Celiac Disease-Autism Link

The latest statistics say that 1 in 91 children have a diagnosis of autism. At the same time, it is now estimated that 1 in 100 individuals has celiac disease. Both of these conditions have paralleled each other in their increasing diagnosis over the years and recently, parents have been making the link, putting their children on gluten/casein free diets. However, what is behind the association between gluten and autism? Is there a link? Several studies say there is.

An association has been observed between children who have gastrointestinal symptoms and a family history of autoimmune disease as well as language regression (Valicenti-McDermott, McVicar, Cohen, Weshil, Shinnar, 2008). The study included 100 children with autism spectrum disorder. According to their parents, those with language regression more frequently suffered from abnormal stool patterns (40% versus 12%) and 24% of the children with language regression had an increased family history of celiac disease or IBD while none of the children without language regression did.

A smaller study of only 21 patients with autism found that 9 of the participants had an increased intestinal permeability compared to the control group (D’Eufemia, Celli, Finocchiaro, Pacifico, Viozzi, Zaccagnini, 1996). The study does not mention celiac disease, but it is important to note that it is a well known cause of increased intestinal permeability.

We are fairly certain that yes, a link between celiac disease and autism is there. But has it been shown that a gluten free diet might help ease the symptoms of autism? A 5-year-old boy diagnosed with severe autism and suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms was placed on a gluten free diet and given nutritional supplements in a clinical study (Genuis, Bouchard, 2010). Not only did his GI symptoms quickly resolve themselves, but his symptoms of autism also progressively subsided.

So does celiac disease have the potential to cause autism? And how does it do this? As the study of the young boy suggests, malabsorption as a result of celiac disease can lead to nervous system dysfunction thereby causing developmental delays. Another study mentions that the malabsorption of tryptophan in particular can lead to decreased central nervous system synthesis of serotonin (Margutti, Delunardo, Ortona, 2006).  They continue to discuss that autistic individuals have increased anti-brain autoantibody production. This includes autoantibodies to the serotonin receptor specifically. Children with autistic disorders have also been found to have high rates of IgG for brain-endothelial cells. While not mentioning celiac disease directly, they concluded that autoantibodies may be a causative factor for the development of autistic disorder syndrome.

Still a third study looks for celiac disease not in the autistic children themselves, but in their mothers (AtladOttir, Pedersen, Scient, Eaton, 2009). For the first time children of mothers who have celiac disease were found to have a three times greater risk for autism. The link is still not fully understood, but is thought to be due to deficiencies during pregnancy and/or prenatal antibody exposure. It is important to note that celiac disease is genetic. If the mother of a child with autism has celiac disease, it is highly possible that her child does as well.

While it is unlikely that celiac disease is behind all causes of autism, it is worth taking into account these recent studies. If you or your child has autism, look into a trial of a gluten/casein free diet.

 AtladOttir H, Pedersen M, Scient C, et al. Association of Family History of Autoimmune Diseases and Autism Spectrum Disorders. Pediatrics [serial online]. August 2009;124(2):687-694.
 D’Eufemia P, Celli M, Finocchiaro R, Pacifico L, Viozzi L, Zaccagnini M, et al. Abnormal intestinal permeability in children with autism. Acta Paediatr 1996; 85:1076-9.
 Genuis S, Bouchard T. Celiac disease presenting as autism. Journal Of Child Neurology [serial online]. January 2010;25(1):114-119.
 Margutti P, Delunardo F, Ortona E. Autoantibodies Associated with Psychiatric Disorders. Current Neurovascular Research. January 2006; 3: 149-157.
 Valicenti-McDermott M, McVicar K, Cohen H, Wershil B, Shinnar S. Gastrointestinal symptoms in children with an autism spectrum disorder and language regression. Pediatric Neurology [serial online]. December 2008;39(6):392-398.

