Celiac disease and Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) can cause a wide variety of symptoms, some more common than others. Most people associate celiac symptoms with stomach pain, diarrhea, malnutrition, and weight loss. One of the most unrecognized symptoms linked to gluten is fever. This article will focus on gluten induced fevers, why they happen, and what to do about them. But first, let’s cover some basic, but foundational information.
What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that is triggered by the ingestion of gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten proteins trigger inflammation in the intestinal tract and other parts of the body. This systemic inflammation can then contribute to the development of autoimmune disease and a host of other health issues.
What is gluten sensitivity?
Gluten sensitivity is an inflammatory reaction that develops when those with genetic susceptibility consume or ingest gluten. The inflammatory reaction can manifest in a myriad of different ways. These individuals do not develop celiac disease – hence the term Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity.
The most common symptoms of celiac disease include gastrointestinal symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas, cramping, and abdominal pain. However, there are many other possible symptoms associated with celiac disease. In fact, in 2007, the Canadian Celiac Association Survey published a statistical analysis reporting that atypical symptoms are the presenting features in more than 25 percent of patients with biopsy-confirmed celiac disease.
The reactions to gluten for those with NCGS can be much broader than just gastrointestinal symptoms, ranging from skin concerns to brain fog. Some of the most common symptoms include the following::
- Inflammatory skin diseases (e.g., rashes, psoriasis, eczema, rosacea, etc.)
- Cognitive symptoms and brain fog
- Fatigue (typically caused by resulting nutrient deficiencies)
- Joint and muscle pain
- Depression and anxiety
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
An in depth look at symptoms linked to gluten exposure can be found here.
Celiac Disease Fever (Gluten Fever)
Celiac disease fever, sometimes called gluten fever, is not commonly listed as a potential side effect of gluten intolerance. However, research has begun to point to unexplained fevers as a sign of celiac disease.
Several case studies have been presented that found a persistent fever to be present in cases of undiagnosed celiac disease.
For example, A 6-year-old girl initially presented at age two for recurrent fevers occurring since the age of 5 months. The high fevers started when table foods were introduced into her diet and ranged from 103-104 degrees. Each episode lasted approximately 4 days and was accompanied by fatigue, but no other signs of infection or gastrointestinal distress. Adoption of a gluten free diet normalized her symptoms.
Another case involved a three-year-old child who had several admissions to hospital for recurrent febrile (feverish) infections and low white blood cell count. After the beginning of a gluten-free diet, the child experienced remission of febrile infections and an increase in white blood cell count until it reached normal ranges.
But these cases of fever are not only present in children. A 47-year-old male had experienced episodes of fever for 20 years. He did not experience gastrointestinal symptoms but did have elevated inflammatory markers and a colonoscopy showed villous atrophy, indicative of celiac disease.
Causes of Celiac Disease Fever
So what causes a celiac disease fever? It is believed that inflammation caused by gluten can activate certain T cells in the gastrointestinal mucosa which induces the activation of a pro-inflammatory pattern, which could contribute to the fever.
Infections that Cause Fever Can Also Trigger A Gluten Reaction
Not only can celiac or NCGS cause fever, but infections that cause fever can trigger gluten sensitivity.
For example, one study suggested that having repeated infectious episodes early in life increases the risk for later celiac disease. In addition, the study found a synergistic effect between early infections and daily amount of gluten intake, more pronounced among infants for whom breastfeeding had been discontinued prior to gluten introduction.
Additionally, a longitudinal study found a higher frequency of enterovirus, during early childhood was associated with later coeliac disease development, and a birth cohort study showed an association between enterovirus infections and celiac disease.
Further research has found that frequent rotavirus infection predicted a higher risk of celiac disease autoimmunity.
Infections may work the opposite way too. One study found that some patients with celiac disease have an elevated risk of developing invasive pneumococcal disease.
Best treatment remedies
If you are experiencing persistent fevers and have ruled out other causes, such as acute seasonal illness, you may want to consider some other remedies to support your body through a fever. This includes both managing gluten consumption as well as supporting fever symptoms.
The key change to make to manage celiac disease or gluten sensitivity is to eliminate gluten-containing foods from the diet. While this might seem straightforward, the unfortunate reality is that many products are marketed as gluten free when they actually contain hidden sources of gluten. Therefore it is critical to understand how to read labels and what to look for so that you can properly avoid gluten in your diet. Plenty of nutritious and delicious foods exist that are naturally gluten free, and fortunately, they are typically better for your health than their gluten containing counterparts.
Even after eliminating gluten from your diet, there is healing that must occur “behind the scenes”. This healing will address the intestinal damage from gluten consumption, plus the downstream effects of intestinal damage, like compromised skin health and nutrient deficiencies.
Try to incorporate nutrient-rich and gut-healing foods in the diet: foods like bone broth can help to heal and repair the gut lining. You may also promote gut health through probiotics and prebiotics: probiotics (good bacteria) and prebiotics (the food that feeds probiotics) can help to rebalance a dysbiotic or unbalanced gut.
Hydration is important with a fever. A fever raises the internal temperature of the body, which means that the body often requires more fluids to stay hydrated. Getting adequate amounts of clean water is essential for health and wellness
Since inflammation is at the root of so much disease, likely including the inflammatory response that results in a fever related to celiac disease, managing inflammation is an important part of optimizing your health. Natural remedies to manage inflammation and support healing include eating foods and taking supplements like turmeric, ginger, and omega-3 fatty acids. Learn more about recommended gluten free supplements in our Ultimate Guide To Supplements here.
The most common way to treat a fever is with pain relieving or fever reducing medications. However, some of these medications contain grain-based fillers that can exacerbate symptoms of celiac disease or gluten intolerance. In addition, while these medications can have a place, they do place stress on the liver, kidney, and gut, especially when used consistently.
There are also some natural remedies to try to support a fever which include the following:
- White willow bark: white willow bark comes from the branches of 2- to 3-year-old willow trees and is known to have medicinal properties similar to that of aspirin, thanks to its active ingredient called salicin. It can be taken in the form of a capsule or liquid, and is also available topically.
- Cold compress: Placing a cool wet washcloth on your forehead or the back of your neck can help to cool down the body and alleviate the feelings of a fever.
- Cold wet sock treatment: this home remedy uses heat and cold to improve full body circulation by requiring the body to regulate its temperature to warm up cold socks on the feet. It can even be used safely on children.
And remember, it is not necessary to consistently suppress a fever unless it is essential in order to remain rested and hydrated.
The Bottom Line
Fevers are uncomfortable and often associated with illness, but the reality is that persistent fevers may be associated with celiac disease and NCGS. If you are experiencing fevers or any other unexplained symptoms, we encourage you to advocate for yourself and continue to dig deeper for a cause. Keep in mind that celiac disease and gluten sensitivity can have effects throughout the body and may be at the root of your mysterious fever.