Young girl smiles as she prepares to eat a plate of veggies in front of her.

Gluten has been a hot topic of discussion over the last decade or so, leaving many parents wondering whether or not gluten is good or bad for their children. So why the sudden spark of interest in a protein that has been around for ages? Well, as scientists begin to study the effects of gluten on individuals who do not have Celiac Disease, they have drawn conclusions about its effect on brain and gut health–specifically in children with ADHD. In fact, there are many parents who claim that a gluten-free lifestyle alleviated their child’s inattention and hyperactivity.

Does that mean you should start throwing out everything in your pantry that has gluten? Not quite, but we will leave that up to you to decide. Today we are discussing everything parents need to know about the relationship (if any) between gluten and ADHD.

ADHD In Children

Before we go any further, let’s do a quick overview of what ADHD is and some common symptoms that are present in diagnosed children. Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder or as most people refer to it, ADHD, is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in children. Most children diagnosed with ADHD are usually diagnosed at an early age when it becomes evident that their behavior is noticeably different from other children in their age group. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines ADHD as a disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. Although there are many signs of ADHD, some of the early or most common signs include:

  • Restlessness
  • Hyperactivity 
  • Impulsiveness
  • Inattentiveness 
  • Forgetfulness 
  • Easily distracted
  • Constant changing of tasks
  • Fidgeting
  • Excessive speaking or moving

Treatment for most children with ADHD usually includes stimulant medications, behavioral therapy, supplements, and more recently dietary intervention such as cutting gluten from your child’s diet.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in many things such as wheat, rye, and barley. It is often used in baked goods because it helps to shape dough by increasing elasticity, making breads softer and fluffier. It can also be used as an ingredient in many other prepared foods such as cereals, soups, dressings, sauces, and more. Although gluten on its own is not necessarily “bad,” newer forms of it have been found to contribute to a number of health issues or intolerances, with Celiac Disease being at the top of that list. Gluten can trigger an immune response that causes inflammation throughout your body. If you have leaky gut or other digestive issues (like irritable bowel syndrome), this inflammation could be affecting how your brain functions. Other signs of inflammation include:

  • Brain fog
  • Anxiety
  • Hyperactivity 
  • Mood disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue

It must be noted that many people with Celiac disease often report other symptoms such as inattentiveness and difficulty focusing, which could be because of inflammation. However, it is not uncommon for people who don’t have Celiac disease to experience the same types of non-celiac-gluten sensitivities.

ADHD and Gluten

Back to the original question, is there a link between gluten intolerance and ADHD? Well, the answer isn’t quite as simple as you might think. Yes, there have been studies that look at the link between gluten sensitivity and ADHD in children, but no, gluten does not cause ADHD and ADHD does not cause gluten intolerances. Still, many parents have adopted gluten-free lifestyles into their children’s lives and have noticed a significant improvement in symptoms. This is likely because they are addressing inflammation triggers that have an impact on brain health.

Other Forms of Dietary Intervention

Although there is still much to learn about the relationship between gluten and ADHD, it may be helpful to focus on your child’s nutrition–whether that means removing gluten or ensuring that they are getting enough of their essential nutrients. If you are not ready to try removing gluten from your family’s lifestyle, there are other dietary interventions that you can take. For example, you could increase the amount of healthy protein and omega 3 fatty acids that your child eats (but most parents know that it’s not always easy to get your child to eat their fruits and veggies).

If you are finding it difficult to ensure that your child is getting the essential nutrients that would typically come from food, nutritional supplements may be the best option. At Simple Spectrum, we have two great supplements that were formulated to address any dietary deficiencies by providing the nutrients they need for healthier neurological development and function.

  • Nutritional Support Supplement: This supplement was designed to support the nutritional needs of the developing nervous system in children by addressing potential dietary deficiencies.
  • Omega-3 DHA Supplement: This supplement was designed for cognitive support for the developing brain and nervous system. Clinical research suggests that DHA is critically important for numerous bodily functions, especially inflammation.

Although there is still a lot to learn about the possible connection between ADHD and gluten, there are still many benefits that may come from eliminating gluten from your child’s diet. If your child has ADHD and you are looking for alternative ways to alleviate their symptoms, you should always talk to your pediatrician beforehand.