Pangs of stomach pain after pasta? Feeling constantly tired and headachy? Digestive problems? A lot of people would recognise these as common symptoms of coeliac disease.
What a lot of people might not know is that coeliac disease can affect far more than just your digestive system, it can also really affect your skin. Coeliac disease skin problems are very real for some people. An itchy, scratchy rash on your skin - often mistaken for eczema - can actually be a symptom of coeliac disease.
Up to 25% of coeliacs suffer from dermatitis herpetiformis which is a skin condition directly linked to consuming gluten. Interestingly, non-coeliac gluten sensitivity can also be a contributing factor in conditions such as eczema, acne, psoriasis, dry skin and others. So even if you are not a coeliac, it may be worthwhile avoiding gluten if you struggle with skin problems.
One of the Sönd team, Eileen, is all too familiar with this: "I went to three doctors before finally being told I had 'eczema' and given a harsh steroid cream to use for flare-ups. But after I was diagnosed with coeliac disease and went on a strict gluten free diet, my skin healed completely. I haven't had a flare-up since."
Skin Conditions Linked To Coeliac Disease
If you have coeliac disease skin rashes, or if you have skin rashes and you know you don't have coeliac disease, then you may be experiencing one of many other skin conditions.
Dermatitis Herpetiformis and Gluten Intake
Dermatitis herpetiformis causes a skin rash linked to consuming foods that contain gluten. It’s often described as one of the itchiest skin conditions you’ll ever experience.
This kind of coeliac skin rash most commonly occurs on the elbows, buttocks, knees, back and the back of the neck and head, although it can form anywhere on the body.
Dapsone, a medication that can relieve the itching (and the burning it can also cause) can be prescribed by your doctor if you’re suitable. Some people can develop this coeliac skin rash, even if they’ve tested negative for coeliac disease. In this case, they're still regarded as having coeliac disease.
Consuming a 100% gluten free diet is however considered the only way at present to fully control dermatitis herpetiformis.
Dermatitis herpetiformis, like any form of dermatitis, isn’t contagious but it can cause scarring if you scratch at your skin persistently, causing damage to the skin.
Coeliac Disease Skin Problems - Psoriasis
Another coeliac disease skin problem to be aware of is psoriasis. Psoriasis causes affected areas of skin to become itchy and form red, thick, scaly plaques to form - it’s costly related to having a gluten intolerance or allergy.
Some people who develop psoriasis have a high level of antibodies to gluten in their blood. This suggests that they have an intolerance or an allergy to gluten even if they’ve tested negative for coeliac disease.
There is some evidence that avoiding gluten in the diet can help to relieve the symptoms of psoriasis.
Is Eczema a Coeliac Disease Skin Condition?
Another itchy skin condition, eczema, can be extremely irritating. Common treatments for the condition include topical steroid creams prescribed by your doctor. But there is evidence that a gluten free diet can help, especially if your eczema is linked to a gluten intolerance or allergy, or coeliac disease.
It's Important to point out here, and for all celiac disease skin rashes listed in this article, that for many people with coeliac disease, completely eliminating gluten from their diet is imperative to control their condition. What we mean by avoiding gluten ‘if’ you have coeliac disease, is that doing so may also help to control your skin condition.
Alopecia Areata and Coeliac Disease
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition, meaning that your immune system attacks your own cells, mistaking them for foreign invaders. In the case of alopecia areata, the immune system attacks the cells of the hair follicles.
This causes them to become inflamed, and eventually, for hairs to fall out, causing noticeable hair loss. The condition has been linked to coeliac disease but it’s unknown if the condition actually causes it or if those with coeliac disease have a higher likelihood of developing alopecia areata.
Studies suggest however, that eliminating gluten from the diet can lead to hair growth.
Chronic urticaria, the medical name for hives, causes itchy, red, raised bumps on the skin. It often also goes hand in hand with coeliac disease. Evidence suggests that eliminating gluten from the diet can help those with hives manage their condition.
Keratosis pilaris, otherwise known as ‘chicken skin’, occurs most commonly on the back of the arms, where it causes small, goosebump-like bumps to develop on the skin.
There isn’t any conclusive evidence that links the condition with coeliac disease, but some people do report that their skin feels better when they follow a gluten free diet.
