Written by Divinity Nutra, Updated on February 25, 2023
It’s nearly impossible to discuss food and dieting without hearing the word gluten at some point in the conversation. In recent years, there has been growing concern about the potential health effects of gluten and how it affects the body. But, does gluten cause inflammation?
In this article, we will explore the link between gluten and inflammation, examining the scientific evidence on this topic and discussing the potential implications for those who may be sensitive to this protein.
What Is Gluten?
Gluten is a type of protein found in various grains, including wheat, barley, and rye. It is made up of two main components, gliadin, and glutenin, and is responsible for the elastic texture of dough. Gluten is commonly found in many food products and is often added as a stabilizing agent, thickener, or flavor enhancer.
Sources of Gluten
The most common sources of gluten are:
- Breads, rolls, and baked goods made with wheat flour
- Pasta made with wheat flour
- Cereals made with wheat, barley, or rye
- Beer and malt beverages
- Processed meats, such as sausages, hot dogs, and deli meats, which may contain fillers made from wheat or other grains
- Sauces and gravies thickened with wheat flour
- Soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, and other sauces made with wheat
- Fried foods that are breaded or battered with wheat flour
- Some vegetarian meat substitutes, such as seitan, which is made from wheat gluten
- Some snack foods, such as crackers, pretzels, and chips, which may contain wheat flour or other sources of gluten.
Does Gluten Cause Inflammation?
Several studies have investigated the association between gluten and inflammation. A study conducted by the University of Oslo in 2014 analyzed the effect of gluten-free diets on inflammatory markers in patients with celiac disease. The study found that the gluten-free diet reduced inflammation, as measured by levels of a specific inflammatory indicator.
Another study, published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry in 2017, found that gluten may increase inflammation in people who are sensitive to it, even in the absence of celiac disease. The study found that a gluten-free diet led to a significant decrease in inflammatory markers in people with gluten sensitivity, indicating that gluten may indeed cause inflammation in individuals without celiac disease.
A systematic review and meta-analysis of 25 randomized controlled trials conducted by the University of Pavia in 2015 found that a gluten-free diet may lead to a significant reduction in inflammatory markers in people with celiac disease. However, the study did not find any significant effects of a gluten-free diet on inflammatory markers in people without celiac disease.
Overall, while the evidence is mixed, some studies suggest that gluten may be what causes inflammation in people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Further research is needed to better understand the potential link between gluten and inflammation in the general population.
Does Wheat Cause Inflammation?
There is some evidence that suggests wheat consumption may contribute to inflammation as well. One study conducted by the Columbia University Medical Center in 2013 found that consuming wheat can cause an inflammatory response in the gut, even in individuals who do not have celiac disease or a wheat allergy. The study included 80 participants who were either given wheat or a placebo, and the results showed that the wheat group had increased levels of a biomarker of intestinal inflammation.
Another study conducted by the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 2015 found that consuming wheat can increase the levels of a protein called zonulin in the gut, which can increase intestinal permeability and lead to inflammation. The study included 34 participants with non-celiac gluten sensitivity who were given either gluten or a placebo, and the results showed that the gluten group had increased levels of zonulin and other markers of inflammation.
A 2017 study conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that consuming whole grains, including wheat, can have anti-inflammatory effects on the body. The study included over 10,000 participants who were followed for over 20 years, and the results showed that those who consumed more whole grains had lower levels of inflammatory markers in their blood.
Again, the research on whether wheat specifically causes inflammation is mixed. Some studies suggest that it can contribute to inflammation in the gut, while others suggest that consuming whole grains, including wheat, can have anti-inflammatory effects. It’s important to note that individuals who have celiac disease or a wheat allergy should avoid wheat to prevent adverse health effects.
Types of Gluten Intolerance
There are three main types of gluten intolerance: celiac disease, wheat allergy, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten consumption. When individuals with celiac disease consume gluten, it causes damage to their small intestine, leading to a variety of gastrointestinal and other symptoms. The only effective treatment for celiac disease is a lifelong gluten-free diet.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a condition where individuals experience symptoms after consuming gluten-containing foods. Unlike celiac disease, NCGS does not cause damage to the small intestine. Symptoms can include abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and fatigue. However, there is some debate in the medical community about the existence and prevalence of NCGS, and more research is needed to better understand this condition.
