Gluten Intolerance and Asthma - Is There A Connection? | Gluten-Free Society

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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 one 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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10 responses on “Gluten Intolerance and Asthma – Is There A Connection?

  1. 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!!!

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.


  6. Jeanne says:

    Yes when I went gluten free nine years ago after a biopsy of my small intestine confirmed advanced celiac disease I lost my asthma as well as my migraines and vertigo. When I ingest any trace of gluten by mistake my asthma returns. I eat no wheat rye barley or oats. I keep clean of cross-contamination from any utensils plates glasses that have come in contact with any gluten. I have systemic lupus and thyroid issues but the symptoms are much less since going gluten free. It took five years for my body to return to normal (I had had a seizure…was down to 98 pounds, was not sleeping…had rashes etc prior to being gluten free). When I am gluten free I feel good. I have to be very careful but it’s soooo worth it. My allergist did not test me for celiac I found it online due to my symptoms and asked for a test!!!

  7. Becky says:

    Over the years I’ve been labelled as ‘atopic’ – mild asthma, mild eczema, rhinitis (resulting in loss of sense of smell) and as I got older (now 43) developed lots of gut discomfort, bloating and constipation, brain fog and vertigo, slightly overweight and fatigued. A random blood test revealed borderline hypothyroidism. I went on holiday for first time in years with my sister who noted that my symptoms were very similar to her friend who had been diagnosed celiac. I decided to go gluten free. Within 1 week, the changes were enormous! All these ‘mild’ symptoms have slowly disappeared. After 3 weeks friends were beginning to notice I looked healthier, slimmer, bouncing with energy. Went to see GP to describe transformation and have had to go back on gluten to do celiac blood test- within 5 days back to snotty, itchy, lethargic state! Whatever blood result I will be going back to gluten free as soon as I can!

  8. Anneke says:

    I just want to say, I agree with many whom have posted here, that gluten is related to asthma, wheezing, breathing difficulty symptoms. My 5 year old son started to get asthma symptoms 18 months ago. In the last 6 months it got worse, recurring only after cold/ cough symptoms and suffering every 6 weeks with it. He has had to be on ventolin inhalers, redipred steroids and nebuliser machines. In July (Winter here in New Zealand) we had a frightful visit by ambulance to hospital, with my son nearly losing consciousness due to very inadequate medical care and I became a nervous wreck after that. Determined to find a cure, without drugs. Finding only drugs from Doctors, I searched the net and went to a herbalist who recommended a herbal mixture, fish oil, more coconut oil, massage, breathing exersizes and gluten and dairy free diet. All this on top of the usual vitamin c powder and Echinacea that we had been taking. We also got my son onto colloidal silver. I told her If she told me to stand on my head and sing the alphabet, I would do anything to stop this terrible loss of breath condition. I did as she taught me straight away. I also cut out even more of sugar (even though we already had very little as I am aware of the destruction to health it causes. And I upped our coconut oil consumption, which is antiviral, anti fungal, anti bacterial and amazing for many health ailments, helping people in tropical locations stay the healthiest of humanity. But when my son got a skin ailment ( I suspect from the asthma drugs) a doctor told me to watch for allergies to coconut oil, lavender, tea tree oil and all herbs and it was better to have all drugs under the sun. When I asked her if the skin condition would benefit from gluten and dairy free diet, she told me skin conditions have nothing to do with our diet (yeah Righto) Lucky for years of experience and mis treatment in the medical society I now listen to natural doctors and my own intuition from my own experiences. I have read intensively of many ailments and I know that any symptom: cough, runny nose, runny stools, fever, skin rash, pain is your body asking for help and it is upset from the inside out, trying to get the upsetting foreign substances out. It is pretty simple. Anyway I really want to confirm that my son has not had any sign of asthma, not even a wheeze for 8 weeks now. Now we are in spring time and he has had many a cough and sniffle again (which in the last 18 months was always followed with wheezing and asthma symptoms) with no Asthma symptoms!!! I am so excited and really wanted to share this with others. Do not wait for a test!! Try an elimination diet, first no wheat and dairy for a month, then back on dairy and find out what makes you feel most alive and great. Our whole family of 6 feels better gluten and dairy free. Do not be put off by expensive gluten or dairy free products. We have a large family and another babe on the way, so we can not afford all the packaged convenience items. I make my own gluten free bread and almond/ nut milk, sugar free coconut cream ice cream, dairy free smoothies with coconut oil and we (as always have done) eat a good variety of vege, a lot home grown organic and our own grass raised organic beef. I urge you to investigate and listen to yourself, take your health into your own hands, and heal yourself. You are the only one with the wisdom to heal yourself.
    To good health and happiness that we all deserve!!

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