Google+ Allergy-Free Vintage Cookery: Compulsive Behavior and Gluten Intolerance

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Compulsive Behavior and Gluten Intolerance


Zarouhi Soultanian, circa 1915
I know a young boy who is smart, charming, and has a sunny smile, but he seems to be falling deeper and deeper into the grip of compulsive behavior.  He makes up rules for himself that seem a bit superstitious, but I think he is quite serious about his need to follow them to prevent "bad things" from happening.  When he passes a mirror, he must smile into it.  When he goes to bed, he must repeat the same sequence of steps each night, and his head must be completely under the blankets before the lights go out.  When he is forced to eat something he finds suspicious, he whispers a special phrase to himself under his breath three times first.

At first, his quirks were cute, but as they have multiplied, his parents are becoming increasing concerned.  Interestingly, I was reading an article today about "brain allergies," or the behavioral symptoms produced by ingesting allergenic foods.  In it, the author mentions that compulsive behavior has been linked to gluten sensitivity.  Other behaviors also linked to gluten problems include depression, anxiety, withdrawal from social situations, mood swings and even clumsiness.

As I searched further for other articles to back up this claim, I found a number of sites that assert that most mental illness has allergies at its root.  The site Alternative Mental Health quoted a study (which was not footnoted) where 100% of subjects diagnosed with depression were also allergic to egg whites, and 80% of the schizophrenic subjects were allergic to milk and eggs.  Scary!

Other studies seem to show that these conditions can be reversed in most instances with the removal of the allergen from the diet.  Most food allergies sites insist that the additional step of healing the gut is also necessary for a full recovery (and to prevent relapses).

Those of us in the food allergy community are familiar with the success stories of mothers like Jenny McCarthy, who was able to lessen her son's autistic symptoms with a radical change in diet.  Has anyone had any experience with compulsive behavior symptoms?  To add to the frustration of parents dealing with these issues, it appears that a small amount of gluten in the diet can produce effects lasting up to four days after ingestion -- making it difficult to definitively tie behavior to diet.  I am particularly interested to hear about instances of gluten avoidance positively affecting compulsive behavior.

Let me know what you've seen, heard, or tried, and how it worked.  Could there really be a link here, or is this just another case of pseudo-scientists airing their theories before they're completely proven?

Sources:
http://www.centerimt.com/Research-Gluten.asp
http://www.alternativementalhealth.com/articles/brainallergies.htm
http://www.springboard4health.com/notebook/health_food_addiction.html

Shared with Family Time Tuesday at Celebrating Family and Homemaker Monday at 11th Heaven's Homemaking Haven and Teach Me Tuesday at Growing Home and Gluten Free Wednesday at the Gluten Free Homemaker and Creative Juice at Momnivore's Dilemma and Pennywise Platter at the Nourishing Gourmet and Fresh Bites Friday at Real Food Whole Health and Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade.

21 comments:

  1. Great Post.

    I started working with children and adults with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders) about 13 years ago. I worked in and out of the field during this time (switching from family/individual therapy to behavioral work). However, during this time I can say with confidence that many of my clients did much better on a allergy free diet. It worked for some, and not others, which indicates that those who experienced a decrease in symptoms must have had a food allergy at root. Many of my clients with PDD or Asperger's, when exposed to dairy and/or gluten, experienced an increase in OCD, anger, anxiety, impulse control, attention difficulty and a myriad of other behavior difficulties.

    During my work as a therapist, with "typically" functioning clients, many turned to holistic/alternative modes of healing their mental distress (whether it was depression, anxiety, insomnia, anger, compulsions, etc.), and with great success. Many credited an "allergy free" diet: cutting out gluten, sugar, dairy, nightshades, etc,. I never did any actual clinical research on this or individual case studies, but the most parsimonious answer is diet, as this is something all the clients had in common, ruling out a great number of extraneous variables.

    In sum, through the years I have witnessed individuals heal through diet (and without medication). Some of my clients with OCD absolutely needed medication due to comorbidity (have more than one disorder), but some clients greatly improved with a changed diet. OCD is a very complex disorder and can have many different causes (childhood trauma, learned behavior, anxiety disorder, etc.). However it would behoove the individual, in my opinion, to explore diet change and see if it decreases active symptoms. Like many medications, side effects can be pretty bad, so if possible, why not explore diet. Exhaust all possibilities, if it's within the clients mental and physical capabilities.

    I remember a few months ago coming across research linking schizophrenia and celiac disease, stating that many clients with celiac disease also had schizophrenia. Very interesting!

    Take Care,
    --Amber

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    1. Thanks so much Amber! I really appreciate you taking the time to write such a comprehensive response. This is such an interesting topic...

      Lisa

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  2. This is fascinating. I will be checking back often to follow the comments and discussion here.

    Slightly unrelated, I'm wondering if you know anything about how maintaining a balanced body pH affects allergies. I just saw a doctor yesterday that said many allergies are actually caused by a body pH being out of balanced as pH influences chemical reactions including the way antigens are processed in the body. I have a toddler who is testing consistently alkaline and after having a dairy allergy almost since birth, seasonal allergies, now seems to be reacting to peanuts. (He will soon be tested again by an allergist.) I'm curious if you have ever heard of allergies being "cured" by balancing pH or if this doctor is a bit out in left field.

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    1. I've read about trying to balance pH by eating acidic or basic foods, but honestly, the places that I was reading were not medical sites, but personal blogs. I didn't pursue that line of inquiry any further because I'm already a bit overwhelmed with our huge list of foods to avoid; I didn't want to hear that we needed to avoid more! I'm interested to hear if anyone else has any firsthand info on the pH issue...