A wheat allergy is an immune system response to proteins in wheat, which can cause symptoms ranging from mild to severe. The symptoms of a wheat allergy may include hives, itching, swelling, and difficulty breathing. Unlike celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a wheat allergy is a true allergy that is diagnosed through allergy testing.
Signs of Gluten Intolerance
Gluten intolerance, also known as gluten sensitivity, can cause a range of symptoms that vary from person to person. These may appear similar to the signs and symptoms of inflammation. Here are some of the most common signs of gluten intolerance:
- Digestive issues such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation.
- Nausea, stomach pain, and cramping.
- Headaches and migraines.
- Fatigue and weakness.
- Skin rashes and itching.
- Joint pain and inflammation.
- Brain fog, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems.
- Mood changes, including anxiety and depression.
- Iron deficiency anemia.
- Hormonal imbalances, such as irregular periods.
If you suspect that you may be gluten intolerant, it is recommended to see a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Testing for Gluten Intolerance
How can you test yourself for gluten sensitivity? There are a few different methods to test for gluten sensitivity, but it’s important to note that the only way to definitively diagnose a gluten-related disorder is through medical testing by a healthcare professional.
Some options for self-testing include eliminating gluten from your diet for some time to see if symptoms improve, and then reintroducing gluten to see if symptoms return. It’s not incredibly scientific, but it may hint at an underlying issue. There are also at-home test kits that check for gluten antibodies in the blood or stool, although the accuracy of these tests can vary.
Does Eating Gluten-Free Reduce Inflammation?
What happens when you stop eating gluten? The relationship between gluten-free diets and inflammation is still not fully understood, but research has shown that going gluten-free can lead to a reduction in inflammation for some people. This is particularly true for those with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or wheat allergies, as consuming gluten can trigger an immune response that causes inflammation in their bodies.
However, more research is needed to determine if a gluten-free diet can reduce inflammation in people without these conditions. It is important to note that gluten-free diets can be challenging to follow, as gluten is present in many foods, and it is essential to consume a balanced diet that provides all the necessary nutrients.
How to Reduce Inflammation Naturally
How do you stop gluten inflammation? Besides eliminating gluten from your diet, there are some natural ways you can reduce inflammation in the body. Here are four of the most proven methods.
- Eliminate inflammatory foods: Reduce consumption of inflammatory foods such as refined carbohydrates, processed meats, sugary drinks, and fried foods.
- Switch to the anti-inflammatory diet: The anti-inflammatory diet emphasizes whole, nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats.
- Make lifestyle changes: Lifestyle changes such as getting regular exercise, managing stress, getting enough sleep, and quitting smoking can also help to reduce inflammation in the body.
- Take anti-inflammatory supplements: Natural herbs and spices such as turmeric, ginger, and green tea may help to reduce inflammation in the body.
In regards to supplements, it’s easy to spend hours researching proven natural anti-inflammatory products. To save you some time, here are the three best for fighting inflammation.
Turmeric contains a powerful anti-inflammatory compound called curcumin which can lower inflammation by blocking certain molecules involved in the inflammatory response. Specifically, curcumin has been shown to inhibit inflammatory cytokines and modulate immune cell activity.
- Learn More: 10 Best Turmeric Curcumin Supplements for 2023
Apple cider vinegar has acetic acid, which can help to reduce inflammation by inhibiting enzymes that promote it. It also contains antioxidants, such as catechin, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, apple cider vinegar may help to balance the body’s pH levels, which can play a role in reducing inflammation.
- Learn More: 10 Best Apple Cider Vinegar Gummies for 2023
Elderberry contains high levels of flavonoids, which are natural compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce oxidative stress in the body. These flavonoids can also help to modulate the immune system and reduce the production of pro-inflammatory compounds.
- Learn More: 10 Best Sambucus Elderberry Gummies for 2023
Gluten and Inflammation: Final Thoughts
Is gluten inflammatory? The answer is yes if you have a form of gluten intolerance. While there is ongoing research into the relationship between gluten and inflammation, the evidence suggests that for those who are sensitive to this protein, it can indeed lead to inflammation in the body.
For individuals with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, avoiding gluten may be a critical step in reducing gluten inflammation and managing related health conditions. As with any dietary change, it is important to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the best course of action for your individual needs.