Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of foods containing gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.
When people with celiac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley), an immune response is triggered that attacks the small intestine. These attacks lead to damage to the villi (small finger-like projections that line the small intestine), that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi gets damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly.
Celiac disease is hereditary, meaning that it runs in families and it’s only passed down from parents to children. It cannot be contracted, it is not a virus and healthy individuals without the hereditary predisposition do not become celiac overnight. People with a first-degree relative with celiac disease (parent, child, sibling) have a 1 in 10 risk of developing celiac disease.
Celiac disease has become the latest socially hip trendy disease prompting many claiming to have the disease to use their blogs and social media influence to encourage everyone to switch to a gluten free diet regardless. Aside from being a scaremongering tactic, possibly designed to increase sales of gluten free foods (like we witnessed with the coconut oil a few years back) it has no real merit to it. The reality is the majority of people claiming to be suffering from a gluten intolerance therefore loudly claiming the apparent benefits of switching to an (incredibly restrictive) gluten free diet, a) are not actually suffering from the disease at all nor have ever been properly diagnosed by a medical professional, and b) are not really following a gluten free diet per sé, but just being part of the trendy du jour social media marketing campaign aimed at increasing their number of subscribers.
Self-diagnosing celiac disease by means of the internet has heightening the fear of this hereditary condition, increased the production of gluten free foods most of which are really bad for your health as they’re are high in sugar and carbohydrates, while putting healthy individuals that do not have celiac disease at risk for even more serious conditions. Switching to a diet, any diet, requires some thought and careful consideration as well as a visit to the doctor to make sure the benefits outweigh the potential health risks. A gluten free diet if not done properly can be tiresome, incredibly restrictive and could have potentially negative effects if there is no medical reason for it. Even for people with celiac disease a gluten free diet isn’t even the answer as it’s estimated only 8% of celiacs do actually benefit from it.
It is estimated celiac disease affects 1 in 100 people worldwide (1% of the global population). Celiac disease is not diagnosed by symptoms alone, as the symptoms can mimic other conditions, but by a medical professional. Doctors may order two blood tests to help diagnose celiac disease. 1) A serology testing which looks for antibodies in your blood. Elevated levels of certain antibody proteins indicate an immune reaction. 2) A genetic testing for human leukocyte antigens (HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8) can be used to rule out celiac disease.
If the results of these tests indicate celiac disease, your doctor may order an endoscopy to view your small intestine and to take a small tissue sample (biopsy) to analyze for damage to the villi. It’s important to be tested for celiac disease before trying a gluten-free diet as to not alter the test results.
About 95% of people with celiac disease have the HLA-DQ2 gene and most of the remaining 5% have the HLA-DQ8 gene. Genetic testing can determine if you have one or both of these genes. If your genetic test returns with a negative result, you can virtually rule out celiac disease. In other words, without either of these genes it’s impossible to develop celiac disease.
It is important to note that having the gene means you are at-risk for developing celiac disease, but it does not mean that you definitely have the disease. Only 1 in 3 individuals with both or either genes might develop celiac disease. The disease can manifest later on in life after years of eating gluten without an apparent side effect.
List of foods that do actually contain gluten:
Only 3 foods contain gluten – Wheat, Barley and Rye.
Wheat, it’s known with different names and there are many varieties of this ancient corn some of which are:
– Farina, Italian word for wheat flour,
– Graham flour is a type of coarse-ground whole wheat flour named after Sylvester Graham,
– Semolina or Semolina Durum, Italian for the flour made from durum wheat,
– Bulgur, is a cereal food made from the cracked parboiled groats of several different wheat species,
– Malt, is germinated cereal grains (wheat, barley or others) that have been dried in a process known as “malting”, used especially for brewing or distilling and vinegar-making,
– Spelt, also known as dinkel wheat or hulled wheat, is a species of wheat,
– Triticale, is a hybrid of wheat and rye first bred in laboratories during the late 19th century in Scotland and Germany.
Do oats and quinoa contain gluten?
There is a debate on whether oats contain gluten or not, and if celiacs should consume this cereal at all. Oats contain avenin, which is a protein similar to gluten but still not gluten. Research has shown that most people with celiac disease can tolerate oats. Quinoa on the other hand is naturally gluten free so it’s safe for celiacs to consume.
