Gluten and the Gut/Brain Connection

pizza designIntake of gluten can directly affect the brain and the behavior of your child on the autism spectrum.

Due to bio-engineering of crops and the increased need for gluten as a binder in the ever growing demand for processed food, gluten is no longer the same product it used to be. Our bodies do not even know what to make of it anymore. The substance is seen as a foreign invader which triggers the immune system to react by sending out antibodies to fight the invader. The end result is a cascade of inflammation and the release of dangerous chemicals called cytokines. Cytokines destroy brain cells and leave the brain far more vulnerable to future attack by other foods, inflammation, and any environmental toxin. Children on the autism spectrum are exceptionally vulnerable to the dangers of gluten.

Untitled designGluten (wheat protein) and casein (dairy protein) release natural opiate-like substances into the bloodstream, which, if they get through the blood-brain barrier, can mimic the effects of morphine in the brain. The opiates in casein and gluten are called exorphins, specifically, gluteomorphins and caseomorphins.  Their presence causes the same type of reaction in our children as the drug morphine might. That “spacey” look comes from the drug, along with the inability to focus. It is also one of the reasons why people who eat gluten will crave it, in a similar way that a drug addict craves the drug during withdrawal. Gluten, sadly, is capable of crossing the protective blood brain barrier rendering the brain helpless to its effects. Behavioral issues such as hyperactivity and mood disorders are common in people with gluten sensitivity.

Leaky Gut

When gluten enters the digestive tract, the immune system reacts by sending out attack cells to fight what it recognizes as a foreign substance. The result from this interaction is a damaged gut lining, also known as “leaky gut”. This damage in the lining of the intestines allows foods passing through to be released, undigested, into the blood stream. There, they create an allergic reaction causing more inflammation in many organs, including the brain. This is also the basis for autoimmune disease. Gluten, by reducing the immune system’s ability to fight, creates reduced levels of glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant, as well as vitamins C, E, and other antioxidants.

Damage to the DNA

The body kicks in a high number of antibodies to fight what it sees as foreign proteins (gluten). This is when those nasty genes are turned on. When the protein, gluten, combines with these antibodies, it triggers genes (DNA) and turns them into bad genes. This changing of genes by environmental factors or trauma is called epigenetics. Now new mutated genes are in the system wreaking havoc and are in the genetic make-up to be passed onto future offspring.

This is commonly seen in people with autism. These issues of neurological imbalance can occur without any sign of digestive disturbance. In fact, it is estimated that 99 percent of people adversely affected by gluten sensitivity are not even aware of it. As much as 30 percent of the Western population may have gluten sensitivity. Many have no signs of digestive disturbance at all, but the nervous system is still being attacked.

Some symptoms of gluten sensitivity

  • Epilepsy
  • Headache
  • Stomach ache
  • Skin rashes
  • Eczema
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Balance
  • Muscle and motor control issues
  • Vertigo
  • Neurological problems such as cognitive decline
  • Lack of focus
  • Early dementia
  • Autism
  • ADHD
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Damage to DNA

Gluten-containing grains and starches

  • Wheat
  • Wheat germ
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Spelt
  • Kamut
  • Bulgur
  • Couscous
  • Farina
  • Semolina

Gluten-free grains

  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Tapioca
  • Potato
  • Teff
  • Millet
  • Corn
  • Amaranth
  • Arrowroot
  • Buckwheat

Note: Although these grains are gluten-free, they will still cause a spike in insulin or blood sugar levels that can lead to inflammation. Further, they also turn to sugar in the body, feeding candida/yeast organisms. It is best to minimize grains altogether. See more in my blog post on Blood Sugar and the Brain.

Read Your Labels

Gluten is in cereals, cold cut meats, energy bars, cakes, cookies, crackers, pasta, and many other refined carbohydrate foods. The spike in insulin or blood glucose levels from eating these foods is yet another trigger for neurological damage, especially if they contain wheat. Wheat bread affects blood sugar levels the same way that table sugar does.

Gluten is a “glue” holding together many processed foods. It is also hidden in many other unsuspecting items. Play-Doh, shampoo, soap, lotions, cosmetics, vitamins, medications, condiments, soy sauce, seasonings, gravies, beans, and beer are among the common culprits. Also beware of ingredients that are “hydrolyzed” or contain maltodextrin.

Products to Help Digest Gluten

Besides staying away from products and foods that contain gluten there is an enzyme that can help. The enzyme called DPP-IV helps with the breakdown of the proteins gluten and casein. It is in some enzyme products, but not all. Read your labels to find it. I like the product Trienza by Houston Enzymes. You can find it here.

HLC Mindlinx is a probiotic supplement that was developed specifically for those with gluten and casein intolerance. “HLC Mindlinx contains specific strains of lactobacillus crispatus and lactobacillus rhamnosus which have been proven in scientific trials to degrade wheat and dairy exorphins, and to attach to and colonize intestinal epithelial cells.” Mindlinx is made by a company called Pharmax that has an impeccable reputation.

Testing for gluten sensitivity

If you would like to test for gluten sensitivity the easiest thing to do is not ingest any gluten for a couple of months and notice what changes take place physically and emotionally.

There are also a couple of simple tests. One is from Diagnos-Techs. It is a saliva test for adrenal fatigue, but it also gives you the level of your body’s reaction to gluten. Most natural practitioners carry these tests in their offices for you to take home and do from there. The saliva is collected at four different time increments during the day. You mail it into the lab yourself and wait for the results to come to your practitioner.

The other test is from a stool sample. Stool testing is more accurate than blood because gluten will bind to tissue. The gluten will bind to the wall of the large intestine and offer good results. The company enterolab,, has tests for many allergens of your choice. These home tests can be ordered online and the results come to you via email.

Natural Allergy Desensitization is a simple way to test for and remove the allergic reaction your body may be having to gluten. See my Natural Allergy Elimination Guide for more information.

Join our Free Autism Recovery WorkshopThe 4 Stages to Naturally Recover from the Symptoms of Autism. Stage 1: Healing the gut, Stage 2: Natural heavy metal detoxification, Stage 3: Clearing the Co-infections, Stage 4: Brain support and repair.  Reserve your online seat here.

Naturally Recovering Autism bookComing soon: Gluten free resources and recipes.

My book, Naturally Recovering Autism: The Complete Step-By-Step Resource Handbook for Parents, goes into much further detail on gluten, the gut, and a lot more. It is available at

Help your child get the optimum results in Karen’s step-by-step online program, The Autism Moms Mentor, working to improve the biological health aspects for better focus and concentration, improved sleep, calmer moods, and a lot more. Already in over 35 countries, this program offers you the natural resources I used to recover my own son. It is unique in that it walks you through not only gut healing and detoxification, but also the co-infections often left out of a recovery program. It also includes additional components such as muscle testing and emotional clearing to empower you to get the best possible outcome with support from a mom who has done it!

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In health,


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