Celiacs Behaving Badly?

Although it is a gut disease, the effects of Celiac are systemic. That is, the effecta are felt on mulitple organs besides the digestive tract. A recent article in Pediatrics in March of this year, explores the effect of having CD on behavior in children.  The study looked at a very large group of 4.5 year olds(8,676) who had initially been screened at age 3.5years of age.  When the children were first screened at 3.5 years old, some were not yet diagnosed with Celiac.  The authors found that in 3.5 year olds diagnosed with Celiac mothers reported more anxiety, depression, aggressive behavior as well as sleep disturbances than children without CD.  They used a recognized behavior screening tool, The Achenbach Child Behavior Checklist, to report behaviors. The mothers of the children without the diagnosis of Celiac, reported hight levels of these psychological behaviors than did mothers of children already diagnosed with CD.. By age 4.5 years things had evened out neither group of children showed high levels of psychological symptoms.  This is a tantiizing result. The mothers who did not know their child had CD would not have been biased in reporting symptoms as they did not know the child had CD. But by age 4.5 neither group reported excess symptoms. So, the gluten-free diet did not make a difference. The authors concluded that younger children are more likely to act out in response to distress than are older children who may be able to verbalize their discomfort and that would not be accounted for in the Auchenbach screen.

The mechanism by which CD causes psychological symtoms is not known. There are two theories about the interaction between the gut and the brain in CD. One theory suggests that undigested gluten fragments, which are similar to endorphins (the body's "feel good chemicals") cross into the brain and attach to sites where the "feel good chemicals" should go. The attachments are occupied by imposters. The other theory is that these fragments cause inflammation in the brain which ultimately leads to behavior changes. Studies like this are important in shedding light on how the gut influences the brain. To paraphrase: what happens in the gut does not stay in the gut.