However problems can occur if oats and quinoa are processed in the same facilities where wheat, barley and rye are processed, as cross contamination is a concern.
If diagnosed with celiac disease it is always best to consult with a medical professional.
List of Foods that DO NOT contain gluten
Being wheat, barley and rye the ONLY 3 foods that do actually contain gluten, everything else does not contain gluten, including maize, soy, and other corns. However gluten free foods processed in facilities where wheat, barley and rye are processed, could increase the potential for cross contamination.
Many pre-made foods or processed foods might contain wheat, rye or barley derivatives that might not be listed in the ingredients list per sé.
Can I apply cosmetic products that contain ingredients with gluten if I suffer from Celiac Disease?
Yes. People with celiac disease can safely use cosmetic products that contain ingredients with gluten – wheat, barley and rye, and even naturally gluten free ingredients with the potential for cross contamination.
Skin, the largest organ in the human body acts as a protective barrier against external harms such as bacteria, chemicals, and UV rays among many others. For a substance to penetrate the skin it needs to be very, very, VERY small, less than 500 daltons in size. A dalton is a unit of mass used to express atomic and molecular weights. 1 dalton = 1.6605e-24 grams or 5.8574e-26 ounces, that’s 0.0000000000000000000000016605 grams or 0.000000000000000000000000058574 ounces.
Since gliadins, one of the proteins contained in gluten along with glutenin, are too big, approximately 631 daltons, they are too large to penetrate the skin and cannot get in the blood stream or internal organs where they’re known to cause damage in people diagnosed with celiac disease.
The topical application of products containing gluten do become a problem for people with celiac disease if deep skin lesions with exposed tissue are present, and if gluten containing cosmetics are absorbed systematically in great quantities. I.e., a deep cut or gash in which deep tissue like muscle is exposed and large quantities of a lotion containing ingredients derived from wheat, barley and/or rye is applied continuously to the affected area. The chances of someone applying a lotion containing gluten to a deep cut are zero.
Lip balms, lipsticks and other products used for the lips that contain ingredients with gluten should be avoided though, because of the risk of ingestion. Also avoid the application of topical products containing gluten on parts of the body that could be placed in the mouth like hands and fingers to diminish the risk of ingestion.
But even if a skincare product contains ingredients derived from wheat, barley and/or rye, the amount of gluten in the actual product would be so insignificant after the product undergoes processing, that it’s highly unlikely it would present a problem.
If the product containing an ingredient derived from wheat, barley or rye irritates your skin consider talking to your doctor, as it is possible you could be allergic to any of the other ingredients in the product rather than the trace levels of gluten in it.
What about dermatitis herpetiformis and cosmetics containing gluten?
Dermatitis herpetiformis, also known as DH and Duhring’s disease, is a chronic skin condition caused by a reaction to gluten ingestion not by touching it. This rare form of dermatitis doesn’t manifest itself by skin contact with gluten-containing foods or cosmetic products, but by ingesting foods that contain gluten.
Dermatitis herpetiformis causes an itchy, blistering and painful rash that looks like herpes (hence the name) but not caused by the herpes virus, that can affect any part of the skin, although most often occurs on the elbows, knees, or buttocks.
Choosing the right cosmetic product for your skin type and needs can be a daunting enterprise. Worrying about them containing gluten shouldn’t add to it.
1 – https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/celiac-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20352220
2 – https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/what-is-celiac-disease/
3 – https://www.beyondceliac.org/celiac-disease/risk-factors/
4 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19302264
5 – https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/celiac-disease/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20352225
6 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20145607
7 – https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/related-conditions/dermatitis-herpetiformis/
8 – https://www.sciencedirect.com/sdfe/pdf/download/eid/1-s2.0-S2212267212012038/first-page-pdf – Thompson T, Grace T. Gluten in cosmetics: is there a reason for concern? J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012 Sep;112(9):1316-23.
9 – https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/risks-of-a-gluten-free-diet/
10 – https://drhyman.com/blog/2017/01/19/heres-gluten-free-diet-can-become-incredibly-unhealthy/
11 – https://www.beyondceliac.org/celiac-disease/get-tested/
12 – https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/celiac-disease/expert-answers/celiac-disease/faq-20057879