Behavioral Problems in Children Due to Celiac Disease?

Behavioral Problems in Children Due to Celiac Disease?

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Effects of celiac disease on behavior and psyche

Celiac disease is one of the most common non-infectious bowel diseases. It is triggered by a gluten intolerance and is characterized by inflammation in the small intestine with symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. But according to a Dutch study, the behavior of children is also influenced by celiac disease. Even with mild forms of the disease, children are increasingly developing anxiety and behavior problems, the researchers report.

The Dutch research team led by Dr. Jessica C. Kiefte-de Jong from the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam has investigated possible connections between children's behavior and subclinical forms of celiac disease (disease with no typical symptoms). The researchers conclude that even mild celiac disease can be associated with anxiety and defiant behavior in the child. Her study results were published in the specialist magazine "Pediatrics".

Celiac disease is determined using antibodies

In their study, the researchers first determined in 3,715 children (median age: 6 years) by means of blood tests for special antibodies whether subclinical celiac disease was present (children with an existing diagnosis of celiac disease or with a gluten-free diet were excluded). Antibodies in 51 children were diagnosed with celiac disease that was previously unknown. In a questionnaire that was filled out by the parents, the researchers also recorded possible abnormalities in the behavior of the children (Child Behavior Checklist; CBCL).

Anxiety and defiance

"Several linear regression models were used to check the relationship between celiac disease and CBCL assessment"; reports the research team. In particular, the connection with the risk alleles HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 was also the focus of interest. "After eliminating confounding factors, celiac disease was significantly associated with anxiety problems and after excluding children who did not carry the HLA-DQ2 and / or HLA-DQ8 risk alleles, celiac disease was also associated with oppositional behavior," the researchers write.

Subclinical celiac disease with far-reaching effects

According to the research team, the connection with children's behavior cannot be explained by gastrointestinal complaints, since only subclinical forms of celiac disease were taken into account. "In some patients there are no typical signs such as diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain after a meal containing gluten," explains the professional association of pediatricians (BVKJ) in a press release on the study. According to current knowledge, these subclinical forms of celiac disease are also possible causes of behavioral problems and anxiety in children.

Fix behavioral problems through changing your diet?

According to this, abnormal behavior in children could possibly be due to subclinical celiac disease and an appropriate change in diet could possibly avoid anxiety and behavior problems. However, a correct diagnosis of celiac disease is a prerequisite for this, which can be difficult with subclinical forms. Because there are no physical complaints that could prompt a doctor's visit.

Further studies required

To what extent an examination for celiac disease can be appropriate in the child's behavioral problems, according to the researchers, further studies must now be clarified. First, however, the relationship between the subclinical forms of celiac disease and the behavioral problems in children should be evaluated in further studies. (fp)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters


  • Rama J. Wahab, Sytske A. Beth, Ivonne P.M. Derks, Pauline W. Jansen, Henriëtte A. Moll, Jessica C. Kiefte-de Jong: Celiac Disease Autoimmunity and Emotional and Behavioral Problems in Childhood; in: Pediatrics, Volume 144, Issue 4, October 2019, Pediatrics
  • Professional Association of Pediatricians: Is “mild” form of celiac disease also related to behavioral problems in children? (published 28.10.2019),

Video: 7 signs You May Have Gluten Intolerance (August 2022).