While the exact cause of eczema is unknown, scientists do know that certain foods can trigger either the onset or subsequent flares of the chronic skin disease. A study completed in 2015 found that people with non-celiac sensitivity and eczema saw a significant improvement in symptoms within one month of starting a gluten-free diet. Another study, completed in 2004, found that eczema was three times more common in people with celiac disease. Even their relatives had a higher incident rate than their spouses. Although these studies were small, the participants found that following a gluten-free diet gave them relief from the itchy and sometimes debilitating symptoms of eczema.
What is celiac disease and non-celiac sensitivity?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, is ingested. But there are also people who don’t have celiac disease who have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. These people can experience the same symptoms as in celiac disease when they ingest products containing wheat, barley, or rye.
According to the Celiac Support Association, symptoms of celiac disease include:
- Abdominal cramping/bloating
- Energy loss
- Difficulty concentrating/foggy brain
- Irritable bowel
- Joint pain
- Mouth sores or cracks in the corners
- Osteopenia or osteoporosis
- Tooth enamel defects
- Weight loss
People with non-celiac gluten sensitivity most often have digestive issues, such as diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, and bloating, as well as brain fog and skin conditions.
About one percent of the U.S. population has celiac disease, according to the World Gastroenterology Organisation (WGO). However, the prevalence has continued to increase over the past 20 years. New diagnoses often occur in people over the age of 20, possibly because more information is available now than only a few years ago. According to the WGO, there are far more undiagnosed cases than diagnosed.
If you have eczema, you might want to ask your doctor to test you for celiac disease whether or not you are having digestive issues. A laboratory test can confirm whether you have this disease; however, if the test is negative and you have ongoing digestive problems, you might still have a gluten sensitivity.
Things to keep in mind when beginning a gluten-free diet:
The most obvious place to find gluten is in breads and cereals.But gluten is also an ingredient in many other products, such as some shampoos, mouthwash, lipstick, gravy, salad dressing, pasta sauce, and other thickened sauces.
If you are taking medications, talk to your pharmacist and ask if any of the medications you are taking have gluten.
Avoid cross-contamination. Even a small amount of gluten can cause problems when you have celiac disease. Don’t use the same toaster, pans, flour sifters, or baking utensils for your gluten-free needs and other baking or cooking.
You can substitute wheat products with other whole grains, such as brown rice, corn, teff, buckwheat, amaranth, polenta, millet, tapioca, gluten-free oats, and quinoa, which don’t contain gluten. Check the labels to make sure you are buying the uncontaminated versions. Avoid buying grains from bulk bins as these can be cross-contaminated.
Check labels on everything. Besides wheat, you want to avoid products containing triticale, spelt, rye, barley, durum and semolina.
When dining out, speak up to make sure that your food does not contain any gluten. Most restaurants are accommodating and some have begun notating gluten-free on their menu for dishes that are prepared without gluten. The app Find Me Gluten Free can help you find restaurants and stores that offer gluten free foods.
Many foods are naturally gluten-free. You can eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, cheese, and eggs.
Beer, lagers, stouts, and ales contain at least some gluten. Instead, opt for cider, wine, sherry, spirits, and liqueurs.
If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, your doctor should have additional information, or you can make an appointment with a nutritionist to help you make the transition to gluten-free foods.
If you haven’t been diagnosed but want to try a gluten-free diet to see if it improves your eczema symptoms, make sure to stick to the diet for several months before determining whether you see any improvement.
For more information on celiac disease and gluten sensitivity:
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.