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Poor Parenting or Peptides in the Brain?

Two sisters, nine and seven years old, came into my practice struggling with behavior problems in school; short attention spans; outbursts; tantrums; and multiple medical diagnoses, including bipolar disease and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Their doctors prescribed the usual cocktail of s timulants and antidepressants.

Both had many digestive problems, including food allergies, yeast, and odd bacteria.

But what was most striking in their case were the high levels of peptides (little proteins) that were produced by lack of adequate digestion of gluten (from wheat) and casein (from dairy)1. The proteins are called gluteomorphins and caseomorphins because they affect the morphine or opium receptors in the brain.

These peptides are absorbed from the gut and find their way to the brain, causing much mischief, manifesting as mood and behavior problems. I found out about this problem through a urine analysis. Peptides can be measured in the urine, because after they are absorbed into the body they must be excreted. These funny molecules cause their mischief in one of two ways.

First, they look "foreign," so the body's immune system reacts, leading to overall inflammation, which can show up as autoimmunity, autism, ADHD, depression, or even psychosis.

Second, peptides leak into the body and brain. Because they are "opium-" or "morphine-like" in nature, these peptides mess up brain function just like heroin or a psychedelic drug would.

One of the reasons these peptides are created has to do with digestive enzymes.

Many people with weak digestion have low levels of or poorly functioning digestive enzymes. Some of these cases are genetically determined. Toxins such as mercury that can come from silver dental amalgams or large predatory fish like tuna inactivate these digestive enzymes. In other instances, the digestive enzymes are not activated because of low stomach acid, poor pancreatic function, or zinc deficiency (zinc is often needed to turn on these enzymes).

One important link between digestive enzymes and peptides is the failure of a particular enzyme called DPP-IV.2-3 This enzyme is important in breaking down foods, particularly gluten and casein. When it malfunctions, these noxious peptides are often created in the gut and end up in the brain.

That is why using special digestive enzymes as part of treatment is so important in helping recovery from autoimmune and inflammatory disorders, including inflammation of the brain!

For the two little girls above, I connected the dots. When I cleaned up their gut imbalances by improving the diet, getting rid of food allergens like gluten and casein, and giving them digestive enzymes, not only did their mood and behavior normalize, but those odd little peptides also disappeared from their urine.4-5 Clearing up the gut imbalances and removing casein and gluten stopped the production of these mood- and brain-altering peptides. This led to their mood and behavior returning to normal. Remember, everything is connected to everything else in the body.

And it isn't just little kids who have autism and behavioral problems who suffer from these peptides. They have also been linked to conditions ranging from depression to schizophrenia.

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[1]
Wakefield AJ, Puleston JM, Montgomery SM, Anthony A, O'Leary JJ, Murch SH. Review article: the concept of entero-colonic encephalopathy, autism and opioid receptor ligands. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2002 Apr;16(4):663-74.
[2]
Aytac U, Dang NH. CD26/dipeptidyl peptidase IV: a regulator of immune function and a potential molecular target for therapy. Curr Drug Targets Immune Endocr Metabol Disord. 2004 Mar;4(1):11-8. Review.
[3]
Mentlein R. Dipeptidyl-peptidase IV (CD26)--role in the inactivation of regulatory peptides.Regul Pept. 1999 Nov 30;85(1):9-24. Review.
[4]
Shattock P, Whiteley P. Biochemical aspects in autism spectrum disorders: updating the opioid-excess theory and presenting new opportunities for biomedical intervention. Expert Opin Ther Targets. 2002 Apr;6(2):175-83.
[5]
Ek J, Stensrud M, Reichelt KL. Gluten-free diet decreases urinary peptide levels in children with celiac disease. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 1999 Sep;29(3):282-5.
[6]
Liu Y, Heiberg T, Reichelt KL. Towards a possible aetiology for depressions? Behav Brain Funct. 2007 Sep 14;3:47.

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