Sarcoidosis and Gluten Intolerances

As someone who has been diagnosed with Lofgren’s Syndrome in the past, I was curious as to whether this acute form of sarcoidosis might be linked to my more recently diagnosed gluten intolerance. Several studies have shown links between celiac disease and sarcoidosis, a multisystemic inflammatory disease of unknown cause. One article in particular does a great job linking together the similarities:

“There is evidence suggesting that both sarcoidosis and celiac disease may be the result of defective antigen processing. Genetically, sarcoidosis is a complex disease with varying gene polymorphisms determining susceptibility and phenotype. In particular, the class II haplotype, HLA-DR3/HLA-DQ2, has been shown to be increased in several cohorts with sarcoidosis, and has also been linked to other autoimmune disorders. Interestingly, susceptibility to celiac disease is linked to HLA-DQ2…”  (Hwang, McBride, Neugut, and Green 977-81)

Another study reviewing the presence of gluten intolerance and gastric immunity discovered these two conditions in a staggering 40% of their patients with sarcoidosis (Papadopoulos, Sjoberg, Lindgren, and Hallengren 525-31). And yet another earlier article found that intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs) and circulating antibodies to alpha-gliadin (AGA) were significantly raised in sarcoidosis (McCormick, Feighery, Dolan, O’Farrelly, and Kelliher 1628-31). And in case you weren’t aware, increased IELs and AGAs are typical in celiac disease as well.

If you have sarcoidosis, or have dealt with this condition in the past you might want to bring up celiac disease with your doctor.

And, if you are in the area, Nadine will be presenting an “Introduction to Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Disease” at the Portland sarcoidosis support group meeting on Saturday, January 30th and to the Albany support group on Saturday, February 13th.


Hwang, Elizabeth, Russell McBride, Alfred I. Neugut, and Peter H.R. Green. “Sarcoidosis in Patients with Celiac Disease.” Dig Dis Sci. 53. (2008): 977-81. Print.

McCormick, P A, C Feighery, C Dolan, C O’Farrelly, P Kelliher, F Graeme-Cook, A Finch, K Ward, M X Fitzgerald, D P O’Donoghue, and D G Weir. “Altered gastrointestinal immune response in sarcoidosis.” Gut. 29. (1988): 1628-31. Print.

Papadopoulos, K.I., K. Sjoberg, S. Lindgren, B. Hallengren, and P Kelliher. “Altered gastrointestinal immune response in sarcoidosis.” Gut. 29. (1988): 1628-31. Print.



Associated Disorders of Celiac Disease

Anyone with these associated diagnoses should be tested for Celiac Disease OR should consider a Gluten Free Diet for at least a month.

  • IBS/IBD, GERD, Any Gastrointestinal Disorder
  • Chronic Anemia, Blood Disorders
  • Migraine Headaches
  • Neuropathy
  • Any Skin Rash, Eczema, Psoriasis
  • Osteoporosis/Osteopenia
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Arthritis
  • Lymphoma
  • Cancers, Bowel and others
  • Turner’s Syndrome, Down Syndrome, William’s Syndrome, IgA deficiency
  • Infertility
  • Any Other Auto-Immune Disorder (Thyroid Disorders, Type 1 Diabetes, Sjogren’s Syndrome, Liver Disease, Arthritis, Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Sarcoidosis, Cardiomyopathy, Addison’s Disease)
  • Aphthous Stomatitis/ Canker Sores
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • ADHD, Autism, ODD, ADD
dermatitis herpetiformis

CD and Your Skin

The skin is highly affected by patients with untreated gluten intolerance. Dermatitis herpetiformis is widely recognized as being associated with CD/GI, however there are other skin issues that can result, but often go unnoticed.

