December 12, 2011

Gluten Intolerance and Asthma – Is There A Connection?


The incidence of people suffering with asthma in the U.S. continues to grow.  Interestingly enough, so does the incidence of people being diagnosed with gluten intolerance.  Because asthma can be an autoimmune reaction, the next question is – Are the two related?

According to a new study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, there is a strong correlation.


Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 127, Issue 4, April 2011, Pages 1071-1073.

Baker’s Asthma

Baker’s Asthma dates back to an observation from 1700. Bakers exposed to large amounts of flour dust suffered respiratory symptoms that mimicked asthma. This was the first known historical connection between grain inducing asthma.  The reaction was later discovered to be an IgE response.  IgE is an acute antibody produced by the body’s immune system.  The antibody causes the release of immune chemicals called histamines.  These histamines are responsible for the shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and other allergy symptoms.

Asthma is Extremely Common and on The Rise

According to EPA statistics, approximately 8% of the U.S. population have asthma. The common thought is that asthma is caused by genetics, airborne allergies, and the over emphasis of hygiene (hygiene hypothesis).

The common medical solution is the use of steroid inhalers, and immune suppressing allergy medications. Many patients are told that the asthma is something they will have to medicate for the rest of their lives. The downside to this – chronic steroid use causes vitamin and mineral deficiency, bone loss, and contributes to diabetes. Allergy medications increase the risk for infection and reduce the immune systems ability to fight pathogenic invaders.

Skin Testing for Allergies is Limited and Incomplete & Misleading

Many doctors perform skin testing for environmental allergies like dust, mold, pollen, etc. Unfortunately, food allergies are rarely looked at as a cause for asthma.  If they are investigated, they are usually limited to wheat, soy, peanut, and milk.  Measuring wheat allergy is not the same thing as checking for gluten sensitivity.  This leads to a lot of confusion among patients.  Additionally,  skin testing can yield false negative results.  Even more unfortunate is the fact that skin testing only measures on type of antibody.  There are four more antibodies that contribute to allergy reactions.  See the diagram below for more information on this.

Gluten Free Diet Commonly Improves Asthma

In my practice, I commonly see patients who have been previously diagnosed with asthma. After identifying gluten sensitivity and/or other food allergies with advanced lab testing, these patients always show dramatic improvement. As a matter of fact, for most of them, medication becomes unnecessary.

These patients’ immune systems are so busy fighting their food, that they don’t have left over immune resources to fight the environment. Add to that the fact that gluten can induce inflammation in the lung tissue.

With more than 20 million cases of asthma, an estimated 30 million people with gluten sensitivity, and an estimated 1 million with people with celiac disease, wouldn’t it be prudent to investigate the possibility of an overlap? Shouldn’t doctors test for gluten sensitivity as a standard part of practice for every patient with asthma?

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In good health,

Dr. Osborne – The Gluten Free Warrior

Dr. Peter Osborne
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8 Responses to “Gluten Intolerance and Asthma – Is There A Connection?”

  • Kristina says:

    According to the World Health Organization study done just a few years ago linked the #1 cause of asthma to Fungi. 39% of US homes and close to 70% of schools in the US have mold. Also considering that wheat and anything else thats been stored in a silo tests for mold and aflatoxins. The spores that are breathed in are also carried into the gut and small intestine with the mucus. So the big connection is mold!!!

  • Zusiqu says:

    Oh yeah, there IS a link between gluten and asthma. My daughter and I both used to suffer from asthma. She was on 4 different medications and now she is off 3 medications and we are weaning her off the last one. Her health is SO much better after she became gluten free! Mine too!

