see: “Last week, Johnny got four reprimands in school, forgot his lunch three times and needed 25 reminders to complete his homework. This week, he got 3 reprimands, forgot his lunch once and needed 12 reminders.” *Quantifiable *observations that strongly correlate with diet changes may indicate an effect worth continuing.

A friend of mine has celiac.

Not fun, not pretty and the consequences of his restricted diet nearly proved fatal. (low sodium intake lead to cardiac arrhythmia)

I would only recommend someone go on the gluten free diet if they have a confirmed diagnosis of celiac AND react consistently and strongly to gluten.

My friend for many years only had weak reactions to the gluten, and then following some surgery found he had ‘shifted’ to having strong reactions. It is amazing to me how little of the stuff can set of the problems (cramping and diarrhea).

To put what I’m about to say in context: my wife has a gluten intolerance (not full-blown Celiac’s, but close), so over the last few years we’ve done a significant amount of research on the subject.

There are a few things that a gluten sensitivity can effect. What’s been seen and researched on the most (long-term I mean) is how gluten can effect the gastrointestinal system. In particular, some people’s bodies can not absorb gluten, which causes the muscosa of the small intestine to become inflammed to various degrees. This inflammation causes the villi to degrade. The villi are what absorb nutrients out of food, so the worse your case of gluten sensitivity (Celiac’s being at the far-bad end of the spectrum), you’re going to have issues from chronic diarrhea to constant fatigue to much, much worse. You may remember an episode of House from the end of the 2nd season that featured a Celiac’s patient who wasn’t aware they were a Celiac’s patient, and ended up having the bad effects - which in House were presented as seizures and stomach cancer.

FTR, Celiac’s is considered an auto-immune disease and is currently not curable, though it is managable through a gluten-free diet.
During the research into Celiac’s above, some scientists came upon an interesting link between the GF diet and Autism. There is a lot of current research in this area, and the findings tend[\URL] [URL=“http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/maney/nns/2010/00000013/00000002/art00004”]to be split, but a lot of parents of autistic children anecdotally report that a gluten-free diet helps their children.

So what does that mean for ADD or other conditions? Well, the same sort of anecdotes that led to the possible Autism-GF diet connection are starting to lead towards a possible ADD/ADHD-GF diet connection. Researchis again inconclusive so far, but your mileage may vary.

Bottom Line: If your friend wants to try a GF diet to help with ADHD, then it might be worth trying. That being said, the mechanism that may link ADHD with gluten is not yet truly understood and your friend may or not see results.

Be forewarned of these three things, though (and I have a LOT of experience here):

[li]Gluten-Free diets are often much more expensive. For a simple example - here in NJ I can usually get a pound of pasta at your standard supermarket for about a buck - maybe like $.79 or something if you get it on sale. GF pasta (made of corn or rice) is usually in the $4 - $5 range.[/li]
[li]Gluten is in a lot. Think of anything that has wheat in it - and you have gluten. So, your standard staples of pasta, bread, cookies, pretzels, pizza, etc all need to be bought special. In addition, things like soups and BBQ sauce need to be label-checked as well because flour or modified food starch sneak into these items as thickeners or fillers. Note that this also means you’ll be making a LOT more meals at home since GF pre-prepared food (like pizza or TV dinners) are few-and-far between. They exist, but in a lot of cases they’re only so-so (according to my wife) and usually pricey.[/li]
The good news is a lot of supermarkets seem to be carrying at least a portion of GF stuff now. Even 5 years ago, it was very hard to find GF items outside of Whole Foods or other specialty stores (or mail order).

As a sub-note, keep in mind this also means that your friend needs to be very, VERY careful when eating out. Many restaurants use bread-crumbs as fillers in their hamburgers, for instance, so even a bun-free burger won’t avoid the GF filter - and this is even ignoring all the things you can get in a restaurant or fast-food joint that’s breaded. AND on top of that, even something like french fries from McDonald’s should be avoided because McD’s fries their fries in the same oil they use for their chicken nuggets (which are breaded), and there will be cross-contamination from the nuggets to the fries. Now someone who is only avoiding Gluten as a choice probably doesn’t have to worry about contamination or the like - but the science is thus far inconclusive, and therefore, we don’t know what the threshold to trigger the reaction (ADD, Autism, etc) is. My wife usually knows when she’s eaten something with gluten in it (even 5-8 years on, we still get surprised from time to time).

