The gluten-eczema connection: What to know

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The link between gluten and eczema is controversial. While studies have not shown that gluten causes eczema, for some people with the condition, gluten triggers flares.

People with celiac disease — an autoimmune disease causing gluten sensitivity — may find that gluten gives them rashes and makes their eczema worse. However, the research on the link is muddled, and researchers are not exactly sure how gluten affects eczema.

In a 2020 study, researchers found no link between gluten intake and eczema, suggesting that gluten does not cause eczema. Conversely, researchers running a different 2020 study found higher rates of celiac disease among people with atopic dermatitis, a type of eczema.

Among those with more severe eczema, the rate of celiac disease was almost three times higher.

Read on to learn about how gluten affects the skin, gluten-free diets for eczema, and more.

There’s no doubt that people with celiac disease often have eczema-like symptoms. These can include dermatitis herpetiformis, a red and painful rash with blisters.

There is ongoing scientific debate about the role of gluten in other skin issues, especially in people who do not have celiac disease.

While people believe that gluten is bad for the skin, or that eating gluten worsens skin issues, there is no evidence that gluten causes eczema. However, for some people, various foods can trigger an eczema flare. For example, wheat is a common eczema triggerand wheat contains gluten.

Gluten may also affect the skin in other ways.

Researchers are interested in gluten intolerance or sensitivity. This is a condition in which a person has an immune system reaction to gluten but does not have celiac or a gluten allergy. It may cause A number of nonspecific symptoms, including skin issues such as rashes and dryness.

A 2018 paper emphasizes that researchers do not understand the underlying disease mechanism, or if gluten is even to blame.

Eczema is a chronic condition that tends to flare up after exposure to certain triggers, such as cold weather or allergens. There is no specific cure — instead, treatment focuses on reducing triggers and managing symptoms.

People whose eczema gets worse when eating wheat or gluten may see improvements with a gluten-free or low-gluten diet. In some cases, eczema may even go away completely.

However, there is no large-scale evidence that gluten-free diets will cure eczema, and experts do not know if gluten even correlates with eczema severity.

A 2020 study analyzed data from the Nurses Health Study II which monitored gluten intake and symptoms of atopic dermatitis in 63,443 people for 18 years. Researchers found no correlation between gluten intake and eczema symptoms.

Following a gluten-free diet is not part of the standard treatment for eczema. A person with eczema does not need a gluten-free diet unless they notice that gluten is a trigger for their eczema.

However, for people with celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is crucial for their health. It may ease the skin manifestations of celiac, including skin rashes.

Treating celiac with a gluten-free diet may alleviate dermatitis herpetiformis, a skin condition that is easily mistaken for eczema.

A person who is interested in trying a gluten-free diet should consider keeping a food log for a few weeks prior to going gluten-free.

Log any and all symptoms, then do the same for several weeks without gluten. This makes it easier to compare results.

Making the switch to a gluten-free diet requires a person to avoid foods containing wheat, including wheat pasta, bread, and many baked goods. A person can change their diet gradually or eliminate all gluten-containing foods at once. However, it is a good idea to do this under the guidance of a doctor or dietitian.

People who think they have celiac should talk with a doctor about testing for the disease.

They should also see a doctor if:

  • they have a skin rash that does not improve with home treatment
  • Their eczema gets worse
  • eczema or skin rash is very painful
  • eczema or skin rash appears to have an infection.

The following are answers to commonly asked questions about gluten and eczema.

Does gluten cause eczema?

No. There is no evidence that gluten causes or worsens eczema. However, for some people, wheat or gluten may trigger eczema flares.

Will avoiding gluten give me better skin?

Maybe, but researchers are not sure about the connection between gluten and skin health.

Some data suggest that a gluten-free diet may ease symptoms of skin irritation and rashes, especially in people who have gluten sensitivity. Conversely, research published in 2020 found no relationship between gluten intake and eczema.

What diet can cure eczema?

No diet can cure eczema but avoiding eczema triggers might help. Consider keeping a food log and monitoring how diet changes affect symptoms.

How do I treat eczema?

Eczema often responds well to a regular moisturizing routine with fragrance-free lotion. A person may also need to avoid eczema triggers.

If this does not work, topical steroids such as hydrocortisone can often help clear eczema flares.

Some people report that their eczema gets better on a gluten-free diet, even if they do not have celiac disease.

However, research has not conclusively proven a link between gluten and skin conditions, and some evidences the notion that such a link exists. If a person thinks gluten is a trigger for their eczema, they can try an elimination diet and speak with a doctor.

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