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    2. Hello,

      I do have personal experience with pH issues. This month I plan on doing a post on how to check your own pH balance and foods (and steps to take) to help to alkalize your body!!

      (I will attach a link here in the comments when it's published) :-)

      Be Well,
      --Amber

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    3. Thanks Amber! Looking forward to reading your post.

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    4. Just a quick note and link to some info regarding pH balance.

      Hugs,
      --Amber

      http://www.thetastyalternative.com/2012/01/know-your-ph-balance.html

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    5. I want to run right out and get one of those pH testers ... but it's too late at night :( I'm dying to read the clues and find out more about what I need to do to feel good!

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  3. I absolutely believe there is a link. I have bipolar disorder, obsessive tendencies, and ADD. My kids had ADHD/ADD and dyslexia. We all have sensory processing issues. Our lives have been completely changed by going on the Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet. You can read our story (and find links to the book & more posts on how to do the GAPS diet) at http://theliberatedkitchenpdx.com/meet-the-liberators/our-story/

    I am currently doing a gluten challenge (which means that after a year of being totally gluten-free (and on GAPS), I started eating gluten every day so that I can get tested for celiac disease).

    Over the past 6 weeks I have turned into a mental mess in addition to my physical symptoms. Not only did my ADD come back full force, but I've had mood swings and have become very obsessive about being "accurate." I feel like people are making me lie if I haven't done things perfectly. I read everything as an attack. I'm back in my adolescent brain!!!
    You can read about my gluten challenge here: http://theliberatedkitchenpdx.com/physical-health/joys-gluten-challenge/

    There are reputable studies coming out showing links between celiac and ADHD and schitzophrenia among other things. This is just the tip of the ice berg, because there are many ways other than celiac to be sensitive to gluten.

    It's also not just about gluten. When the gut is out of whack, all sorts of partially digested food molecules escape the gut, setting into motion a range of immune and autoimmune attacks on not only the gut but the nervous system, joints, and other tissues as well. In addition to that, some partially digested foods create opioids which cross the blood brain barrier and cause more disturbances.

    Science is only beginning to get the full picture. In the meantime, we fumble along, trying our best to find the diets that will work for us on the little solid information we have, other people's experiences, and the results of our own experiments.

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    1. I'm so glad Joy mentioned the GAPs diet in regard to this post. How terrible to have to go back to something that you know is making you sick to get tested! But the celiac and ADHD/Schitzophrenia connection sounds like it could extend to other compulsive behaviors too. Sad, but fascinating. What are your thoughts on the GAPs diet?

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    2. Wow, Joy. Kudos to you for sticking with the gluten even though it's wreaking havoc with your life. I can't wait to hop over and read your story. I'm actually glad to know that I'm on the right track with this gluten-behavior link... the young fellow I mentioned in my post had some gluten for lunch the other day at a restaurant, and within an hour, couldn't answer simple questions ... kept losing his train of thought and completely zoning out. Thanks so much for sharing your experience; you're helping a lot of people.

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    3. @Danielle -- I've been revisiting the GAPS diet in the last couple of weeks because I suspect that grains are a problem for me. It's so hard to tell, as you probably know, and as I've mentioned here (ad nauseum) I'm really reluctant to add any more restrictions to our diet (I'm barely keeping my head above water as it is). BUT. I started a mini-experiment last week where I gave myself just one rule: no sugar, and immediately I saw a difference in my blood sugar swings, my mood swings, and my energy level. So... I'm slowly crawling toward incorporating some of the GAPS tenets into the family diet, but I'm being a little wimpy about it. Deep down, I think it's probably what we need.

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  4. Its great to see a post like this. I myself become obsessive-compulsive when I ingest dairy products. My behaviour is related to a specific number and having to re-create a feeling, experience, etc a specific number of times. Even the smallest amount of dairy causes hyperness and compulsive behaviour in me. (often it has seemed that the smaller the amount ingested, the more intense the behaviour, whereas larger amounts react in a more traditional allergic fashion).

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    1. Thanks for sharing Aurea... isn't it too ironic that your dairy-behavior reaction is the opposite of what you'd expect? Because a regular dairy-behavior reaction would be too easy, right? ;) It's great that you made the connection.

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  5. I've spent the past 2 years of my life learning all I can about the gut-brain connection. I really think MOST mental illness is related to leaky gut {food intolerances and sensitivities}.

    The GAPS diet by Dr. Nathasha Campbell McBride really delves into the science of this.

    I'm featuring you tonight at Creative Juice. Hopefully this post will open up some eyes.

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  7. Hi Leah - Best of luck to your sister. Hope the link you described can help her fight a difficult battle.

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  8. I teach students with learning disabilities and some of them have other emotional issues. I came across a website of a home schooling grandmother who to help herself became a Iridologist and holistic practitioner. I believe she wrote some information about how to help OCD with nutrition and added supplements. I have personal experience with her as well and she is very knowledgable, kind and caring. I just looked up a link to an article she wrote and you can contact her.
    Hope its helpful , please let me know.
    Her article: http://www.marysherbs.com/heal/heal-ocd.htm

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  9. I just came upon this thread. We removed gluten from our diets a few months ago. My daughter has a number of neuropsychiatric symptoms that we're working to control. On a couple of recent occasions when she inadvertently ate some wheat, she began pulling her hair compulsively, something she's never done before. The behavior would then vanish in a day or two. Seeing this happen makes me realize how powerful the effects can be. And wonder how many other kids would be better served, as it were, with things like gluten-free school lunches...

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  10. Good job with the post... Thank you for sharing the same.
    gluten free menu

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