Celiac Disease, Gluten Sensitivity and Autism: How Are They Related?

celiac disease

The Food and Drug Administration announced this week that food manufacturers are now required to meet new labeling standards regarding the amount of gluten that can be found in a product. According to the FDA, this should cease the confusion about items that are incorrectly labeled “Gluten Free” when, in fact, they contain large amounts of gluten. The new guideline states that any product containing a gluten-free label must include fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten. This report is a huge step in the right direction for those suffering from celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or autism, which although not often mentioned together, are related issues.

People diagnosed with celiac disease cannot consume any gluten, which is found in barley, wheat and other grains. Their bodies treat gluten like it is a toxin, and in turn, it can cause severe side effects including abdominal pain, fatigue, bloating, diarrhea, weight loss and other medical problems. If celiac disease is not detected early, this autoimmune disorder can end up destroying the lining of the small intestine.

In comparison to celiac disease, gluten sensitivity cannot be pinpointed with a blood test. Those with gluten sensitivity do not experience damage to the small intestine or develop the tissue transglutaminase autoantibodies that are found in celiac disease. People who suffer from gluten sensitivity can only determine this with diagnostic tests and a screening. A finding of gluten sensitivity is confirmed after the person tested has not been diagnosed with celiac disease, but the symptoms disappear after beginning a gluten-free diet. Individuals with gluten sensitivity can experience depression, “foggy mind,” ADHD-like behavior, bloating, abdominal pain, headaches, bone or joint pain and chronic fatigue if they are ingesting food containing gluten on a regular basis.

For years, many people have claimed that there was a link between autism and celiac disease. Nevertheless, this claim has been proven false. On the other hand, a study did confirm that there is a strong connection between autism and the presence of antibodies to gluten. The antibodies point to an immune system reaction to the protein, indicating gluten sensitivity in individuals with autism. The report appeared in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, and was provided by researchers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute.

It seems that celiac disease, gluten sensitivity and autism are all related in that they share the same foe.  Each of the above diseases, behavioral disorders or conditions react negatively to gluten.

For people who have yet to be diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity but are experiencing many of the above-listed symptoms, doctors recommend first getting tested to see if an autoimmune disorder exists. If the results are negative, initiate a diet completely free of gluten and document any improvements. Once the symptoms clear up, reestablish gluten back into the diet and take note whether the negative side effects return. For individuals with autism, it is important to maintain a gluten-free diet in order to reduce gastrointestinal distress as well as behavioral reactions to the protein.

The good news is that people with one of these related disorders, whether it be celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or autism, can now rest easier knowing that food labeled “gluten free” truly is free of the protein, thanks to the FDA. By avoiding gluten altogether, these individuals can enjoy a more fulfilling, healthier life in the long run.

By Amy Nelson

Celiac Disease Foundation
Idea Stations
News Channel Daily
Autism Speaks

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