Cutting Out Gluten Cuts Out Kids’ Asthma

Written by: Elize van der Merwe

Ever since my oldest son was a toddler (around 2yrs), he would grow short of breath fast. He was a very heavy boy, strong and muscular, but not fat, and definitely not overweight. Come winter time he would be almost continuously on bronchio-dilators, double dose, as single dose didn’t clear his chest. Come summer, all symptoms would clear and only the occasional closed chest and wheezing would bother him.


Adam was 4 years old and in that winter had his worst attack ever. He was put on humidifier drops and oils, which helped for a short time, but quickly became worse, and the doses had to be increased. Come summer again it cleared up a little bit, but for the next few months a closed, wheezing chest was almost his constant companion. By now our second son was 2 yrs old and also started having attacks.

Our GP had taken chest x-rays stating that Adam’s lungs looked like those of a person smoking a pack of 20 cigarettes a day! We have never smoked, so it wasn’t due to second hand smoking. We immediately got them asthma pumps on the GP’s recommendation to strengthen their lungs, but they still had the odd attack. It felt like anything would trigger them: any cool breeze (winter or summer), high summer humidity, any exercise, any stress situations, excitement… We had to use the emergency pumps at least once or twice a month.

The dr. and specialist wanted to increase the asthma pump dosages when we heard a talk over the radio with regards to gluten intolerance, and at the same time I was reading on the web about causes for asthma – gluten stood out like a sore thumb. The more I read and the more my husband and I discussed it, the more we realised this is something we just had to try. Cut out gluten.

We were very stupid and didn’t even know which products contained gluten… to make a long story short – we cut it out cold, even for ourselves, because it would be unfair to eat food in front of the boys that they weren’t allowed to eat.

We stopped their pumps after two weeks of no attacks, realising they were running around, swimming with no breathing problems! This was around March (2011 I think). I was still like a cat on hot coals, however. That first winter (July 2011) neither of the boys got sick – not a sniff! We started with wheat (cutting from our diet), but eventually after a lot more reading and something close to “experimenting”, we cut out all gluten from our diets. I can remember three occasions since we stopped their asthma pumps that they got the “sniffles”, like a light cold: all of these happened within a week after having had gluten products, birthday cake at a friends party, visiting grandparents and having muffins or a couple of slices of toast that week.

My husband and I have experienced the same. As soon as we “indulge” we get sick. A couple of days later either my sinus would be a lot worse, or we would have something like a cold for a couple of days.

Our youngest son (4yrs) had a huge asthma attack now in May 2013, after a friend gave him four muffins to eat on a play date. Luckily I still had an inhaler in the cupboard, but both boys had a big fright. They are now very strict and tell people that they cannot eat things which are made of ordinary flour (wheat flour) – and they stick to it.

Another change that took place, but only in our youngest son was partly due to gluten and partly due to pasteurised milk. While reading more about causes of asthma I came across articles on whole milk. Two articles (unfortunately I can’t find them now) mentioned that pasteurisation breaks the milk proteins into proteins and sugar and these sugars tend to build up in some people’s blood stream causing hyperactivity. Our youngest son was “marked” by pre-school teachers as being hyperactive, and one even said she would not have him in her class if he wasn’t on Ritalin or something similar. At that stage the boys went only two mornings a week (8h00-12h00) to a playschool, but we soon took them out and started home schooling, anyway.

In another article I read something similar to the milk theory, but about gluten. The brain needs fat to work properly, and the over stimulation with the wrong types of “fuel” causes a hyper-active type of reaction.

Well, we changed our milk to clean, full cream, unpasteurised Jersey milk, and our second son, Rocco loves his milk. No more hyper active reactions. At about the same time we cut the gluten, and from a (wheezy) bouncy little ball of energy that few people could handle, he became a child who could sit and concentrate on a story for close to half an hour or so. Yes, we tried other milks: soy, rice, goats’ milk… within a week of changing, he would be back to bouncing around. If the milk was heat treated, he would be a ball of energy. Only clean un-treated milk had no reaction. This was all while being off gluten. Cutting out gluten had cut the hyper active reaction a little bit, but the marked difference came when we changed the milk.

The boys are now 4 and 6 yrs respectively, playing like crazy and have hollow legs down which food disappear. They swim, are running around like crazy, jumping on the trampoline, climbing their jungle gym, playing in the snow (when we are lucky enough to experience snow) and have been off gluten and asthma pumps for more than a year.


