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Does Gluten Intolerance Cause Asthma?

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 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. 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. Many of these individuals are skin tested for environmental allergies, unfortunately, food allergies are rarely looked at as a cause for 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? Know someone who could benefit from this article? Share it…

16 Responses

  1. I suffered from year around environmental allergies since age 18. By the age of 25 I was put on two nose sprays and benedryl to be taken twice a day. I went off the medication during two pregnancies and suffered terribly. At age 40 I was diagnosed with Graves Disease (hyperthyroidism, an autoimmune disorder). Four years later I was tested positive for gluten, dairy and egg allergies and intolerances. I eliminated these foods and within months felt relief from environmental allergies. Within two years my Graves Disease went into remission. I no long take medications of any kind and only sneeze occasionally.

  2. I’m 25 and have had asthma since a baby. I had a nebuliser at home that I took twice daily until around 10 years old and have been into hospital a few times. Things got better as I got older but have still been on blue and brown inhalers daily since. I decided to try alter my diet, I was a milk guzzling, carb on carb eater (favourite being spaghetti bolognese with garlic bread)
    Since significantly reducing my gluten intake (now only limited wholegrain bread, no pasta, gluten free beer) I have been over 8 weeks without using an inhaler for the first time in my life. Long may it continue

  3. I have had “asthma” since I was in the third grade. Have taken every allergy pill and inhaler known to humans. Recently I decided to make a lifestyle change and began the Paleo Diet and went gluten free. I originally did not do this for my asthma but for the other health benefits. After only two days I could notice a difference in my breathing. I am now two weeks into this diet and have not used any inhaler at all. This coming from someone using Advair and ProAir daily. Advair for the last five years twice daily, and ProAir/Albuterol daily upto six times for the last 25 years! I only wish my health care professional would have recommended this years earlier?? If they did this they would be going against the Standard American Diet that recommends multiple servings of grains per day? Your body is not made to digest grains and it took me this long to figure it out. Is the government keeping the people sick to fund the multi-billion dollar medical industry??? Sorry for going off on a tangent, but it’s sad that a doctor would rather just write you prescriptions for 25 years, rather than give you advice that could possibly change your life.

  4. This past fall I developed what my doctor told me was a typical case of bronchitis. It lasted for almost 2 months and I followed his instructions to the letter. At the same time, my asthma, which I have had since I was a kid, also acted up. Up until then, I would use my inhaler only once in a while. During the bronchitis I was using it 3-4 times a day at least. Even after the bronchitis seemed to go away, I was left with constant asthma. I noticed that I would get an attack after I ate – breathing problems, feeling bloated, sometimes a bit of a headache. I started to look at what I was eating and based on the patterns, it appeared to be wheat products which were triggering the attacks. I looked online for information about this since I had never heard of a correlation between asthma and wheat before and there is not a lot – but I’m now finding that others have experienced the same thing. I cut out wheat for a few days and I virtually have no problem. I consume something with wheat and inevitably it triggers an attack. It seems that a wheat-free diet is in my future. Very strange that it seems to have been triggered only this past fall (I’m almost 50 yrs old and never experienced this before).

  5. Brian – it’s probably not just wheat products but grasses. As a farmer I can tell you that insects will eat anything yet the grasses in the prairies seem untouched. Trust me these grasses have some mechanism of some kind to keep from being eaten. I think that you and I are sensitive to what ever this mechanism is be it gluten, or some other bio-chemical.

  6. I suddenly realised yesterday after two weeks off from gym, that I didn’t ‘cough up a lung’ in class. Today, I did impact cardio and a dance class – both of which I’d normally be coughing in the corner between tracks.Again today, no coughing?? I only had one puff (normally anywhere up to 4).
    The only thing I changed in my life – was changing to a gluten free diet two weeks ago.
    It feels like a miracle!! I had no idea of the correlation.
    Thanks for such an informative website, and seriously helpful comments on this page.

  7. I love to be active but it’s always been hard since I’ve always had exercise induced asthma (only occurs when I run). I will have pain, difficulty breathing and then will take about 10 minutes to get my breath back and I’ll continue to wheeze for the next day or so after running, even when I’m in great shape. Since my dad has celiac and I wanted to lose weight and see if it made a difference for me, last year I decided to try the Paleo diet. I didn’t notice any difference, and thought that I must not be sensitive to it. One day, I went for a run with my husband, casually conversing while we ran. When we got back, I said to him,”Wow it’s nice to be able to talk and run, I’ve never been able to do that before!” At first I thought it was the weight loss, but I remembered that before I had been thinner and still couldn’t run. Later I slipped back into my old diet and the asthma returned. Recently, I went gluten free again and feel like I can run forever. I told my doctor about what I had discovered and she said, “Absolutely, gluten is highly inflammatory.” I am lucky to have a doctor that listens. What a game changer!! I only wish this was more publicly available information. Now I tell everybody I can about it, hoping I can help someone not have to suffer through this anymore.

  8. Hello Dr. Osborne,

    I am in a bit of a quandary. After 4 years of being on Armour Thyroid daily with zero results in feeling better, I went to a Naturopath who did a comprehensive blood work up that showed TSH 12.66, Free T4 0.447 as well as T. Peroxidase IgG 50.2 and Thyroglobulin IgG 35.8. Most likely Hashimoto’s so she had me go gluten, dairy and soy free immediately. I must say I only experienced a stomach ache or diarrhea maybe once or twice a year for my whole life although the low thyroid did make me somewhat constipated. I also am an asthma sufferer since I was four. Some years I’ve had terrible asthma with daily meds (ending up in the ER 2 handfuls of times, once with my heart stopping and having the paddles 3x from a lack of oxygen) but the past 9 years have been relatively wheeze free, using a rescue inhaler 1 to 5 times a year and Anthroposophic remedies. That is until I went gluten free. Then I had stomach pain everyday for 6 weeks and I’ve had to use my albuterol inhaler and N-A-C almost daily, with a serious attack yesterday. I have felt crappy for almost 4 months now and even though I eat healthy food I am pretty bored and struggling with this diet and my breath. I have been really strict with this but stunned that everyone seems to have such terrific results but I feel worse than ever. Any thoughts? Thanks

  9. I am a starving student and I have had trouble with environmental allergies and constipation since childhood. Now I also have fluid retention in my limbs and abdomen and I am starting to wheeze when I twist my torso or do sit ups. How do I get evaluated for potential food allergies? It seems like docs want to throw a pill at you but they often don’t even know about allergy testing. Anyone have recommendations for how to get tested? I don’t even know where/how to start! I live in the Phoenix area. Any advice would be appreciated.

  10. Would love to know how long it takes to see results when going on a gluten free diet ? Our son is a type one diabetic and has been healthy and doing well with it since age 12. He works hard at it. He is 21 now in college and just last year starting having mucous in his throat non stop all the time . He has to spit it out every hour or so. We thought it was just seasonal allergies or mold or new environment? ! But it’s been a year and now has caused him to have exercise induced asthma symptoms whe. He tries to play soccer . He has played competitively since age 8 and never had allergies or breathing issues . He is gluten free right now for about 4 weeks- and no difference. One day he woke up without mucous and then next day it slowly came back. That’s the only relief he has had in over a year. Please help and advise :))? He sees an endocrinologist every 3 months and is tested for celiac every year or so. I have him seeing a functional medical doctor soon and they did a food allergy blood test that takes 4 weeks to come back and we get results Monday the 12 th of March.
    Thanks for listening . Constant mucous and the problem with exercising is his only real symptoms

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