Dermatitis herpetiformis is a skin condition affecting at least 25% of patients with celiac disease. It is caused by IgA deposits in the papillary dermis (right underneath the top layer of skin). These deposits are the result of epidermal tranglutaminase auto-antibodies. The rash is usually extremely itchy, and can be painful. The red skin eruptions are described as being on the limbs, trunk and scalp- that covers pretty much EVERYWHERE on your body. Like celiac disease, DH is often undiagnosed. In a study by Pfeiffer in 2006 says, “Suspecting and then searching for dermatitis herpetiformis is often clinically challenging, as the disease is a true chameleon with many clinical faces.”

Other skin issues in celiac disease can also be the result of multiple deficiencies. Zinc is essential for the repair and renewal of skin cells. Zinc deficiency can lead to eczema, psoriasis, acne, nasal polyps, and darkening skin. Zinc is also needed for the conversion of essential fatty acids into other compounds. Deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids can lead to dry skin and hair, which can be mistaken as eczema, as well as hard, dry, itchy papules called prurigo nodularis. Vitamin A deficiency can lead to pityriasis rubra pilaris, a type of dermatitis leading to thick, scaling skin and often associated with anemia. Iron deficiency can lead to a pruritic skin rash, a fancy term for “itchy skin”.

Still, untreated celiac disease can lead to even more skin issues not related to deficiencies. Scleroderma, causing hyperpigmented, taut shiny skin that looks like you had facial chemical peel gone wrong.  Seborrhea, a sebaceous gland disorder causing scaly patches and bumps on the skin. Vitiligo and the permanent loss of melanocytes. Erythema nodosum. Ichthyosis. Melanoma. Each of these skin disorders have a much higher prevalence rate in untreated celiac disease.

Skin conditions can be slow to heal on a gluten free diet, but strict adherence is successful in clearing up the painful and itchy issues in most cases. Skin conditions caused by deficiencies are the quickest to heal. The good news? A gluten free diet will, at the very least, halt the progression of the condition.

If you have an itchy rash, or unidentified skin condition anywhere on your body, we recommend getting tested for celiac disease and trying a gluten free diet.


My Book is Here!

doughnation-book-cover_forewardMy book is here and I’m so excited to share it with you!

You can also get your copy at the Gluten Free RN Office, Independent Bookstores,, Barnes & Noble, and Public Libraries. Kindle and ebook versions are available as well from Amazon.

Dough Nation: A Nurse’s Memoir of Celiac Disease from Missed Diagnosis to Food and Health Activism

A compelling story from an emergency/trauma/critical care nurse’s perspective of her own struggle to regain health after 40 years of being misdiagnosed as many different maladies instead of being diagnosed correctly with celiac disease after a scary 4 year plummet into multisystem organ failure. Dough Nation investigates the health, social, political and economic factors regarding gluten intolerance and celiac disease and how the largest untapped market in the world is being manipulated. Many additional stories from the authors of close circle of friends and family reinforce the primary call for a national mass screening for celiac disease. This book is a strong indication of how much you need to be paying attention to the power of the food you are eating, the lack of health care education regarding celiac disease, the history of celiac disease in the United States and the world and how you can become your own health care advocate.

A selection of recent reviews:

Dr. Tom O’Bryan, DC, CCN, DACBN,, May 1, 2016 – A MUST READ!

In my world, the professionals who automatically have the highest degree of credibility and trust with me until proven otherwise are Nurses. Nadine Grzeskowiak, THE Gluten Free RN is no  exception. Her book, Dough Nation is a ‘MUST READ’ for everyone wondering about the impact of wheat-based products on our health. This is a no-holds barred discussion of what we’re all up against in this world of being gluten free. Her writing style is no-nonsense engaging, her personal story is captivating, and her explanations of the possible and common health complications from a gluten sensitivity are clearly and accurately written out.

