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Gluten and the Autoimmune Disease Spectrum

Gluten and Autoimmune Diseases – Is there a connection?

Research Links Gluten Sensitivity to Multiple Autoimmune Diseases

Research continues to link the autoimmune spectrum of diseases to gluten sensitivity. In the research studies referenced below, gluten intolerance was found to be present in patients with multiple types of autoimmune conditions. Below are direct quotes from studies:

“Results of our studies revealed in the group of 110 patients with diagnosed gluten enteropathy, coexistence of autoimmune disease, such as diabetes mellitus type 1 in 7.2% cases, hyperthyreosis on 1.8% of cases, vitiligo in 0.9% of cases, primary biliary cirrhosis in 2% of cases and rheumatoid arthritis in 0,9 of cases. In the group of 80 ulcerative colitis patients, coexistence of celiac disease basing on serological histopatological investigation was found in 4 patients (5%).”


“A total of 111 patients (40%) were diagnosed with additional autoimmune diseases…autoimmune thyroiditis was the most common concurrent disease (28 patients, 10%). Other concurrent autoimmune diseases comprised vitiligo (5 patients), rheumatoid arthritis (5 patients), Sjogren syndrome (4 patients), ulcerative colitis (4 patients), conjunctivitis (4 patients), celiac disease (3 patients), systemic lupus erythematodes (2 patients), type I diabetes (2 patients), multiple sclerosis (2 patients), polymyalgia rheumatica (2 patients), and urticaria (2 patients). One patient each was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, autoimmune gastritis, collagenous colitis, hypophysitis, and sarcoidosis.”


J Clin Gastroenterol. 2010 Jan 15.

Przegl Lek. 2009;66(7):370-2.

Celiac is Just The Tip of The Iceberg

Gluten sensitivity is most commonly linked to celiac disease. This is unfortunate. An abundance of research studies show that celiac disease is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to autoimmune conditions related to gluten sensitivity. Scientists have even given the phenomenon a name – Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity.

In a comprehensive research review published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology the authors concluded the following:

Non celiac gluten sensitivity is an expanding field of investigation within gluten-related disorders. Similarly to celiac disease, it shows a systemic involvement, therefore several extra-intestinal manifestations have been hypothesized and investigated in many studies. They may involve many districts and have neurological/psychiatric, dermatological, rheumatologic and nutritional implications. Moreover, the possibility of association with other autoimmune diseases should not be underestimated.

. 2018 Apr 14; 24(14): 1521–1530.

What Triggers Autoimmune Disease?

There are a number of triggers for autoimmunity. Some of them are summarized by looking at the diagram below. But a simple overview of these triggers are:

  • Foods (gluten, dairy, processed sugar are common)
  • Chemicals (pesticides, heavy metals, plastics, etc)
  • Nutritional Deficiencies (vitamin and mineral inadequacy)
  • Microbes (viral, bacterial, fungal, parasitic)
  • Intense prolonged stress
  • Genetic predisposition

Is Nutrition The Answer to Autoimmunity?

Although we have identified a number of environmental and genetic triggers for autoimmunity, the most well studied, confirmed, and scientifically agreed upon cause for any autoimmune disease in gluten. Gluten, the protein found in grains that is notorious for sparking an inflammatory response. When will doctors quit trying to micro analyze autoimmune diseases and look at the obvious connections?

Treatment for most autoimmune conditions consists of steroids, DMARDS (Disease Modifying Mnti Rheumatic Drugs), biologics, and other anti-inflammatories. Do doctors ever consider where the inflammation is coming from?

Why is it so hard to accept that simple dietary changes can improve disease and health? The answer is simple. Nutrition is not taught in medical school. Most doctors devalue or dismiss nutrition because they don’t understand it. Unfortunately this translates into more drugs, less real health care solutions, and sicker people. I recently put together a video guide on conquering autoimmune problems naturally. Check it out here <<==

Gluten & Autoimmune Diseases – The connection that needs more attention…

Autoimmune diseases collectively are the number 1 disease condition in the U.S. As the American diet becomes more and more processed, so too does autoimmune disease increase. It is time to look at food a little more seriously. As we have linked gluten sensitivity as a cause of celiac disease, we should turn our sites to food with the other autoimmune disease as well. To ignore this is folly.

