Gluten and the Autoimmune Disease

Gluten is delicious. I love gluten. I love bread that is crusty on the outside yet chewy on the inside. I love bread-based sweets like donuts or kringles when I ate sugar.

While I love gluten, it can be problematic for people with autoimmune diseases and sensitivities like me, which is a huge disappointment for a consumate foodie.

What is Gluten?

“Gluten is a mixture of proteins found mostly in wheat, but also in barley, rye, and oats. These grains make up many of our breads, pastas, granolas, noodles, tortillas, and beers.” – Popular Science

In my previous jaunts into veganism, I became a huge fan of Vital Wheat Gluten (VWG) to make the ever versatile and ever tasty Seitan. Talk about overdosing on gluten.

If you don’t have any issues with gluten, I recommend either making seitan or going to a vegetarian restaurant with fake meat. Chances are it’s seitan and it’s mind boggling how similar to meat it is in flavor and texture. It’s perfect if you are a newly minted vegetarian/vegan and you still crave that meaty flavor.

Gluten, figuratively speaking, is one of the glues that binds the world together. In it’s various forms it helped civilizations grow and flourish when it was cultivated and it is in plenty of Western recipes that it has a solid place in our culture of eating.

For many people, gluten does not negatively impact or affect their health, though removing it from one’s diet is viewed as a means to promote weight loss. The science is still out as to whether cutting gluten from a person’s diet who doesn’t have an autoimmune disease is beneficial. But going gluten-free in recent years is the thing to do in order to promote personal health and well-being.

As an aside: I think being gluten-free falls into that category of: “if I think it works and I am seeing benefits from it, then it works.” I am not going to judge.

However, if you have an autoimmune disease, gluten can affect you differently and that’s what I want to examine further in today’s post.

Gluten and the Autoimmune Disease

Most autoimmune diseases are related by the body attacking itself in one form or another. Celiac is the primary autoimmune disease associated with the consumption of gluten, if not the only one. When a person with Celiac consumes gluten, it causes an inflammatory reaction within the gut, setting off a chain reaction of the body attacking itself. Yet, people who are diagnosed with Celiac do have an increased chance of being diagnosed with a secondary autoimmune disease. Interestingly enough, MS is the highest secondary autoimmune disease to Celiac.

It isn’t a rare occurrence for a person with one autoimmune disease to be diagnosed with a second or third. In fact, 25% of patients with one disease will be diagnosed with another one. Whether it’s environmental triggers or genetic ones, there’s a chance of the body developing another one without the patient being aware of it. From the study linked above, there does seem to be a connection between certain autoimmune diseases and the diagnosis of a secondary disease.

At this time, there are studies that find there’s a close connection between Celiac, Lupus, and Hashimoto’s, but MS and Celiac are also very closely related because they are T-cell mediated autoimmune diseases. Celiac is sometimes triggered via the consumption of the gluten protein in someone who is genetically susceptible. This isn’t the case for anyone, but important to note.


There is absolutely no guarantee that a person with MS will trigger the secondary autoimmune disease, Celiac, by eating gluten, but there is a chance that could happen due to the closeness of the diseases.


This is a good time to insert the necessary disclaimer:  I am not a medical professional and none of these statements have been reviewed by one. I am not making a diagnosis but an observation from the research I have done. This observation applies solely to me, but may inform your own research on the matter.

Science may prove me wrong with this conclusion, but it is something to consider more carefully. As someone with MS, can I possibly trigger the secondary autoimmune disease of Celiac if I eat too much gluten? I have Hashimoto’s in my family medical history, so it wouldn’t be a stretch that I might have Non-Celiac Wheat Sensitivity to start.

Better yet, even if I don’t get Celiac, can the consumption of gluten negatively impact me with MS since the diseases have a similar basis? This is a question that I don’t have the answer to and I don’t know if there will ever be a full answer to it. I do know that the various anti-inflammatory diets out there recommend whole grains and minimizing processed gluten consumption.

What I can do is cut gluten out of my diet for several months and if I decide to reintroduce it, observe how my body reacts to it. If I notice some negative effects, then perhaps removing gluten permanently will be a good idea to maintain my overall health and reduce my risk of contracting a secondary autoimmune disease.

I personally do not know if gluten negatively affects me because some of the symptoms are similar to daily MS issues: fatigue, brain fog, depression, joint pain, etc. It would be hard to tell if these issues are from MS or from a gluten sensitivity at this point in time and without a blood test.

Maybe during my reintroduction of gluten I can notice if I get a headache like I do with sugar or stiff joints/joint pain. If there is an unusual reaction to gluten after going cold turkey, then perhaps I have a sensitivity I did not know about.

This was an extremely difficult post to write, not for any emotional reasons, but because there is so much information out there that it was hard to distill down to a reasonable size. There is a lot of noise out there because gluten is one of the bad guys in Western diets. Wading through that noise, being relatively unbiased, and clear with my conclusions proved to be rather difficult.

That’s part of the reason why I didn’t post this during my week of dropping gluten. I had a hard time wrapping my head around this post.

My ultimate recommendation is to do research for yourself on the matter and test out how gluten affects you. If you don’t have an autoimmune disease, you may want to consider moderation. If you do have an autoimmune disease, you may want to research the matter further and see what works for you.

Let me know what you discover by leaving a comment.


Note: Image credit goes to Peggy Greb, USDA ARS [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

10 thoughts on “Gluten and the Autoimmune Disease

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