[li]Gluten-free diets need to be monitored closely because it’s very easy to be deficientin certain minerals and vitamins, especially for growing children.[/li][/ul]
Apologies on the novel, so I’ll end with this disclaimer: I am not a doctor, just a lay person who’s personally been dealing with this with his wife for a good 8 or so years now. I do highly advise you to advise your friend to consult with their child’s doctor first, to ensure there aren’t any other complications with medications or whatnot that I am not aware of.

Good luck!

Like many things there are pros and cons but I like having gluten free as a fad diet. That is, I’m a diagnosed Celiac and the availablity of gluten free products has exploded over the past few years, thanks in part to the fad diets increasing demand. On the down side, it also means that some people don’t take it as seriously when you ask for gluten free because you get lumped in with the fad.

Why was he on low sodium? Sodium intake isn’t related to gluten. :confused:

Celidin, would you mind trying that “deficient” link again? I can’t get anything other than the header to come up at that link; not sure if it’s my computer being a brat or a wonky link.

Processed foods are loaded with sodium and gluten.

When he cut out processed foods, he inadvertently cut out sodium too. He was pretty much just eating fruit and veggies. At work one day, he was going up a flight of stairs, passed out and woke up in the hospital.

His electrolytes were bordering on the lethal end of the spectrum. He eats one bag of GF salty potato chips everyday now and the problem has not come back.

He is extremely sensitive to gluten now, and cross contamination is a huge problem. Just setting a bun on the grill, then removing the bun and cooking a plain hamburger patty near that spot can set him off.

Gluten is in so very many things. Toothpaste, spices, pills, cheese, processed foods of all kinds. He usually has a problem at least once every 10 days or so, and then he cramps for a couple days, and gets the ‘lumpy orange juice’ diarrhea.

And yes, we joke about his celiac. I sent him a box of straight gluten used in bread making, and then at an oriental grocery, I found a jar of fried gluten (WTF is that?) and sent it too him. He got a real yuck out of it.

(I sealed the items in plastic bags, just to be sure)

Here’s the “deficient” link again:


It does seem as if the USA Today site may be having issues, that link is now taking a long time to load for me.
In addition - to clarify one thing: Celiac’s and gluten sensitivities don’t work directly on the brain or brain chemistry to cause the more significant issues that can crop up.

Gluten sensitivities attenuate and degrade intestinal villi, which absorb nutrients. So, what’s really causing the more significant problems associated here is really a form of malnutrition, same as if someone just wasn’t eating enough unicorns to get enough vitamin Q (or whatever).

I believe its this line of thinking that the research is proceeding down in regards to ADHD and Autism (malnutrition being a contributing factor) but again - the research is inconclusive (a lot of it is coming up with “no connection”, a lot of it is showing some connection).

Finally - I agree with tim-n-va, the current gluten-free fad isn’t necessiarly a bad thing - it has opened a lot of new products to those who truly have Celiacs or gluten sensitivities, both in general at supermarkets as well as a lot of restaurants like Olive Garden and Outback (both of whom - along with many others - feature a gluten-free menu or GF menu options).

Thanks for the repost, Celidin. I’ll try it again later; maybe it’s the website’s issue.

Oh, and you and your wife know about Udi’s bread, right? It’s real, honest to yum bread, that just happens to be gluten free. It’s not like any other gluten free “bread” out there, I promise.

Heyoka13, now I understand. I’m surprised he doesn’t use any salt in cooking his vegetables, but yeah, if someone didn’t use any salt at home and cut out all processed foods, that could lead to a sodium deficiency. It’s just so very very rare for someone to truly be deficient in sodium (most cases of apparent sodium deficiency are because someone has too much water in them, not too little salt) that it surprised me. Thanks for explaining. :slight_smile:

Then what danger is there in eating beef infected with mad cow disease? Prions, the transmission mechanism for mad cow & Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, are proteins. And as the linked article suggests, the main vector of prion transmission is ingestion.

yes, the docs told him what he experienced was very rare. Curiously, his doctor had an Alzheimer’s patient with low sodium too. Her care giver was experimenting with the diet and how it might affect the progression of the condition and just ‘forgot’ salt. She survived, and her family now pays for a home health care nurse to stop by weekly.

Actually thanks a bunch for the novel, Celidin. I guess my BS meter might need a little tweaking, but it looks like it is still mostly in working order. I will give her some of the advice and research.