As the wise Thomas Edison put it – “The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”

Speak your mind – if you have experienced the connection between gluten and autoimmune diseases, let us know about in the comments below…

43 Responses

  1. Pingback: Anonymous
  2. Wow! My son has been going through testing for over a year because they can’t understand why his blood cells change so much….even from week to week! They thought he might have leuchemia, but said he didn’t have any other symptoms just his blood levels!…………I’m going to let my md read this and see what he thinks………I’m glad I read this today. Thanks!

    1. Odds are, your pcp won’t know or won’t be open to think it might be an issue. They might say something like, don’t believe everything you read on the Internet. I have found most doctors are really not open to outside comments or suggestions. Their work is 90% guess work. They want to keep you coming back. Going gluten free cant hurt so, why not try. Good luck.

  3. Hi
    I was diagnosed with Coeliacs in 2007 and found out in 2008 i have a rare auto immune disease called interstitial myositis. muscle wasting disease.
    Thanks Sue

    1. I’d like to know more about a cure for oral lichen planus. I’ve had it for almost a year. Been to many doctors specialists dermatologist. Had biopsy clear. But lesions in mouth very sore. Can’t eat spice.
      Cam a gluten free diet help. And what are the foods not to have. I’m desperate. Please help.

      1. For sure, my mouth was full of canker sores, when I went off gluten they completely disappeared. It was unbelievable

      2. My mouth improved markedly when I went mostly gluten-free. I can tell and I have eaten too much food with gluten because it will start to get sore again. Apthous ulcers and gingivitis from oral lichen planus has improved.

  4. Hi, statred on gluten free diet this month, could I still use dried fruits to replace sugars or stop using all sweets?

  5. Does anybody know if gluten sensitivity can cause increased levels of testosterone and other male hormones in women? Would going gluten free help to bring them back to normal? Thank you.

  6. p.s.
    And from our personal experience, it’s not only celiac. It’s gluten intolerance as well – negative for celiac, but sensitive to gluten, correlating with dermatomyositis and other connective tissue inflamatory illnesses.

  7. I’m 49 diagnosed with MCTD (mixed connective tissue disorder) including Scleroderma, Lupus, Reynauds, RA and more. My diet has always been poor consisting of mostly carbs. Has anyone with Scleroderma experienced positive results from going gluten free? I’m feeling desperate as I was diagnosed in 2004. I already have tightening of the facial skin and fingers.

    1. I was diagnosed with scleroderma in 2006. Constipationvomiting and diahra are some of my worst symptoms. About 7 months ago I tested positive for celiac disease for the genetic part of the test. I had been trying to be GF before that and felt better. But after the test I became much more dedicated to being GF and it has made a huge difference in my digestive and elimination problems. I ate wedding cake last Sat. and experienced constipation again. I am still trying to straighten myself back out after a week. I wish I had gone gf about 2002 when it seems all my health problems started. I wish we all knew more about the connection between CD and scleroderma.

  8. I also have scleroderma. I would like to also know if this would help. I went to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore treated it with cytokine and celcept but now its acted up again after 7 years. Back on meds.

  9. I have had autoimmune hepatitis since I was 7; I’m 45 now. Does anyone else have this, and have you gone gluten free?

    1. Hi too have AIH since 25 years with overlap symptoms of PSC. Methotrexate has worked well for me.since one week I am on gluten free diet and immurich capsules thrice a day. Let’s see.

  10. Can’t respond as to an autoimmune disease, but since going gluten free a few years ago, I no longer wake up depressed every morning…..something I had suffered from for most of my life.

  11. Hi, I am a 48 year old female. I have an intolerance to Gluten and lactose for the past 2 years and also have type 2 diabetes. In August of 2015 I was diagnosed with MS.

  12. My daughter has a condition in which her esophagus has severe spasms. We have gone to traditional doctors which “tried” to treat her but NOBODY has tried to figure out the route cause. By continuously monitoring her, we’ve noticed that when she is fighting a cold/flu, her symptoms/spasms completely go away until her body recovers from fighting off the bug, then her problems return. I’ve come to the conclusion that her immune system is attacking her esophagus (something no doctor has told us). She is so limited on what she can eat right now but I think if she drops all grains for a while she might see an improvement. What do you think?

