Several recently published articles have confirmed a correlation between patients with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity and those who also suffer from psoriasis and eczema, and that gluten sensitivity runs in the family. These studies finally bring to light something people who have chosen a gluten-free lifestyle have known for years. Skin disorders can be caused by gluten sensitivity (GS) and living a strict gluten-free diet can alleviate the symptoms of psoriasis and eczema. And, gluten sensitivity is often present in several members of the same family.
Patients now have a new tool in working the medical profession and physicians have reason to suspect a patient might have GS when presenting with psoriasis or eczema or when considering a patient’s family medical history.
An article published in British Journal of Dermatology concluded “The presence of CD-associated antibodies in psoriasis patients correlates with greater disease activity.” Celiac Disease associated antibodies include anti-gliadin antibodies (AGA). Gliadin is a peptide of wheat that those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivities can’t digest. It is this antibody that causes the many symptoms of celiac disease and GS including nutrient deficiency and gastrointestinal distress. In my practice, I look for correlations between symptoms as a matter of course. The body’s systems do not operate independently of each other but instead work as a whole. Food sensitivities and other allergies naturally lead to a wide variety of reactions including skin disorders. More doctors need to look at the whole patient when treating individual disorders to make the correlations.
Psoriasis and Eczema as Symptoms
For many years, those in the medical profession did not consider psoriasis or eczema a primary symptom of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease. And, often enough, patients who had lived with gluten sensitivity for many years had enough other symptoms, particularly gastrointestinal symptoms, which allowed physicians to look past psoriasis and eczema as being caused by celiac disease.
However, the significant correlation between psoriasis and gluten sensitivity highlighted in Clinical and Experimental Dermatology has changed the game. Additionally, an article published in British Journal of Dermatology in 2011 found that 16 percent of all psoriasis sufferers also had high levels of AGA. Physicians who treat both patients with psoriasis and eczema and those who treat patients with celiac disease and gluten sensitivities should be aware of the skin disorders as a symptom of the body’s inability to digest gluten. Patients may present with intestinal symptoms. However, they could also have several other extra-intestinal manifestations of gluten intolerance including the presence of psoriatic lesions.
Once again, these studies prove that doctors should look at their patients from a holistic perspective rather than looking just at symptoms in isolation. We must treat the whole body – internally, externally and neurologically – to help patients find relief from chronic pain.
Gluten-Free Diet Treatment
Moving patients with psoriasis and eczema to a gluten-free diet as a treatment for these skin disorders should be considered a viable treatment plan instead of or along with pharmacological approaches.
In another study, 33 patients who tested positive for AGA strictly complied with a gluten-free diet for a specified period of time, did not use other pharmacological treatments on their lesions, and nearly all of them reported a significant improvement in their skin lesions after three to six months on the gluten-free diet.
Given the radical success of a gluten-free diet for this group of patients, physicians should consider prescribing a gluten-free diet for sufferers of psoriasis and eczema as a primary treatment for the skin disorders.
Finally, a study published in World Journal of Gastroenterology found that the single most important risk factor for celiac disease is having a first degree relative with already defined celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, particularly a sibling. The risk factor was at least 20 percent for people who have a first degree relative with a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.
For many people who live with a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease and doctors who approach their patients holistically, these findings only confirm what they have known for years. Gluten sensitivity runs in the family and choosing a gluten-free diet can dramatically reduce the presence of psoriasis and eczema. The medical profession must consider these factors in addition to the more severe intestinal distress and nutrient deficiency symptoms of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity to help diagnose more people earlier. The sooner patients can begin living a gluten-free diet, the better they will feel and the healthier they will be.
 British Journal of Dermatology, Volume 142, Number 1, January 2000, pp. 44-51(8)