Deconstructing Nonsense Asthma Claims About Food: Gluten Edition

Having studied health-related things in school, I have a long of strong opinions on this topic. Shocker, right? Diet is one of those things, and here’s why: I don’t believe that any specific diet or supplement is going to cure or even treat my asthma. With the exception of people with legitimate food allergies who need to avoid certain foods (which may or may not cause asthma symptoms), those actual Celiac disease who need to avoid gluten to halt symptoms caused by the autoimmune response to gluten, people with other food intolerances (lactose, for instance), or in the cases of vitamin or mineral deficiencies, I do not believe that an array of supplements or dietary changes will improve my asthma.

For those who need a briefing on gluten, here’s what I know: gluten is present in wheat, oats, rye and barley (and contains two proteins, which Google had to tell me)1. By the way, the use of the word “gluten” has gone up steadily since 1996 or so, though we’re nowhere near the peak in 1847, interestingly (Google Word Trends is da bomb, guys).

So of course, one of my old YouTube videos about asthma got this comment which was promptly deleted—but not before I copied it here ;).

I HAVE A CURE FOR ASTHMA – stop eating gluten. Asthmatics are allergic to gluten. Only takes 1 week on a gluten-free diet to start feeling good. It worked for me.

Nope. Let’s deconstruct this okay?

I HAVE A CURE FOR ASTHMA!

  • Stop yelling, to start.
  • Last I checked, asthma was still incurable. Per Google, on February 13, Medical News Today, Scientific American and even Deepak Chopra acknowledge this.

Stop eating gluten. Asthmatics are allergic to gluten.

  • No. People who are allergic to gluten are allergic to gluten.
  • SOME asthmatics may be allergic to gluten because they are allergic to gluten, but they are not allergic to gluten because they have asthma.
  • A paper from the University of Virginia, in Nutrition Issues in Gastroenterology, note that there are many manifestations of wheat allergy in the 2015 article Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity – Where are We Now in 2015?. In asthma, this is most often manifest as occupational asthma (more on baker’s asthma here), wheat-dependent exercise-induced asthma; as well as rhinitis and contact skin reactions (urticaria). Wheat (gluten) allergy is NOT the same as Celiac disease (celiac disease is autoimmune, which means it causes the body to essentially attack itself—in this case, the intestine—whereas wheat allergy is an immune overreaction where the body sees wheat as a foreign invader, like bacteria or viruses, and it responds in a way to try to try to immediately rid itself of this substance—itchy skin and eyes, runny nose, and in some cases, breathing issues, vomiting, nausea and diarrhea). Non-IgE (explained here) wheat allergy may be confused with celiac disease—though they are not the same. (And yes, it is all very confusing!)

Only takes 1 week on a gluten-free diet to start feeling good.

  • No. Because there is no sure-shot that—see above—all asthmatics are allergic to gluten, because we are not all, automatically, by default allergic to gluten.
  • WITH THAT SAID, everyone I have heard who has a legitimate gluten intolerance, like Celiac, will take varying amounts of time to feel better after ceasing gluten consumption. Medically backed, elimination diets, recommend giving at least two weeks to monitor for change, per the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs2. Case in point: a hard and fast one week rule is NOT the case for everybody, nor what physicians supervising elimination diets for allergies or intolerances recommend, either.

Yes. Your asthma may vary—your gluten tolerance may vary. I am in no way saying that gluten allergy, celiac, gluten intolerance, do not exist. They absolutely do. But these things should absolutely be assessed and diagnosed by a qualified medical practitioner, which may be a physician like an allergist or a gastroenterologist, and/or a registered dietitian.

My biggest fear is that people are “bandwagoning” on a gluten-free craze phase that is not necessary for their health. This, in turn, puts those with a medical need to entirely avoid gluten and cross contamination at risk, because people do not understand the differences at play. There is a huge difference between a potentially life-threatening allergy and autoimmune damage related need to avoid gluten, and what—for an increasing number of people—is simply a personal choice. 98% of people do not experience health issues caused by gluten,3 and this includes those of us with asthma.

When you hear a claim like the one I got posted on my YouTube channel, take the time to do the research and inform yourself—doing your own research and talking to your doctor or dietitian about what you read are the best things you can do for your health!

  1. What is Gluten?
  2. Simple Elimination Diet
  3. How a Gluten-Free Diet Can Be Harmful
This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
View References
  1. Bradford A. What Is Gluten? LiveScience. http://www.livescience.com/53265-what-is-gluten.html. Published December 23, 2015. Accessed March 12, 2017.
  2. Simple Elimination Diet . http://www.uccs.edu/Documents/healthcircle/pnc/health-topics/Allergy%20Elimination%20Diet.pdf. Published April 3, 2016. Accessed March 12, 2017.
  3. Written by: Michael Greger M.D. FACLM. How a Gluten-Free Diet Can Be Harmful. NutritionFacts.org. http://nutritionfacts.org/2016/02/23/how-a-gluten-free-diet-can-be-harmful/. Accessed March 12, 2017.

Comments

View Comments (2)
  • Kerri MacKay moderator author
    11 months ago

    Hi Chris,
    I feel the article you are referring to is still stating that it is more likely for people with celiac disease to develop asthma–not the other way around. Looking at the fulltext article, it further notes that Celaic-induced vitamin D deficiency may have impact on asthma (as previous research indicates, vitamin D deficiency has suggested impact on asthma symptoms), and “[may be an effect of] shared risk factors”.
    This is correlation, but not causation. As well, the focus here seems to be on development of asthma, not asthma control.

    The study further notes its limitations: “This study has several limitations. We had no data on spirometry, IgE levels, or nitric oxide levels in patients with asthma. In addition, we had no information on dietary adherence in patients with CD and thus cannot rule out that a gluten-free diet reduces the excess risk of asthma in patients with CD who comply with this dietary recommendation.”

    This article is also from 2011, so there may be more recent research we are missing.

    I personally do not experience symptoms of gluten intolerance or celiac disease and do not believe there is a correlation between gluten and my asthma.
    However, it is certainly a harmless experiment if you are willing to make the change–I do hope the dietary alteration works for you and helps your asthma.

    –Kerri

  • ChrisSch
    11 months ago

    Thoughts on this article below?

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091674910030174

    Have you tried going gluten free? I’ve had asthma for over 35 years and I’ve always held the belief, similar to what you had written, that asthma is incurable. And personally, I’ve only experienced improvement in lung capacity and a reduction in the need for medication when increasing aerobic activity (specifically jogging).

    The plan is to eliminate gluten from my diet, improve my microbiome system, and increase aerobic activity. I know that gluten has become a buzzword and I don’t believe to see any extreme or immediate results from gluten elimination but I figured it would be worth a shot for at least 3 months.

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