The G-word has become a naughty term in the wellness world these days. More and more people are discovering the source of their digestive duress, and the typical culprits are sensitivities to dairy and gluten. However, gluten isn’t something we all collectively, entirely understand.
Sarah Mirkin, registered dietician and founder of Kitchen Coach, muses that “Nowadays most people believe that ‘gluten free’ means ‘healthy’ and ‘low carb.’” However, it’s important to really decode what gluten is.
“First of all, gluten is not a carbohydrate, it’s a protein found in wheat products,” Mirkin explains. It’s a group of seed-storage proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, and more. It’s a gummy, sticky substance, and that’s why as a compound it’s used in certain foods to help bind and hold shape.
“Many people who have a wheat intolerance are frequently intolerant to lesser-known compounds in wheat, such as lectins [proteins that bind to carbs] or amylase trypsin inhibitors [compounds that activate immune response]. Wheat allergies account for only approximately two percent of the population.”
With that said, some people are actually allergic to compounds in wheat, not gluten. A lot of this allergic reaction is responsible for autoimmune responses, hence, those compounds activate an immune response even when we don’t need it.
“The most severe form of gluten intolerance is an autoimmune disease called celiac disease. Approximately one percent of the population suffers from this condition. It can wreak havoc on the digestive tract, and cause many unpleasant symptoms, one of which is a blistering skin condition called dermatitis herpetiformis,” Mirkin explains.
“Many people with celiac disease also suffer from more common skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and hives. In the case of celiac disease, a gluten-free diet can relieve these conditions as well.”
What this means is for those with severe intolerance, gluten can definitely be a nemesis to clear, smooth, healthy skin. Even for those with just a mild sensitivity, gluten can cause bloating, indigestion, and gut issues, and the health of the skin hinges on our gut health.
When we have poor digestion and don’t properly absorb nutrients from our food, we can suffer from an acidic environment in our guts and inflammation. Both acidity and inflammation are culprits of breakouts and rashes, so it’s important to keep our bodies alkaline and mitigate inflammatory reactions if we want clear, smooth skin. However, there isn’t a direct correlation between gluten and skin issues.
“Gluten is a protein, so it is not bad for the skin unless someone has a wheat allergy (because wheat contains gluten), or if they have celiac,” Mirkin explains.
“People think they should avoid gluten for IBS and digestive issues, but the protein gluten does not cause digestive issues in people except for those with celiac disease. I teach the low FODMAP diet for IBS [fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, aka are short-chain carbohydrates or sugars that the small intestine absorbs poorly], and wrote The Beginners Guide to Low FODMAP. Gluten is low FODMAP because it’s a protein, however, wheat is high FODMAP. So, if someone is eating large amounts of wheat products, this may trigger inflammation and skin issues (and gut issues). Too many carbs can trigger an inflammatory response. There is gluten in the wheat products but it’s the carbohydrate that causes the issues, not the protein gluten.”
That’s why sensitive types have to avoid most gluten products altogether, but can still enjoy wheat-free things with gluten in them, like soy sauce, etc.
Often times when people have gut issues or SIBO they also have skin issues. It has nothing to do with gluten unless they have celiac
It can be a challenge to know if gluten sensitivity or intolerance is something we suffer from without trying an elimination diet or seeing an RD or your doctor. We recommend taking a food sensitivity test from a professional to get accurate results. Without a sensitivity or allergy to gluten, you likely won’t suffer any ill effects that manifest on the skin or otherwise.