We have been using “gluten free” products for the boys, but would prefer to cut that out too. Just not sure what and how much to replace it with. The same goes for us. What and how much to eat, as we need to lose weight.

Help and advice are much appreciated.

Kind regards,

Elize van der Merwe


  1. says

    My son has a mild form of Autism. After removing gluten, his behavior has improved significantly. He is not cured, but I believe gluten sensitivity is a major contributor to the puzzle of this condition.

  2. says

    I’m still amazed at the difference between how they were and how they are now. My oldest has gained so much confidence, partly because of being home, but a great part comes from the fact that he can depend on his body to do the things he wants to do, and those are just normal kid-stuff like running around, jumping, playing, etc.
    JD Moyer, we are very fortunate to live in South Africa where even our winter sun is mild and nice and provides lots of vit.D. Just last week I read an article about how necessary vit.D is for the body!
    Richmond Chiropractor, our GP is still cross with me for taking the boys off the asthma meds and is even more cross with us going Paleo! Luckily SA also has prof. Tim Noakes who is pro Paleo or low carbs, high protein and fat. He does a lot to support and promote Paleo here.

    • Mareli says

      Hi Elize,

      Is there any way that I can get in contact with you via e-mail perhaps?
      My baby is 18 months old and was just diagnosed with gluten, wheat and dairy intolerance. I have been on the internet constantly for the past 2 days, trying to find a list of gluten free foods in SA, but can mostly only find such a list for overseas food. I feel quite lost because I am not sure what to feed my son, and I also need to assist his pre-school in creating a new menu for him to eat from at school. My e-mail address is, can you perhaps help me?

  3. Jenny says

    Great story, thanks for sharing. My daughter has ADHD and suffers fom hyperactivity, mood swings & is very impulsive. I first started looking into Paleo due to recently taking up crossfit & looking for a way to shed some weight. I’m amazed at all the other associated benefits that people report & had started thinking that this does fall in line with other info I’d read advocating high protein, cutting refined carbs/sugars & avoiding additives. I love that she’s able to buy into the idea of eating like a caveman & genuinely seems interested in the explanations I’m providing as to why some foods are good & others not. We’ve just finished week one & she had a few hiccups especially when seeing family at the weekend (no support there I’m afraid, they all seem to think its a bit of a joke & handed her cake, chocs & bread but then disapproved when she went off the wall… Grrrr). I really hope that long term we can make this work & that it whs a positive effect on her behaviours & general well being. She gets bad wind issues & stomach cramps/diarrhoea frequently too that went away last week whilst avoiding carbs so maybe I’ll need to go down the route of calling it a gluten allergy. May be taken more seriously by family/friends if we put it that way.

  4. David says

    I am 22 years old and even removing gluten for me helped my asthma. Before the Paleo diet was trending, I originally did the standard low carb diet I had heard of after watching Fat Head. But over time, I did make changes to follow more ideas towards Paleo as far as only going for healthy natural fats since I can’t exactly afford everything organic. But I realized it was gluten because I no longer needed asthma medicine and when I had some occasional beer and gluten pizza, my symptoms would come around and I was miserable. Wish I had known this all my life because I wasted it trying to make myself exercise my lungs and not be out of breath by doing hard cardio like Tae Kwon Do in my middle school years.

  5. Jessica says

    Wow this is very interesting!
    My three year old son has started suffering really badly with asthma. So bad he has been hospitalised twice within six months! I’ve done all the ‘normal’ things like cut out any air fresheners, aerosol sprays and appropriate bedding etc but despite this, nothing has changed.
    I would gladly change his diet to improve this situation.
    He rarely eats processed foods (under my watch) but he does consume a lot of dairy and gluten.
    Thank you for sharing this information. I will give it a try!

  6. Megan says

    This is a great story! So glad they are doing better! It’s amazing the power of food has on us! As far as replacing gluten free foods with regular food, you have to he careful. I am gf and I still have trouble eating gf replacement foods (gf pastas, gf cereals, etc). I try to eat mostly whole real foods (meat, eggs, fruits, veggies and nuts) and that’s how my kids eat too! Eating this way has helped me feel better and lose weight! Keep up the good work!

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