Gluten – The Hidden Toxin

Gluten – Irritates The Gut, Drugs The Brain

Diagnosis of Coeliac Disease NOT REQUIRED


Gluten (the protein found in the grains wheat, barley, oats and rye) has wreaked havoc upon many a digestive system.

Its effects can range from a subtle sensitivity to a permanent intolerance.

Gluten has the potential to alter the surface of the gastrointestinal tract so that nutrients from food can not be absorbed.

This can result in severe malnourishment and distressing digestive complaints.

This is also known as Coeliac Disease.

A diagnosis of Coeliac Disease occurs when there is evidence of Anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies (tTG-IgA) in a blood test as well as changes to the lining of the small bowel as identified from a bi


Anti-gliadin antibodies however are not routinely screened and this can indicate a gluten sensitivity.

Much of the press surrounding Gluten focuses on its effects on the digestive system.

There is evidence however that links a gluten sensitivity to neurological and psychiatric conditions.

Put plainly, Gluten can affect the onset of ADD, ADHD, Autism or even Schizophrenia.

The Gut – Brain Connection

While we are sloshing around in the womb, numerous processes are at work.

Our gut and brain are formed from the same type of tissue – one type becomes the central nervous system (the brain) while the other develops into the enteric nervous system (the brain of the gut).

These two systems are connected via the vagus nerve and can explain the phenomena of butterflies in the stomach when you are nervous.

The Enteric Nervous system (ENS) does not complete its development until 2 years of age. Factors such as early antibiotic treatment can disrupt the intestinal microflora.

This will directly affect the ENS signalling which in turn impacts upon neuronal signalling and the development within the child’s brain.

So, what goes on in the gut will directly impact upon the health of the brain.

The Link between Gluten and ADHD

Dr Peter Green is a Director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University. At a talk on November 11, 2012 at the U.C. San Francisco Medical Centre, Dr Green stated: ”There is a whole spectrum of gluten sensitivity.

For example, 80% of children with ADHD have high anti-gliadin antibodies. They do not however have celiac disease.”

80% of children with a gluten sensitivity. Definite food for thought.

When Food becomes a Drug

So how can gluten exert its influence on brain health?

Large protein molecules (Gliadin from Gluten and Casein from milk) are broken down into smaller peptides by the combined action of enzymes and hydrochloric acid in the stomach and small intestine.

To be absorbed effectively, these peptides are ideally no longer than four amino acids in length.

When gut function is not adequate (for example a leaky gut or poor enzyme capacity), it is common for peptides of seven amino acids or more in length to enter the bloodstream.

These partially broken down protein fragments can actually cross the blood brain barrier and interact with neurotransmitter receptors. They are structurally very similar to endorphins.

In fact, their target is frequently opioid receptors as shown in the diagram below.

Insulin Resistance

So these itinerant peptides end up acting like endorphins would on the body. The activation of the opioid receptors controls pain, reward and addictive behaviours.

An opiate dependency can result in depression and social withdrawal.

Worringly, this has the potential to induce psychosis in susceptible individuals.

Who would have thought that the effects of gluten could be so alarming?


Spinal Centre’s Comment

Despite the gloomy implications of the impact of gluten, all is not lost.

Starting your child on a gluten-free diet can be the first step towards improving the gut-brain connection.

Instead of relying on drug therapy to alter the brain chemistry, you can effectively take the drug out of the brain.

But remember cutting out the gluten does not mean eating ‘gluten free foods’ – you really do need

‘Gluten free foods’ may not have quite the immunological and brain altering effect of those that contain gluten, but they do cause the massive increase in blood sugar levels.

Probably something you want to avoid.

Below is a list of foods containing gluten and casein (milk protein) that are suggested to avoid, plus a list of recommended options.

Grains and Legumes

  • Consider using amaranth, basmati rice, beans, brown rice, buckwheat, chickpeas, lentils, millet, peas, quinoa, wild rice
  • Avoid backed beans unless gluten free, most flours including wheat flour, wholemeal flour, bakers flour, particularly battered or crumbed food.
  • Avoid all wheat including durum, semolina, triticale, rye, barley, bulgur, couscous and oats


  • Pasta is a real issue and you have to watch what you are having in balance with other refined carbohydrates. If you have to eat pasta, do it in the middle of the day not at night.
  • Consider using buckwheat noodles, rice noodles and vegetable, spinach or quinoa pasta.
  • Avoid durum wheat pasta (spaghetti, macaroni etc) egg noodles, hookein noodles, barley past, spelt pasta.

Breads and Cereals

  • Once again use foods in this group very sparingly – if at all.
  • If you are going to use bread, make it gluten free using buckwheat, spelt or chickpea flour.
  • Use gluten free muesli made from brown rice flakes, millet flakes, raw nuts, seeds and shredded coconut
  • Avoid breakfast cereals, breakfast bars and all wheat based breads.


  • If you are cutting out your wheat you will find that crackers are essentially pretty useless bits of cardboard anyway. If recommend keeping way form them as a general rule.
  • If your have to eat crackers consider rice cakes or corn cakes.
  • Avoid wheat crackers, bran biscuits, ryvita or oatcakes.


  • Consider bouillon stock, sesame salt, tamari. mustard seeds, fresh dried herbs and spices, apple cider vinegar.
  • Avoid gravy mixes, seasoning rubs, hydrolysed vegetable protein, malt, modified starch, mustard pickles, soy sauce.


So besides changing your diet and avoiding gluten like the plague, what else can you do?

Heal your child’s gut and decrease inflammation.

Did you know that a child’s intestinal barrier is not fully developed until after 2 years of age?

Little ones are therefore much more susceptible in their infancy to ‘leaky gut’. Even after two years of age they are more at risk due to either antibiotic use, NSAID use, inflammation and/or dybiosis
(imbalanced gut flora).

If a child has dysbiosis, they are at greater risk of not only leaky gut, immune and inflammatory disorders but also toxin accumulation and central nervous system neurotoxicity.

To treat or protect your child from dysbiosis, give them a quality probiotic (good bacteria to balance out the bad).

These products will assist in breaking down foods better, so your children get the most out of what they’re eating.