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Gluten Sensitivity and Impulsive Behavior

Updated on July 17, 2011

Gluten and Impulsive Behavior: An Overview

Impulsive behavior can be detrimental to all aspects of a child’s life. Education, interaction with peers and familial relationships are all at risk. Impulsiveness is characteristic of many different disorders and, as such, finding a cause and proper treatment can prove to be difficult. Gluten sensitivity can affect all areas of the body and should be investigated as a possible cause to impulsive behaviors.


Celiac disease vs. Gluten Sensitivity

Celiac disease is defined as chronic inflammation of the small intestine due to gluten intolerance causing mucosal damage, according to Stedman’s Medical Dictionary. The University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research states Celiac disease is estimated to affect almost 1 of every 133 Americans. It is diagnosed by the presence of specific substances (called HLA markers, for those of you who are curious) found in the blood. Gluten Sensitivity is a term used to describe the body’s more or less 'dislike' of the substance. In an article written by Ron Hoggan, it is mentioned that Gluten Sensitivity is more prevalent, found in about 13% of the population. Both conditions have been proven to benefit from a gluten-free diet.

Symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity

Symptoms of gluten sensitivity are systemic, meaning it shows in different areas of the body. According to the Mayo clinic, those with gluten sensitivity can experience bloating, muscle cramping, fatigue, and skin rashes among other things. A study published in Pediatrics found that about half of people suffering from celiac disease exhibit neurological symptoms as well, including ADHD; a condition most known for impulsive tendencies. Patients often present with vague symptoms which can unfortunately delay the diagnosis of this condition.

How is Gluten Responsible?

Warning; because I know how painful it can be, readers not interested in the proposed biochemistry of this phenomenon please do yourself a favor and skip to the informative “What You Can Do” section. For the brave, please continue.

Serotonin, a neurotransmitter found in the central and peripheral nervous system, is implicated in impulsive behavior disorders. Serotonin receptors are found in the gastrointestinal tract. When those with gluten sensitivities consume offensive foods, the gut becomes inflamed, affecting its physiology. Serotonin signaling can be disrupted, leading to heightened impulsive behavior. Nutrient deficiencies can also play a role. When the gut is not working properly, it cannot absorb nutrients the way it's supposed to. Many vitamins are needed for the body to build neurotransmitters for optimal mental health. Lacking any of these nutrients can hinder these processes.


What You Can Do

Your doctor can order the tests to confirm a diagnosis of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Under the guidance of a nutritionist, trying a gluten-free diet will help to discern whether or not you have these conditions, as it will reduce your symptoms when properly implemented. Supplementation along with a gluten-free diet can prove to be invaluable. Celiac patients tend to suffer from pancreatic insufficiencies and inflammation. Malterre, in a 2009 article, showed these conditions can benefit from multienzymes and anti-inflammatory supplementation such as curcumin. Another study reported that taking B-complex, iron, copper, Vitamin C, phospholipids and essential fatty acids helps to reduce impulsive behavior. Before starting any therapies, discuss your options with a licensed nutritionist.

Food for Thought: Pun Intended


1- Stedman’s Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing, Sixth Edition; 2008.

2- Celiac Disease-Gluten Sensitivity: What’s the Difference? Disease—Gluten Sensitivity: What's the Difference? By Ron Hoggan

3- “Pediatrics”; Range of Neurologic Disorders in Patients with Celiac Disease; Zelnik, N. et al.; June 2004.

4- “Journal of Smooth Muscle Research”; 5-Hydroxytryptamine4 receptor agonists and colonic motility; Kim, H.S.; February 2009.

5- “Neuropsychopharmacology”; Tryptophan depletion disrupts the motivational guidance of goal-directed behavior as a function of trait impulsivity; Cools, R. et al.; July 2005.

6- “Alternative Medicine Review: A Journal of Clinical Therapeutic”; Digestive and Nutritional Considerations in Celiac Disease: Could Supplementation Help?; Malterre, T.; September 2009.

7- “Alternative Medicine Review: A Journal of Clinical Therapeutic”; Outcome-Based Comparison of Ritalin Versus Food-Supplement Treated Children with AD/HD; Harding, K.L. et al.; August 2003

8- University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research.

9- Mayo Clinic.


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