Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. Some people are sensitive to it, which means it causes an auto-immune response in their bodies. Instead of digesting the protein like usual, people with gluten sensitivity aren’t able to break it down in the digestive system, so the immune system responds by creating antibodies that can cause uncomfortable symptoms-like dry skin.
You’ve probably heard of celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food. People with celiac disease can’t tolerate gluten. However, even if you don’t have celiac disease (your doctor can tell you), you can still be sensitive to this protein.
How does a gluten sensitivity affect the skin? Researchers aren’t entirely sure, but they do have some theories. The most common is related to nutrient absorption. Vitamins A and E are important to skin health, but if you’re having trouble digesting certain foods, you may not be getting enough of these. This applies to other nutrients important to the skin as well, such as fatty acids.
Skin conditions (like eczema and psoriasis) are also often associated with gluten sensitivity. Because the intestines have a hard time processing gluten, they react by becoming inflamed, which can create damage in the intestine. This damage can allow some of the gluten molecules to leak out of the intestine and get into the immune system, where the body then attacks them as foreign invaders. This immune reaction can cause eczema and psoriasis flare-ups. It is interesting that people who have celiac disease often suffer from skin conditions like itchy rashes, psoriasis, eczema, hives, acne, dry skin, and even hair loss.
Could you have a gluten sensitivity? Ask yourself if you experience the following:
- Gastrointestinal distress such as diarrhea, flatulence, gas, and bloating
- Joint pain, fatigue, and headaches
- Canker sores, rosacea, nosebleeds, or lactose intolerance
Of course any of these symptoms can occur for a number of reasons, so just because you may experience them doesn’t mean you have a gluten sensitivity. First, check with your doctor. He can do tests to rule out celiac disease. Next, try removing the source of gluten from your diet and see if you feel better. Be careful, as grain-based ingredients can be in a lot more foods than you may realize. In addition to grain-based breads, flours, and cereals, it may be in other foods like salad dressings, cold cuts, egg substitutes, beer, flavored potato chips, some chocolates, and some herbal teas. (Check labels-many will let you know if the product contains gluten.)
Fortunately, because gluten sensitivity affects so many people, there are new gluten-free specialty stores and internet sites, as well as individual gluten-free foods, usually found in health food stores and in the organic food departments. Check out the EatingWell site for more guidelines. By slowly replacing your grains with non-gluten foods, you should be able to tell if your symptoms let up.
One thing we tend to forget is that the health and vitality of our skin has everything to do with the health and vitality of the rest of our bodies. It pays to look deeper than our cleanser and moisturizer. What’s inside your body that may be causing problems on the outside? In the case of dry, itchy skin, it could be a variety of things, but after reading this article, you should be able to mark at least one-gluten sensitivity-off your list of possibilities.
Do you have a gluten sensitivity? Has it affected your skin?
Photo courtesy the musicpb via Flickr.com.