Many children with ADHD often suffer from an associated milk allergy, too. That’s why I often tell the parents of my ADHD patients: “Sometimes the right, healthy food—like a bowl of fiber-rich wholegrain cereal, or a slice of protein-rich cheese—might be the wrong food for your child.”
I don’t say that because I want parents to put ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) children on restrictive diets. I definitely do not! You and your child have enough to deal with, without having to feel frustrated and furious about food. Eating should be a daily pleasure, not a daily battle.
I say it because a significant percentage of children with ADHD (particularly children 12 and younger) do, in fact, have a food sensitivity to proteins found in dairy and wheat, an assertion supported by scientific evidence and by my decades of clinical experience treating thousands of ADHD children.
This food sensitivity can directly impact a child’s delicate brain, causing or contributing to the symptoms of ADHD.
And these children—perhaps your ADHD child among them—often benefit greatly from a diet that minimizes or eliminates these sometimes troublesome foods.
These two foods (along with many others) can also cause a food allergy—when the immune system reacts to an ordinarily harmless food or ingredient as if it’s a foreign invader to isolate and destroy. Food allergies can trigger many symptoms: dark circles under the eyes, a runny nose, colic, ear infections, eczema, belly pain, bad breath and insomnia, to name a few.
But like a food sensitivity, a food allergy can also affect the brain, likewise causing or contributing to the behavioral, emotional and mental symptoms of ADHD. And, just as in food sensitivity, eliminating the offending food allergen can make a big difference.
Does Milk, Dairy, and Gluten Cause ADHD Symptoms?
Let’s start by looking at food sensitivity to dairy or gluten—one of the most unacknowledged and overlooked causes of the symptoms of ADHD.
Dairy foods like milk and cheese contain a protein called casein. Grains like wheat, oats, rye and barley contain a protein called gluten. In the body, casein becomes casomorphin and gluten becomes gliadorphin.
When people are allergic to dairy or gluten, it’s these proteins their body has a bad reaction to.
As their names indicate, both casomorphin and gliadorphin are actually morphine-like compounds. And just like morphine, they attach to opiate receptors in the brain—literally drugging your ADHD child!
Too-high levels of these compounds can cause:
- Problems with speech and hearing
- Spaciness and “brain fog”
- Near-constant fatigue
- Irritability and aggression
- Anxiety and depression
- Sleep problems
Too-high levels of casomorphin and/or gliadorphin are particularly common in children (and adults) who have inactive “dipeptidyl peptidase IV” (DPP-IV), an enzyme that breaks down both casein and gluten. Plus, a zinc deficiency can cause problems with DPP-IV.
In other words, food sensitivity and the symptoms that it causes are not your child’s fault—this problem is just one more piece of evidence proving that ADHD is a medical disorder, not a discipline problem.
So, how many ADHD children are inadvertently “overdosing” on casomorphin or gliadorphin? It’s not all that common. But when I detect and correct the problem, it usually makes a huge difference—since ADHD children with high levels of casomorphin or gliadorphin often have severe, uncontrolled symptoms.
How to Tell if My ADHD Child Has a Dairy Allergy?
The most reliable method of detection is a simple, doctor-ordered urine test—the “Gluten/Casein Peptide Test,” available from Great Plains Laboratory.
More often than not, what’s detected is a high level of casomorphin. In ADHD children who have elevated levels of one of these compounds, 90% are high in casomorphin. A test is the most accurate, reliable method of detection.
But there are also a few telltale signs of a child with this type of food sensitivity:
- If your ADHD child has a craving for cheese or any kind of dairy food, practically pushing you out of the way to get to the food;
- and if your ADHD child becomes irritable when he doesn’t eat cheese or dairy foods, and behaves better after he does
Then he very well may have too-high levels of casomorphin!
Fortunately, there are two straightforward ways to solve the problem of food sensitivity: a diet and a supplement.
Finding the Right Diet
If you suspect dairy (or gluten) might be contributing to or causing your child’s behavioral problems, or a urine test has confirmed high levels of casomorphin (or gliadorphin), do your best to eliminate or minimize dairy and dairy-containing foods (or gluten-containing foods) in your ADHD child’s diet.
If she improves, she’s on the right track, and should continue the diet. Be sure to also check for non-obvious food sources of casein where it’s used as a filler in processed foods and supplements.
But please don’t drive yourself and your child crazy trying to completely prohibit these proteins. Above all, just eliminate casein or gluten as much as possible, without worrying too much if your ADHD child’s diet is “perfect.”
As I’m sure you know—it never will be!
Finding the Right Supplement
If tests have confirmed your ADHD child has the telltale signs of sensitivity to casein or gluten, you might want to consider supplementing your child’s diet with DPP-IV, the enzyme that breaks down casein and gluten.
Please note, I am not talking about taking an enzyme to deal with lactose, the sometimes-indigestible milk sugar that can cause lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance and the inability to digest casein are two completely different problems!
Your ADHD child should take at least two capsules at every meal and snack that contains casein (or gluten). In some cases, a higher dose is needed to control symptoms. After three to six months, he may be able to cut the dose in half. But if the dose is cut and post-meal behavioral problems flare, ask him to go back to the two-per-meal dose.
For more information on gluten and casein allergies affecting ADHD, please see my award-winning book, Finally Focused, where I explore a wide variety of natural and medicinal treatments to help your ADHD child recover and live a normal life. Don’t let a simple milk allergy impact your ADHD child’s health!
Yours in health,
James M. Greenblatt, MD
Founder, Medical Director, Psychiatry Redefined
Want to read more? The connection between gut health and ADHD is an incredibly interesting (and useful) area of research, read more here.
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