According to the National Foundation of Celiac Awareness, about 1 in every 141 Americans has celiac disease (CD), an autoimmune digestive disease where gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley) damages the villi of the small intestine, interfering with the essential absorption of nutrients from the foods we eat.

Celiac disease is diagnosed most accurately in children ages six- to 10-years-old. Symptoms range from gastrointestinal ailments (gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation) to fatigue, anemia, weight loss and depression. As there are no pharmaceutical cures for CD, the only treatment is to consume zero gluten. This means no more regular pizza, pancakes, cookies, or mac and cheese, which happen to be staple foods for many children. However, there are plenty of options to provide healthy diet and favorite foods while on a gluten-free diet.

Not only will switching your child to a gluten-free diet improve CD symptoms, but also recent scientific studies show improvements with co-illnesses, such as Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

According to a study of 132 participants ranging in age from 3-57 years published in Psychiatric Quarterly, ADHD has a strong correlation with CD. It was reported that after a 6-month gluten-free diet, participants had improved ADHD symptoms (fidgeting, difficulty paying attention, and following instructions, easily distracted) and 74 percent wished to continue on with a gluten-free lifestyle.


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In another study published in 2011, 15 percent of the 67 people who were previously diagnosed with ADHD tested positive for CD. All participants, ranging in age from seven- to 42-years-old, were placed on a gluten-free diet. Researchers noted that within six months after starting the gluten-free diet, participants or their parents reported a significant improvement in behavior, energy levels, and concentration as well as a decrease in gas, bloatng, and diarrhea.

If you suspect your child or yourself may be experiencing the symptoms of celiac disease or ADHD, talk with your physician about the next step. Most grocery stores now routinely stock a variety of gluten-free foods, including gluten-free crackers, cookies, breads, and cereals. (Look for Blue Diamond, Udi's, Canyon Bakehouse or Nature's Path gluten-free brands). Instead of pasta or noodles made with wheat that contains gluten, serve naturally gluten-free quinoa, rice or potaoes.

The gluten-free diet focuses primarily on lean proteins, vegetables, fruits and dairy products and naturally gluten-free grains, seeds and flours. This all may seem like a big change for your little one, but as one mom summed it up, "Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass it's about learning how to dance in the rain." You and your child surely have the creativity and determination to find your healthy dance.

Victoria Nihan is a junior Dietetics, Nutrition and Food Science major at the University of Vermont. She is also an intern with Lynn Grieger, RD, CDE, cPT, a health, food and fitness coach in southwestern Vermont and online at www.Lynn Grieger .com.