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Feed Your Face: Should You Go Gluten Free?

By Dr Jessica Wu

Now that celebrities like Jenny McCarthy are advocates of avoiding gluten, gluten-free diets are becoming more popular. Gluten is a rubbery protein that’s found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye, so most breads, pastas, and baked goods contain gluten. It’s also commonly used to make gravy, soy sauce, and other condiments. Growing evidence indicates that gluten may play a role in certain skin conditions.

One form of gluten sensitivity is celiac disease. This is an autoimmune condition that causes the body to make antibodies against gluten -- when people with celiac disease eat wheat and other foods containing gluten, the antibodies attack their bowels, leading to severe diarrhea and fatigue. Celiac disease is also linked to a skin condition -- dermatitis herpetiformis -- that produces an itchy, bumpy, blistering rash. It’s triggered by eating gluten, but it can be controlled by following a gluten-free diet.

Studies have also shown that people who have antibodies to wheat tend to experience more severe psoriasis symptoms than those who are wheat tolerant. If you have psoriasis, consider asking your doctor to test you for gluten sensitivity. If your test comes back positive, a gluten-free diet may help your skin clear up.

Many of my patients who are otherwise healthy tell me that their skin rashes improve when they avoid gluten. If you have a stubborn rash or other signs of inflammation, you may want to discuss with your doctor whether you should avoid gluten.

Because gluten is found in many foods, it may be difficult to avoid it entirely. However, there is no gluten in corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, or quinoa, so you can start there. And learn to read labels -- many packaged foods now carry the gluten-free label.

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