Gluten intolerance can cause behavioral problems in toddlers.

Gluten & Toddler Behavior

by Michelle Fisk

Gluten found in many everyday foods can cause not only physical problems in sensitive toddlers, but behavioral ones as well. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and grains. Some people have difficulty breaking it down during digestion. Gluten intolerance in your toddler may cause health problems, which can lead to behavioral problems. A gluten-free diet may curb some of these behavioral problems giving you a much more pleasant toddler.

1. Leaky Gut Syndrome

Some toddlers are unable to break down the proteins in gluten during digestion. When this occurs, proteins escape the digestive tract, enter the bloodstream and travel to the brain. This is known as leaky gut syndrome and is linked to inflammation, allergies and autism. Leaky gut syndrome does not cause these conditions, but it may contribute to the behavioral problems associated with them, such as hyperactivity, irritability, aggression and temper tantrums.

2. Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder usually passed down through genetics. With Celiac disease your body destroys your small intestine when you eat gluten, which eventually leaves you unable to absorb the vitamins and minerals you eat. Symptoms include decreased appetite, stomachache, bloating, poor growth and weight loss. Most children are diagnosed with Celiac disease between 6 months and 2 years of age when they are being exposed to gluten-containing products for the first time. Children are easily irritable and cranky because of the health symptoms associated with this condition. Toddlers may also have more temper tantrums because they are unable to explain their discomfort.

3. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, a board-certified family physician in Illinois, gluten sensitivity is strongly related to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The chronic inflammation in your stomach caused by gluten sensitivity influences your child’s brain activity. Many behavioral problems in children are linked to intestinal problems because the gut and the brain are made out of the same tissue. This theory is known as gut and psychology syndrome. Toddlers with ADHD symptoms have high energy levels, difficulty sitting still, impulsive behavior, anger easily and have temper tantrums a lot. They may also walk later and have poor balance. Eliminating gluten from a toddler’s diet may resolve their ADHD symptoms.

4. Gluten-Free Diet

If your toddler has behavioral problems, especially if he has poor growth and stomach issues, speak with your doctor or a dietician about following a gluten-free diet. Omit foods containing wheat, rye or barley. Opt for the numerous gluten-free products now available or give your toddler potatoes, rice, quinoa or bean flour instead. Beware of some prescription medications and other items, such as play dough, which contain wheat. For some, a gluten-free diet may diminish temper tantrums, aggression and irritability but it may not necessarily be a cure for all your toddler’s problems.

About the Author

Michelle Fisk began writing professionally in 2011. She has been published in the "Physician and Sports Medicine Journal." Her expertise lies in the fields of exercise physiology and nutrition. Fisk holds a Master of Science in kinesiology from Marywood University.

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