    1. Darlene,
      Sorry to hear of your daughter’s health issues. Going grain free will do no harm and possibly a world of good. Give it a try and let us know what happens.
      All the best,
      Dr. Osborne

  13. My generational family discovered we have gluten sensitivity (and possibly celiac disease) 3 years ago. My father was diagnosed by his dermatologist over 10 years ago with the autoimmune disease called Lichen Planus. My father lost his fingernails and had raw lesions on his scalp, and the doctors said there was no cure and didn’t know the cause. But, two months after my father stopped eating gluten (at the age of 77), his fingernails started to grow back! I wrote about this on my gluten-free lifestyle blog hoping to help others who might suffer from lichen planus. I wish traditional doctors would start listening to their patients. We are the living experiments right before their very eyes!

    Thank you to the Gluten Free Society for continuing to write articles that are affirming gluten sensitivity is real. Please keep educating all of us.

  14. My 16 yr old daughter has been diagnosed with mixed connective tissue disease. I am exploring the possibility that she has a gluten allergy. Since an infant she has suffered from constipation. She was on multiple formulas as a baby. Thinking there is a connection between her chronic constipation and foods which may attribute to her mctd. Would really like to see more education on this topic

  15. My husband died 10 years ago of a condition called nocardia. It is something that you see in immune suppressed persons (AIDS which he did not have) and people who have had transplants. He had bowel problems but was never diagnosed as celiac or gluten intolerant. My daughter is gluten intolerant and we are wondering if her dad could have had either of these two conditions undiagnosed by his doctor which led him to be a candidate for this extremely rare disease. We could really use some answers….

  16. Good article. I have RA, Sjogrens and autoimmune blood disorders. I can keep the flares away by avoiding glutens completely. If I cheat my joints swell up within 3-5 days. There’s just no way around the fact that I cannot eat gluten, it sucks since I love breads but it’s not worth it. I read another good article about how the wheat was genetically modified in the 1950’s and quadrupled the gluten proteins and that’s why disease is now an epidemic.

  17. I was diagnosed 4 years ago with a kidney autoimmune, glomerular disease. I also have gluten intolerance. Would like to know if anyone else has been diagnosed with kidney issues who are gluten sensitive.

    1. Yes – membranous glomerulo nephritis. I was diagnosed with this when I was 21. It went into remission 2 years later – until this year (I’m now 47). Diagnosed again with same condition in June this year. And then diagnosed with Celiac in September.

  18. I have suffered with severe canker sores and inflammation in my mouth and throat. Drs really didn’t know what was going on. This went on for 9 years. Thought maybe behcets syndrome. Treated with colchicine and prednisone when severe flares. Went gluten free as a last attempt to try and help myself before Drs wanted to try more intense medication….three months now and I’m off colchicine and prednisone for two weeks. Still no sores!! They were coming every three weeks. 8 years ago I was screened for celiac and it came back negative. I wish I had knows to try this diet sooner!! Turns out celiac disease and gluten sensitivity run in my family. I have a niece who has been suffering for 7 years with severe crohns…I really want her to try gluten free

  19. We know of people who are very sick after eating gluten, but they can eat Einkorn or Red Fife flours without any issues. The gluten is different and those grains have nutrients in them also that you need! Look into ancient or heirloom wheat, it is nothing like everyday wheat.

  20. So even though I do not have celiac’s, nor do I have a sensitivity, using the celiac diet could help with my lupus and other overlapping autoimmune issues? And would I need to remove it completely or just cut waaaaay back, using it as my “cheat” for the week?

  21. I have been wondering if this is what is wrong with me, fungal infection! Been telling doctors for the last 11 years the antiobiotics they gave me changed my life!
    I am only getting worse, have so many symptoms.My eyes, nose, lips now. I am patiently waiting my appointment with Peter Osborne in August.