Dry Skin and Coeliac Disease
As if itchy, irritated skin isn’t enough, another coeliac disease skin condition is dry skin. It isn't clear if coeliac disease actually causes dry skin or if it’s as an indirect result of coeliac disease causing a malabsorption of important skin moisturising nutrients.
Again, avoiding gluten may make a difference to dry skin.
The Importance of Getting Tested for Coeliac Disease Before Going Gluten Free
While not every skin condition is caused by gluten, if you're experiencing similar symptoms with your skin it's a good idea to consult your doctor and get an allergy blood test.
A diagnosis of coeliac disease is achieved by proving that gluten is damaging your intestine. So you should get tested with your doctor BEFORE you start a completely gluten free diet. If there's no gluten in your system, the damage won't be present for a successful diagnosis.
It's a good idea to get tested for coeliac disease if a family member has also been diagnosed. While they might exhibit non-skin related symptoms, remember the symptoms can vary vastly. As can coeliac disease and skin conditions. For Eileen this was very much the case: "My mom was diagnosed years before me, and while her symptoms were mostly sinus related, I had itchy skin and incredibly intense stomach aches."
If you test negative for coeliac disease, but continue to suffer from coeliac disease related skin conditions, it's worth trying a strict gluten-free diet for a couple of months to see if it improves your skin condition.
Going Gluten Free is Easier Than You Think!
Studies suggest that a strict gluten free diet can help relieve (or even get rid of) eczema and other coeliac disease skin conditions and symptoms, both in those that have coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity.
While it's so much easier to eat gluten free than it was even just five years ago, we know that cutting out such an essential food group from your diet completely can be daunting. The key to success is arming yourself with lots of tasty recipes for things you CAN have.
So to get you started, we've gathered a few delicious gluten free recipes for you to try!
Overnight Chia Delight for Breakfast
- 60 grams rolled oats
- 2 teaspoons chia seeds
- 120 ml almond milk
- 30 grams blueberries
- 30 grams raspberries
- Handful of almond flakes
- A squeeze of agave syrup
- Cinnamon to taste
- Combine the rolled oats with the almond milk
- Add the chia seeds and stir well
- Add to a jar or a pit with a lid (we love reusing jam jars!)
- Leave the mixture overnight in the fridge In the morning, sprinkle over the fruits, cinnamon and almond flakes
- Add a few drops of agave syrup to sweeten
Creamy Wild Rice for Lunch
- 350 grams butternut squash, peeled and chopped to bite sized chunks
- 1 onion
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 170 grams wild rice
- 250 grams plain coconut yoghurt
- 170 grams beetroot, peeled and finely sliced
- Freshly grated ginger to taste
- Lime wedges
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Cook the rice according to the package instructions
- Fry the butternut squash with a little oil and water until soft
- In a separate frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, add the finely chopped onion and fry for about 6 minutes until soft
- Add the garlic and fry for another 3 minutes
- Add the beetroot, a little water and oil and cook for about 10 minutes until the mixture becomes thick
- Serve in bowls, putting the rice in first, then adding the butternut squash, beetroot, ginger and yoghurt.
- Dress with extra virgin olive oil, season with salt and pepper to taste and decorate with lime wedges
Creamy Sesame and Carrot Soup
- 1 leek cut into half roundels
- 450 grams carrots, cut into small pieces
- 700 ml water
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon tahini
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Brown the leeks and carrots for about 10 min, covered, stirring periodically
- Add the garlic and cumin and continue to cook for about 1 min
- Add the water and cook until the carrots are softened.
- Remove from heat and add tahini and lemon juice
- Blend until smooth.
- Add salt and pepper to taste
Treating Your Skin
If your skin is affected by celiac disease or a gluten allergy or sensitivity, then we hear you. As we’ve mentioned, our very own staff member Eileen has struggled. That's why we developed the Sönd skincare system - to nourish and care for skin just like Eileen’s and just like yours.
So have a look around and see what products take your fancy - they’re all amazing and 100% endorsed by Eileen!
Resourceshttps://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/4089-dermatitis https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coeliac-disease/symptoms/ https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/celiac-disease https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31093998/ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24780176/ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34024054/ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27833723/
This article is not meant to treat or diagnose. Please visit your doctor for advice about any health concerns you may have.