Eczema is a skin condition that can cause itchy and scaly rashes. It affects around 15-30% of children and 2-10% of adults (1). Eczema is mostly genetic but can also occur from certain foods amongst which gluten is the most common culprit.
Gluten is a protein present in certain grains such as wheat, rye, and barley(2). It is capable of triggering an inflammatory response in a few people. It mostly leads to gastrointestinal symptoms and can also cause skin symptoms.
Gut enzymes find it difficult to break down gluten which remains incompletely digested. These incompletely digested units of gluten also known as gluten peptides travel to the rest of the body from the gut(3). This can trigger an immune response and lead to conditions such as celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and wheat allergy.
The Link Between Gluten and Eczema
There are a few conditions that are linked with gluten intolerance(2):
- Wheat Allergy: This is an immune response of the body to a specific protein in wheat and leads to symptoms such as nausea and eczema.
- Celiac Disease: It is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that leads to the damage of the inner lining of the gut on eating gluten. It can lead to anemia, weak bones, skin, and neurological disorders.
- Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: It is a condition in which a person has symptoms similar to celiac disease and wheat allergy even while not having these conditions.
A study reported 18% of people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity experienced skin conditions such as eczema, rashes, and dermatitis(4).
It is seen that people with eczema are 1.6 times more likely to have celiac disease(5).
Also, people with wheat allergies often experience eczema as a result of eating gluten in wheat(6).
Can Eating Gluten Worsen Eczema?
Eczema is a genetic condition. There is no evidence that gluten can be a cause of eczema. But it is reported by people suffering from eczema that eating gluten worsens their condition(7), and not just gluten, a person can be sensitive to other foods as well and eating those can cause a flare-up of their skin condition. Therefore one has to actually make out whether its gluten irritating them or something else.
Can Avoiding Gluten Relieve Eczema
Although there is a link between gluten and eczema there are no strong researches proving that stopping gluten can provide relief from eczema.
It is possible that following a strict gluten-free diet can treat some cases of eczema, both in people with celiac disease and wheat allergy.
A study done on people with eczema showed that more than half of them who had cut gluten in the diet saw improvement in eczema symptoms(7).
Another study found that people following a hypoallergenic diet including free from the gluten had improvement in the eczema symptoms (8).
The drawback is that the above studies had a small sample size and also found the effects in only a few people not all.
More research is needed to understand the relationship between gluten and eczema. Till that time one can try a gluten-free diet to improve their eczema symptoms as it would be doing no harm.
While following a gluten-free diet make sure you don’t fall deficient in essential nutrients. Gluten-free diets are low in fiber and following it can give a tough time making up for fiber intake. Consulting a doctor can always be better while opting for any diet alteration.
People with gluten intolerance can get eczema. Also, those with eczema perceive that consuming gluten is worsening their symptoms. Some people do experience relief in their skin symptoms after cutting down gluten from their diet, but it is not for all. It is best to seek guidance from a doctor or a registered dietician to ensure that whatever you consume meets the nutrient need of the body. After all, nobody wants to acquire other health conditions in the drill of improving one. Also, remember going gluten-free is not an alternative to the normal eczema treatment. Consult a professional for good treatment and better health.
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