  22. Our family is a riddle to most docs, we are overloaded with autoimmune diseases and my son and I both have symptoms that they still cannot diagnose to tell us the actual disease. I am a type 1 diabetics (since age 4, now 41), I have celiac’s, dairy intolerance, cannot eat tomatoes or anything acidic, no peppers, and many other foods. I have nearly all the “markers” for lupus in testing but one so docs will not dx me wuth it, which I find strange considering I have ALL symptoms and had a sed rate 4 years ago that was so high the initial doc wanted to hoapitalize me. I have what is referred to as entire internal body inflammatuon, basically every part of my body, and all of it’s systems become inflammed ALL the time, at amy time for long periods. No way to fix it, and no known reason or dx for it. I have nerve issues, as well as been dx with mixed connective tissue disorder, RA, osteoarthritis, Fibromyalgia (even though I have NONE of the trigger points), the docs say that I must have it& I am not being honest about the trigger pts “hurting”, they dx w/this because 1 test on the Lupus panel came back borderlinepositive/negTive..
    My son is also a type 1, with celiac’s, he also has severve internal inflammation issues, and many of the same things I suffer from in dx and aymptims the things he has in addiion to me is his blood test for red blood cells, platlets, hemotecrit and various other blood tests always come back high or abnormal, yet NO ONE CAN TELL US WHY OR HOWhis is affecting him. Also at age 19 he became so sick he could not walk, lost all feeling in his legs, and mobility yet had such severe pain in his back, hips, amd legs. He ended up leaving his job & school. Was wheelchair bound (& still usues a chair, & cane many days to walk). They did the usual mri, ct, total work up. He was dx with stenoaia, amd curved spine, they are also looking into adlycoais spindoklysis ( my spelling is eay off but it is a spinal condition related to Celiac’s)…
    We went 100% gluten free, wheat free, casein free, dairy free, limited red meat, cut out a large portion of even processed gf foods. The results were incredible. Our DM1 was the best it had been in years, blood sugars were well w/in normal range and we lowered insulin by 1/2-3/4 the amounts. Our pain levels lowered to managable and I was able to come off 2 doses of morphine per day ( that is how bad my pain is I am now on 4-5 doses per day again). Swelling went to minimal levels with less flares..
    Yet the moment we reverted back to THOSE foods.. we were sick and even worse this time.
    I cannot stress enough the coorelation of these foods ( and many others) with so many diseases and conditions. I have read tons of articles about the coorelation of rype 1’s with thyroid diseases, celiac’s and some form of joint/tissue/nerve disease.
    We are a walking puzzle to most docs ( who btw won’t treat us because we are not “normal” and our things overlap amd symptoms plus our tests do not follow the text book),I do a ton of reaearch on my own since a natrualparg is way to wxpensive for us, and we do diet exclusions at home, also eaaential oils, and adding vitamins as well.
    I hope everyone finds what works for them and gives their bodies peace & rest.. so we can ALL enjoy and have the best life possible!!

  23. In 2008, I started having random very painful joint inflammation. One day it would be my right knee left shoulder. The next day it could be my left knee and right ankle. Some days both could be both shoulders, both knees and all fingers. At each doctor’s appointment, the only thing they would say was “interesting”. The symptoms just getting worse.

    In 2009 I started seeing a dentist, and before every appointment I would take 4 amoxicillin’s, then for the next few days my symptoms would be much better. I asked for a referral to see a Rheumatologist, but could not get one. Plus without insurance none would see me anyway.

    In 2010 a friend placed me on his group plan with Kaiser. I took almost a year, and 3 doctors later that I was given a referral to a Rheumatologist. I was told my symptoms are atypical and not very interesting, he told me that it was an undefined connective tissue disease. He also told me that antibiotics can act like a mild anti-inflammatory, so that was why I felt better after each dental appointment. But eventually he placed me on the horrible drug Hydroxychloroquine.

    I still had major flare-ups, and almost intolerable side effects from the meds, but most days I could at least move most joints through the pain.

    4 months ago I ran into my late husband’s doctor, and he suggested that I try going gluten free for at least 90 days to see if there was any effect. I am now at 4 months gluten free. The difference is amazing. In the last 30 days I have had only 1 major flare-up and 1 minor one. Both were my fault. I did not read the labels properly.

