Gluten intolerance is both closely related to certain skin conditions and loosely related to several different forms of rashes. However, the emphasis of this post is not on allergic reactions. This confuses some people because I emphasize how celiac disease and a non-celiac gluten sensitivity are not allergies. Remember that even if you experience a skin condition it does not always mean you are experiencing the type 1 hypersensitivity of an allergic reaction.
For example, dermatitis herpetiformis doesn’t occur immediately after consuming gluten. It occurs after gluten antibodies continue to course through your veins over time and attack skin cells. It also doesn’t occur if you held gluten against your skin. It happens when you ingest gluten.
Simply put, sometimes skin conditions develop over time as a result of your diet.
Most People With Celiac Disease Experience Skin Problems
More than 7 in every 10 individuals with celiac disease will develop celiac disease symptoms in their skin. In celiac disease research you will see this described as cutaneous manifestations of celiac disease.
Unfortunately, these manifestations can vary greatly, so we can’t yet compile a complete list of descriptive skin conditions. However, the most common skin problems diagnosed as directly related to gluten include dermatitis herpetiformis and Linear IgA disease. Dermatitis herpetiformis is almost always a skin manifestation of celiac disease, while Linear Iga disease is only rarely related to gluten. Sometimes the diagnosis of these two different conditions are confused, because the location of the skin biopsy can lead to misdiagnosis. For this reason, an experienced dermatologist familiar with the two conditions should conduct the biopsy.
Eczema, Psoriasis and Urticaria
In addition, some researchers are currently sifting through possible connections between eczema, psoriasis, and urticaria.
Each of these conditions appear to have an autoimmune origin. That is, to put it simply, the body’s immune system attacks its own body. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease. We know there is a correlation between people having both celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity and having eczema, psoriasis or urticaria. However, establishing causation — and not just correlation — is still difficult. But it’s worth noting we often don’t even try to determine causation until after correlation is established. For more detail on this relationship read the eczema, psoriasis, and urticaria section on my Gluten Allergy Rash lesson.
A study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in 1989 suggested that if a mother and her infant avoided all the most common allergens (including wheat) in the infant’s first year of life, skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and urticaria were far less likely to develop.
Nutrition and System Inflammation
Remember if you have had untreated celiac disease for any amount of time, you probably suffer from some kind of nutrient deficiency. Nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K and protein play a strong role in the health of your skin. In addition, poor nutrition may weaken your immune’s system to properly handle infections, which can relate to a more difficult battle with acne, among other things.
All forms of untreated gluten intolerance involve increased pro-inflammatory cytokines in the blood. This trigger of systemic inflammation may also contribute to skin manifestation of gluten intolerance. When you combine poor nutrition with systemic inflammation, you open a pandora’s box of potential skin problems. While I’ve briefly discussed dermatitis herpetiformis, linear IGA disease, eczema, psoriasis, chronic urticaria and acne in this post, possible skin manifestations of celiac disease or a non-celiac gluten sensitivity don’t begin and end with this list.
Sometimes dermatologist consider certain kinds of bruising and purpura to be skin conditions. Investigate these matters in greater detail by reading my recent lesson: How Gluten Intolerance Causes You To Bruise Easily
So if you have developed unexplained skin problems and you are already concerned about how your body responds to gluten, you might feel even more compelled to eliminate gluten from your diet. To get started, make sure you can accurately answer, “What is gluten?”
If it helps, I still recommend doing a brief gluten challenge to make sure gluten was really the difference. Because of the gluten-free diet bandwagon, many people may be quick to target gluten as the problem and overlook another underlying problem. This can be dangerous. This is why I suggest working with a doctor or dietitian and properly implementing a gluten challenge when determining the role of gluten in your life.