It happens all the time—it may be accidental (as in “Dr. Zora, I went over to my friend’s house and ate some of her snacks! I didn’t know there was gluten in those snacks!”),or it may be the fact that is not always easy to stay away from pizza, pasta or that sandwich. Sometimes, the way gluten is measured—a food label may say it’s gluten-free, but as was recently stated in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, “The degree of confidence that can be placed in a manufacturer’s assertion that a product is gluten-free is based on the assay used to determine the gluten content and the specific food analyzed.” 1 And sometimes, it’s just because we were in a hurry and didn’t read the label. It can happen, and it pays to have some ways to deal with being “glutened”.
First of all, if you are on a gluten-free diet—this is not a way that should be used to get around the diet. People with celiac disease or with gluten intolerance simply should not have any gluten. There is no known “limit” that won’t bring on the symptoms2 . An amount of gluten that bothers one person may be quite different than the amount that gives symptoms to another—and, as you know, the symptoms can be quite varied in intensity. These suggestions are for those times when, for whatever reason, you ate something containing gluten, and are now paying the price.
Enzymes – For gluten intolerance or sensitivity, the best enzymes appear to be those that contain dipeptidyl dipeptidase IV (DPP IV). This enzyme seems to be particularly important for people with celiac disease and gluten-sensitive people. 3 Its best to have the enzymes before you eat—but, since we are talking about accidental ingestion of gluten, taking enzymes within 30-40 minutes of eating the “offender” should help somewhat.
PeptoBismol™ – Many people recommend PeptoBismol™ (bismuth subsalicylate). We don’t really know how it works, but the salicylate may act as an anti-inflammatory agent, or to limit the antibody response in Celiac disease. PeptoBismol™ can help coat the stomach and limit the absorption of the gluten. If you are taking aspirin, blood thinners (anticoagulants), insulin, methotrexate, valproic acid, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors (eg, lisinopril) or sulfinpyrazone, talk to a health care professional first—they may interact with PeptoBismol™ either increasing or decreasing the drug effects.
Demulcents – Herbs known as demulcents can help. A demulcent is a substance that coats and protects. (The word, demulcent comes from the Latin demulcere, which means ” to caress”) Some of my favorites for the GI tract are:
- Slippery elm/Ulmus fulva—the bark of the Indian Elm tree has been used to soothe the pain of ulcers, indigestion and GI inflammation.
- Marshmallow/Althea officinalis (the plant, not the sugary puff you roast over the campfire!)—has a high content of mucilage—a slippery substance that can help coat and soothe the GI tract.
- Fenugreek/ Trigonella Foenum Gracum – the leaves and seeds of the plant reduce inflammation.
- Licorice/ Glycyrrhiza glabra—again, this is not the licorice candy that comes in twists or strings—but from the licorice plant.
- Stinging and dwarf nettles/ Urtica dioica(urens)—these plants have been used for centuries for various purposes. One of the major uses has been to reduce allergic responses. A recent review of Urtica has shown it has anti-inflammatory properties. 4
Anti-histamine – Another suggestion is to use an over-the-counter anti-histamine to try and reduce the immune response. There are supplements that reduce histamine as well and may be useful when you’ve been “glutened”.
- Vitamin C—is required by the immune system. We don’t completely understand why, but Vitamin C seems to limit allergic responses, possibly through its anti-inflammatory effects.5
- Quercitin6—quercitin is a flavenol derived from many different plants—it stabilizes the cells which release the histamine. The net effect of quercitin is to reduce the amount of histamine released.
- Rutin7—rutin is chemically related to quercitin and is also a strong anti-oxidant. It also appears to reduce the amount of histamine released by the cells.
With any of these, you may find some relief. There is no single “fix” for being “glutened”, so the best defense is a good offense—stick to the gluten free diet, but be prepared for the occasional accidental ingestion.