In the last few years, gluten-free has risen to the top of the diet world. Grocery aisles now have special designations for gluten-free products and restaurants are offering gluten-free dishes. Gluten-rich diets have been charged with causing a myriad of health issues, including migraines, psoriasis and inflammation.
One result from gluten that hasn’t been given much attention is acne. Given that gluten affects hormones, can acne be triggered by gluten? It's up for debate. The truth is that a very small population of people are actually gluten intolerant. In fact, The University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center estimates that more than 3 million Americans — about one in 133 people — have celiac disease. The point is, if you’re not allergic to gluten and following a gluten-free diet, it is basically pointless.
For those who are gluten sensitive, it’s imperative that they adhere to a diet that is free of gluten. If you’re gluten intolerant, digesting gluten is a problem because the body does not recognize it and treats it as a foreign body. Over time, the small intestines become damaged, causing digestive issues. In some instances, the result is acne.
How do I know if my acne is the result of gluten?
First of all, you need to decide if you’re gluten intolerant. If you’re not, gluten will not cause the internal issues that would eventually lead to acne. However, if you do suffer with acne and haven’t explored gluten as the potential trigger, maybe now's the time to do a little research.
According to Natural News, “Acne is a result of blood sugar problems and chronic inflammation. These trigger hormonal reactions that lead to increased sebum production, blocked pores and overgrowth of acne-causing bacteria.” Inflammation which is caused by the body’s immune system working to “fight off” an invader (gluten) releases histamine thereby increasing inflammation as well as insulin resistance. As we know, insulin resistance leads to blood sugar issues which have been linked to acne.
If gluten was not so rampant in everyday foods, inflammation would likely not be an issue. But given the fact that so many foods contain gluten, it’s important to pay close attention when shopping or eating out.
Tips for gluten-induced acne
The most important first step is making an appointment with your dermatologist or doctor to discuss the likelihood of gluten causing your acne.
If approved by your physician, experiment with your diet by eliminating gluten. However, do note that if you’re not gluten sensitive and you eliminate gluten products from your diet, you may experience nutritional deficiencies.
Bottom line: if you’re not gluten intolerant, gluten is likely not the cause of acne.
If you are gluten intolerant, keep a list of gluten-free foods handy so when you shop or dine out, you’re able to choose the foods that will keep you and your system happy.
Remember, gluten is everywhere. You can find gluten in nearly all processed foods as well as items you wouldn't think of, such as lipsticks, shampoos and vitamins.
Typically, when a person has diet induced acne, breakouts happen a few days after eating foods with gluten.
Bottom line: if you’ve been diagnosed with gluten intolerance, you’ll need to avoid gluten completely.
The importance of a healthy diet
Regardless of your sensitivity to gluten, you can never go wrong with implementing a healthy diet. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties; therefore they will do their part to keep your body and skin healthy.
In addition to diet, exercise, regular sleep habits and sunlight (it has an anti-inflammatory effect) can also contribute to healthier skin. If you find that your acne seems impervious to all of your prior efforts, perhaps gluten may be the piece you’ve been missing.
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Nicki is the health and fitness columnist for Chicago Suburban Newspapers, Tribune Company/Naperville Magazine and contributor to numerous magazines and websites including, MSNBC.com, Forbes.com and FitnessMagazine.com, Real Simple, Prevention, Women’s Health and Women’s’ Running, Men’s Health and Fitness. She is also a freelance writer for ThriveMedSpa.