The gluten-free diet seems to be the latest health trend thanks to Oprah and a few other celebrities.
Aside from the known medical issues for people with celiac disease, eliminating gluten may prove beneficial in some children, and yet result in little change in others. Some children are just more sensitive to gluten than others.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Oat does not contain gluten, although it can pick up the gluten from the other grains if mixed with them.
Gluten is what gives bread its spongy texture and makes pizza dough stretchy. It is also a thickener in sauces, soups and gravies. (2)
Gluten is also added to many products, not just food.
Celiac Disease vs. Gluten Sensitivity
In the case of celiac disease, the body’s immune system attacks even the tiniest crumb, damaging the small intestine in the process. One particular study suggests that celiac disease affects 1 in 133 Americans. (2)
Another 20 million Americans may be affected by nonceliac gluten sensitivity, which results in similar symptoms as celiac disease, but without damage to the small intestine. (2)
Some scientists believe that gluten can act like an opioid which increases the level of endorphins the body normally produces as a response to stress or pain. This opioid effect may explain why bread is considered a comfort food and why many people are keenly afraid of giving it up. (1)
Some researchers believe that children with epilepsy, Down syndrome and autism may benefit from a gluten-free or gluten-limited (and casein-free) diet.
In some children, incompletely digested, opioid-like proteins in the bloodstream can actually come in contact with the brain, resulting in symptoms often observed in autistic children. Some of these symptoms are clingy behavior, unpredictable responses, reduced socialization, repetitive behavior, and lower pain sensitivity.
Research continues into these apparent relationships. (1)
Symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity in Children