But I can still ignore her when she says I need to get rid of gluten to increase my life-energy and positive ions, right?

Gedd, this might make you sound like an ass, but I’d tell her that you’ll have more energy and positivity in your life if you can spend that extra money a GF diet would cost you on toys or movies or something. :slight_smile: :slight_smile:

Also - as for it all being BS … the whole GF-ADD-Autism thing is so inconclusive, who the hell knows?

WhyNot I did not know about Udi’s yet, but I do now! (We mostly get bread that she likes from a health food store she found near work - it’s not great, but it’s not horrible). I also end up baking a lot of baked goods from scratch. The “Gluten Free Gourmet” has a great series of books on the subject.

I’m not competent to judge the truthfulness / scientific accuracy of this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gluten_sensitivity#Gluten_toxicity, but the straightforward reading is that part of the harmful mode of action of gluten in sensitive individuals is precisely that the proteins *are *leaking across the gut barrier at least a little.

Normally I find wiki to be pretty trustworthy unless the topic is political or a fad or related to pseudo-science / quackery. And unfortunately this year gluten & gluten sensitivity score 2 for 3 on the *can’t trust it *Trifecta.

Anyone handy with the chops to assess this?

That USA Today article doesn’t say a word about autism or ADHD so I’m not sure why it’s relevant.

You’re other links are equally problematic. The one medical study concludes this way:

Which is also the reason that anecdotal stories from parents are also worthless. Parents never do one thing to try to “cure” their children. They do many simultaneously. The Jenny McCarthy school of advocacy has been effectively demolished. And way past time, since her anti-vaccine stance is tantamount to dead children. There is no evidence that gluten free diets alone help children with ailments other than celiac disease. Not split, not mixed.

Blake, of course proteins can and do cross the intestinal barrier. That’s the basis of allergies. (I’m sure you know this and your statement was a bit of overreaching to refute this other claim.) The problem is not that allergies exist. It’s that believers extrapolate that standard piece of science into leaky gut syndrome, which can be used to explain anything. This might be a more American piece of woo, but it’s widespread here. And it’s utterly irrefutable to a believer.

First, the I-am-not-a-doctor caveat!

My understanding is that, at least in Celiac, the gluten triggers an auto immune reaction. That is, the gluten itself isn’t doing the damage. The immune system is “misunderstanding” and thinking it should attack the body. While the damage is most commonly in the small intestines, it can be other places. In my case, I have liver damage that is consistent with that of a moderate to heavy drinker despite never drinking much (one or two drinks per month).

That would at least allow for the possibility of effects elsewhere in the body including the brain without the protein traveling via the blood.

I find this very interesting. Last fall, my dentist advised me that going on a gluten free diet would relieve the terrible oral canker sores I suffer from. Yes, it has more limited my choice of food than increased the cost. I am eating a lot of corn, oats, and rice products in place of pasta. My physician was not too encouraging. By December, I was still suffering canker sores, and he muddled the picture by prescribing ‘‘Myles Magical Mix’’ with Tetracyline in it. A couple of 10 day courses of it left me in good shape until 2 weeks ago when I forgot and ate a piece of cheesecake with a graham cracker crust. I promptly got a sore on my toungue that is only now going away. So far, I don’t feel I have proven anything one way or another.

My daughter was one office visit away from a Failure to Thrive diagnosis (literally - the doc told me that if she didn’t grow in the next 30 days, she was mandated to report it to DCFS as a FtT case) until we took her off gluten. In the first month off gluten, she grew 2 inches - and she was three and a half, not a time when they generally have a growth spurt. The gluten had her intestines so upset, they weren’t absorbing enough nutrients for growth.

Also, a huge percentage of your immune system’s cells are in the gut. It’s called the GALT (Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue). When a gluten intolerant person is eating gluten, the inflammation in the gut also wreaks havoc with the GALT, causing a lower immune response - in our daughter’s case, this meant a dozen colds a season, and every single one went to bronchiolitis, because she just couldn’t fight 'em off. A few months off gluten, and her following winter saw her with two colds, neither of which required a doctor visit for bronchiolitis.

It’s weird, because generally when a substance is blamed for myriad symptoms, it’s a clue that the woo has entered the building. Y’know, toxins that cause everything from migraines to cancer to bloat to fatigue. It’s just rubbish. Yet the symptoms, for a truly gluten intolerant or Celiac patient, span almost as much variety as the quack’s “toxin”.