This is an empowering book. When you’ve read this, you now know what you’re up against and how to navigate the obstacles on your path to better health. Very proud to call Nadine a friend and colleague and highly recommend we all read this book.
Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC,, Oct 1, 2016 – Your Ticket to Knowledge & Inspiration
Dough Nation…is a memoir, medical confessional, investigative journalistic exploration, and fount of research and information about wheat and gluten, celiac disease, the vagaries of the wheat industry, and the ways in which science, economics, healthcare, and medicine have all conspired to confuse the public and cause great distress to those trying to improve their health by making informed choices…
(This book)…is a thought-provoking, maddening, and empowering read by a nurse who is a consummate advocate, entrepreneur, researcher, educator, health activist, spokesperson, and clinician. If you want to understand the complicated world of celiac and gluten intolerance, Nadine Grzeskowiak, RN is your ticket to knowledge and inspiration.
Read the full review: Click here

Daryl Edwards,  The Fitness Explorer, February 28, 2016 – Useful, Insightful, Helpful

Nadine being a registered nurse has a sincere desire to help others but also is in the position to understand exactly the suffering and trauma of what it is like living with Celiac disease. She has the condition herself.

This isn’t just a science book which would be the expectation given the author’s medical background but it is a journal (memoir) of the failure, struggles, tests and re-tests, misdiagnoses, the awareness and then research of the potential of the Paleo diet and finally the successes that came about from eating a natural diet.

Nadine also discusses the impact that BIG food and BIG pharma has on our food choices and treatment options in relation to modern lifestyle diseases and why the removal of gluten from the diet can be one key in the battles for better health. The narrative is fantastic and engages the reader with solid science, fantastic anecdotes and personal experience.

Thanks for a valuable resource!

Amy Card, May 6, 2016 – Read for Your Health and for Fun

My uncle was diagnosed with celiac disease several years ago, but since he’s not my blood relative, I wasn’t worried that I, too, might suffer from the ill effects of gluten. But something wasn’t right with my guts. I tested negative for celiac disease but found out through elimination that I feel and function better without gluten. And now I know why. Nadine’s book takes readers on a journey through the history, diagnosis and treatment of gluten intolerance and celiac disease from personal, medical, financial and national perspectives. Dough Nation tells a fascinating story complete with hilarious anecdotes, some very appropriate cynicism, and ultimately hope!

Renee Thompson, December 30, 2015 – A Must Read for Anyone in Healthcare

In this book, Nadine shares her remarkable story about illness and the power of food to cure. As a nurse, I can validate that what Nadine shares is true!! When people understand the power food has to cure, it can change their lives. What I didn’t realize until I read Nadine’s book was how involved and manipulative the food and pharmaceutical industries can be. Shocking yet fascinating!

Jessica Cadd, October 11, 2015 – I Am So Glad I Did

Went to Barnes and Noble to look at various books and I stumbled upon this one. I am so glad I did!!! This book was such a great read and I really enjoyed that it was not only written by a nurse, but a nurse who has Celiac herself, and she lives in Oregon! I loved being able to read her personal story, as well as learning a ton of new information about this disease I have. Her book was super relatable, very intriguing, and overall wonderful! I highly recommend this to anyone who has Celiac/gluten allergies/gluten intolerance or knows someone who does! Also as she mentions in the book I wish doctors/nurses would read it, my doctor sure could use the information.

Nancy Bee, November 15, 2015 – Everyone Should Read Dough Nation!

Nadine is years ahead of American medicine and everyone should read Dough Nation! In her book this book she gives a fabulous introduction to gluten intolerance and Celiac Disease. The book is entertaining, smart and true! As you read it feels as if you are sitting in a coffee shop just talking to her….it is that easy yet full of fabulous information! She is truly saving lives and in our family myself and my 8 year old daughter are so very grateful for her passion to help others. I suspect my brother and mother are likely gluten intolerant, but neither are ready to change their lifestyle. Regardless, Dough Nation has increased my drive to continue my gluten free lifestyle (as if chronic abd pain, skin issues, fatigue and more are not enough), made my conversations that more educated, and finally fueled my frustration with the medical system I work in. Please read this book! Please get educated! Please tell others! I promise I will. Thank you, Nadine!