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ADD/ADHD Week - Naughty or Sick?

Wednesday 20th August 2008

Dr Rodney Ford, Consultant Paediatrician


ADD/ADHD Week - Naughty or Sick?

“Naughty! Your child’s just being naughty!”  This is a common diagnostic response by doctors when they get told about difficult behaviour in children.  But is this true?  In Dr Rodney Ford’s opinion, many of these children are actually sick.

He says “In a recent research project, I investigated the symptoms of 1000 children who had tested positive for adverse reactions to gluten.  Of these 1000 children, in nearly half (49%) the parents reported behavioral issues including ADD/ADHD type symptoms (such as impulsive, irritable, poor concentration and emotional outbursts). 

International medical research shows that ADHD-like symptoms are markedly increased among untreated Coeliac Disease patients.  Importantly, a gluten-free diet often improves these symptoms significantly within a short period of time.  Dr Ford’s research shows that behavioral issues associated with gluten go far beyond Coeliac Disease and are frequently found in children who are gluten sensitive.   Recent research suggests that gluten acts as a neurotoxin in susceptible individuals, causing inflammation and damage.  This mechanism of inflammation is probably how gluten plays a role in behavioral and developmental disorders. 

Doctor Ford goes on to say “As a practicing paediatrician I am frequently asked to see children with behavioral problems.  I have discovered that this is one of the most clinically common presentations in children with gluten sensitivity.  Of the children I see with pre-existing ADD/ADHD diagnoses many show significant, if not total improvement on a gluten free diet, they can often stop their medication.  Reintroducing gluten into these children’s diets usually results in the reemergence of behavioral symptoms.”

A recent example of this was a five year old boy who has recently started school.  He presented with major behavior and disruption and was diagnosed with gluten intolerance six months ago.  On a gluten free diet his behaviour has dramatically improved and he is now exhibiting less defiance and higher levels of concentration and attention.  However, inadvertent gluten accidents result in a regression into previous behaviour patterns.  This week I received a letter from his mother:

“We have had some behavioral issues with our boy recently at school after eating gluten.  He has made a really good start at school, but there have been a couple of occasions where he has become very distressed and refused outright to do what teachers have told him.  He has taken hours to calm down afterwards.  I believe that these episodes have occurred after inadvertently eating gluten.  I have tried to explain to the teaching staff that the behaviour stems from him eating gluten.  I do not want him to be labeled a naughty child.  I want them to understand that there are medical reasons behind his outbursts and that we are doing our best to remedy them.”

Dr Ford says “Of course not all behavioral disorders can be attributed to food sensitivity.  However, I believe that as physicians, we should think carefully before labeling a child as naughty.  In my experience, once the child’s illness has been discovered and treated, they are no longer “naughty” and their behavioral problems improve significantly.  If they feel well, then they will behave well.  If in doubt get some blood tests.”  You can visit Dr Ford’s website for more advice about this.



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