  • Dawn Bloom says:

    I have had uncontrolled asthma for years and have seen Dr.’s at National Jewish Respiratory Hospital and other Dr.’s for second opinions and treatment for 7+ years. After numerous trials of different meds, every type of breathing test imaginable, etc., my condition had worsened to the point that I could not live a normal life. Although NJ is considered one of the “BEST” respiratory hospitals in the US, they disgregarded my questions about leaky gut syndrome and my constant comments about direct relationships to eating foods and asthma symptoms. The problem was that the list was growing longer almost DAILY. I was told that they do not deal with food sensitivities because it would open up a “whole can of worms”. In the past few months, my problems had grown exponentially worse and I was feeling VERY desperate and scared. I had cut wheat gluten from my diet years ago for neruo symptoms with great success, but not ALL gluten. Recently, after reading about all forms of gluten and how it might help to remove them from my diet, I did so. My asthma has improved dramatically in the past week since I cut out rice (once tolerated) corn, amaranth and other forms of gluten besides wheat. The results are amazing! I have not had to use my nebulizer in days which is HUGE for me. I am not using my rescue inhaler numerous times per day, another “miracle” and have not needed prednisone in over a month. I feel as if my asthma is acutally going away or at least improving to the point that I can live with it. What a HUGE relief! Hopefully I will eventually be able to go off of the Symbicort and heal my body even further! Thank you so much for the information! After scouring Dr.’s in the mainstream medical community for years to help with my food sensitivities to no avail, this newsletter/website has literally changed my life!

  • Kay says:

    Great to hear the connection between asthma and gluten is now being recognised. I had asthmatic symptoms for 15 years which gradually became worse leading to numerous stubborn chest infections. Having tried everything to help myself, I eventually had food intolerance testing carried out which showed that I was intolerant to gluten, wheat, dairy and eggs. Much to my chest specialists horror, I cut these foods out of my diet rather than opting for strong steroid medication (the consultant assured me that it would not help and that I would make myself more ill). My symptoms did worsen as my body went through an intensive detoxification process over a period of a few weeks before improvements in my health began to show. That was over four years ago and I have not had any problems with my health or asthmatic symptoms since. I have remained gluten, wheat, dairy and egg free in my diet but there have been a few occassions over the past few years where I have had wheat/gluten in foods without realising and within 5/10 minutes the wheezing, coughing and breathlessness returns so I have no doubt that for me, wheat/gluten was directly responsible for my asthmatic symptoms. I only hope the medical profession begins to waken up to this connection rather than filling people with medications that may alleviate symptoms but do not treat the underlying cause of the illness and which undoubtedly create other problems due to the side effects of the medication.

  • Richard says:

    I am a music teacher and choir director who has had asthma off and on for many years. It has gotten much worse in the last three years. My doctors told me that I have allergies but, after allergy testing, they could not find a true trigger allergen. They then told me that I had acid reflux disease. After months of acid reducers my asthma did not get any better. They now call my disease “Asthma of Undetermined Origin.” I am continually being placed on doses of antibiotics, oral steroids, inhaled steroids (Flovent) and albuterol treatments.
    Life has become extremely miserable for me. Asthma effects every aspect of my life, from sleeping to the workplace. My wheezing and coughing keep me up at night. Because of that, I have been struggling to stay awake when I drive.
    The doctors have told me that I will have to deal with my asthma condition for the rest of my life. There is nothing more that they can do. This is totally unacceptable to me. Recently I have been searching the internet for a possible cause and cure to my condition. I have begun to suspect that gluten is the culprit of my disease. Has anyone gone through the same thing as I have? Does anyone have any suggestions for me? I would surely appreciate some advice.


  • Shan says:

    There are many cases of Celiac disease in my family. I personally do not have it, however when a link was found between gluten and asthma my mom pushed me to try the gf diet. After about a month and a half my asthma pretty much disappeared even in the cold winter months.

  • jim cuch says:

    I discovered this miracle by accident. I was over weight and trying to just slim down a little and therefore removed carbs from my diet. In the process, I noticed that my asthma essential disappeared. Im 44 and was diagnosed w asthma at 2 yrs old. Ive been hospitalized a lot when I was younger. I was sick so much w asthma that I missed almost have of my 3rd grade and repeated it. Respiratory health became my passion and when I grew up I became a respiratory therapist. I have since moved on to research. However, in all that time, I was still on massive amounts of medication. As an adult, I use my rescue inhaler ~6 times a day. I sleep w it my bedside and NEVER sleep thru the night without waking up to use it. That was all until now. Since I went carb free (GF), I havent used my inhalers in 2wks. Its beyond changed my life. This message of Gluten and asthma needs to be screamed from the highest mountain.

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