Gluten Free for Better Skin?

Whole grains may have a healthy reputation, but they sure put the complexity in complexion.

| November 17th, 2011
Gluten and Skin

Wheat is the Jekyll and Hyde of the grain world. While the ubiquitous grain is nutritious to most of us (it’s packed with fiber and B vitamins), wheat is downright dangerous to the 1 percent of the population with celiac disease. 

When it comes to skin, wheat gluten is known to cause an irritating rash called dermatitis herpetiformis in celiac sufferers (along with severe stomach pain and a host of intestinal problems) and the gluten intolerant, but a new book, “Wheat Belly,” suggests that wheat’s harmful effects on the skin could be broader, extending to the rest of us wheat-eaters.

MORE: Risky Business: Most Cosmetics Don't Specify Gluten

Might the whole grain praised for its health benefits be a secret skin saboteur?

We asked the experts to weigh in on the wheat-skin connection. What we found may complicate your next bite of toast. 

Diet isn’t one size fits all, and the food that makes you healthy and radiant could trigger an itchy rash or an outbreak of blemishes (not to mention a killer stomach ache) in your friend. Wheat appears to pose little issue for most of the population, but for a growing number of people who may have a wheat allergy or gluten intolerance, eating a bowl of cereal or a slice of whole wheat bread could be a major beauty blunder.

MORE: Inflammation: Skin Enemy Number One

Wheat is one of the top eight most allergenic foods, according to the Mayo Clinic, and allergic reactions are prone to show up on our skin. 

But surely you’d already know if you had a wheat allergy? In “Wheat Belly,” Wisconsin-based cardiologist Dr. William Davis suggests that beyond gluten intolerance, wheat allergies are difficult to pinpoint, even with a blood test.

Easily more than 80 percent of the population has problems with some component of wheat, gluten and otherwise,” estimates Davis. “Many of the components of wheat that cause [allergic reactions] have no blood tests to identify.” In Davis’ experience, an elimination test is the best way to indicate a wheat allergy. “It’s hard to quantify, but people look better [wheat-free].

QUIZ: How Healthy is Your Skin?

For example, I have a patient who has a flushed, red face with big, puffy bags under eyes. She goes wheat-free and within one to two weeks that flushed redness has receded, the puffiness has disappeared and the bags have improved dramatically. There’s no study on this but I’ve seen it happen over and over and over again,” says Davis, who admittedly advocates the extreme: that we eliminate all wheat from our diets. 

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