    I am going to start to try to wean off these meds beginning tomorrow. I wish back in 2008 someone had suggested trying to go gluten free. I am now suggesting trying gluten free to anyone with any type of autoimmune issues.

  24. I dealt with terrible muscle cramping for years. I’d “bounce” 7-8 times a night with horrible leg and foot cramps, as well as cramping while doing yoga and other activities in the daytime. I went to doctors all over the country, as we moved with my husband’s work frequently, and no one had any real answers. It took an acupuncturist to discover my mal-absorbtion issues. And the most common cause of mal-absorbtion is gluten. I now have no cramping problems. The acupuncture stopped it, and going gluten free has kept it away.

  25. Diagnosed with MS nine years ago, leg and arm pains were getting worse this year, heavy legs with pains and brain fog – waking up feeling tired. Decided to try gluten free – still in the first week and cannot believe the difference in my symptoms- no pain in legs, arms much better, slept better and brain fog gone!! I can’t believe it how what we eat can dramatically change how our bodies work!! Please try it just for 30 days and see the difference

  26. Wonder why the swelling in my two finger middle joints will not go down despite eating gluten free only. I was diagnosed years ago with RA. Doctors have tried to put me on Methotrexate and Plaquenil. Ive resisted and took prednisolone instead. Am slowly weaning myself off the med., down to two and half mg since March 2020 when was on five mg.

  27. I’ve been eating GFree for 10 years. In Spring/Summer of 2020 I had a few terrible bouts with gluten; vomiting, diarrhea sometimes at the same time. I had an endoscopy colonoscopy at the same time and was diagnosed with GERDS. Gastro-Esophageal Regurgitation, similar to what you describe your daughter has, without spasms. It has greatly improved with medication, continued gfree AND without red meat. Eliminating red meat greatly improved how my stomach feels, it’s been so long since my stomach has felt normal, “quiet” that I’d forgotten how it feels to have a normal stomach – it feels great, physically and emotionally.

  28. I’ve been diagnosed with a number of autoimmune conditions in the past 18 months.
    Oral lichen planus
    Vulval lichen sclerosus and alopecia universalis.
    I’ve had gastric symptoms ie bloating, excess gas and constipation for 3 years and even had a colonoscopy 2 years ago which showed nothing.
    I contacted a dietician who suggested I get tested for caeliac disease and that was negative. I decided then with my GP who said that many are gluten intolerant these days and to to try a gluten free diet. I couldn’t believe how well I felt after just 3 days. No gas, bloating or constipation and I’m still feeling great 2 months later.
    The oral lichen planus and vulval lichen sclerosus have both settled down, both were quite distressing for a full year. The rosacea I keep under control with Protopic 0.1%
    The alopecia is the last diagnosis I got 5 months ago and has halted but no sign yet of regrowth. I’d be happy if it just stopped there even without regrowth.

  29. I first began a non-gluten diet in 2001, as it resolved my digestive issues. Suprisingly, it also resolved health issues in the other family members that joined me on the diet. In 2009, I began a high protein, high quality carbohydrate diet, as I was still overweight. The weight disappeared and I was able to maintain the relatively strict diet for four years. Still unconvinced deep down, I resumed a gluten/sugar based diet in 2013. In a mere three years, I undid all the health benefits I had previously enjoyed. I developed pernicious anemia,, heavy periods, digestive issues, skin issues, and all that accompanies malabsorption/malnutrition. The road to recovery has been long and hard to maintain. I was diagnosed with AI atrophic gastritis. Still, medical providers seem reluctant to test for celiac even though I do have the genes. In spite of this, I have made great strides on a gluten free diet. I know if were able to maintain the stricter diet, I would experience even greater benefits.

  30. I was diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder Lichen Planus two years ago. This lead to me later getting Lichen Planopilaris with a loss of hair. I took medications as prescribed with no success at stopping the inflammation. I discontinued gluten from my diet about one month ago and the inflammation has been completely gone with an occasional very mild flare up. The bald spots on my head are now showing some hair growth. In addition, my joint pain is gone. I no longer have a trigger finger on my left hand. The open sore cracks on my thumbs and fingers have disappeared. Through the years I tried everything to get rid of those sores. I feel so hopeful now.

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