Is There a Connection Between IBS and Gluten Sensitivity?

A diagnosis of IBS is made through a process of elimination, after doctors rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. But could people with IBS actually be suffering from gluten sensitivity? Some researchers think so.

IBS and gluten sensitivity

In a controlled trial of IBS-D patients – where the patients were randomized to either a diet containing gluten or a gluten-free diet – those following the gluten-free diet experienced reduced diarrhea. The patients eating a diet with gluten had a noticeable and measurable increase in leaky gut, a condition in which the lining of the intestines is damaged, allowing food particles that are not fully digested to pass into the bloodstream and causing increased inflammation throughout the body. The IBS-D patients eating gluten had an increased production of inflammatory markers in their blood, and all these symptoms were even worse among those patients who had positive gene markers for gluten sensitivity. The researchers concluded that gluten definitively alters bowel barrier functions in patients with IBS-D. They also noted that these findings reveal a reversible mechanism for IBS.1

What is gluten sensitivity?

Gluten sensitivity (or gluten intolerance) means your body reacts negatively to ingesting gluten. The symptoms can vary from person to person but may include:2,3

Gluten sensitivity is often confused with celiac disease. Celiac disease can cause these same symptoms (as well as others), but celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder in which gluten triggers the body to attack the lining of the small intestine.2,3

Until recently, it was thought that people with gluten sensitivity didn’t experience intestinal damage as seen in people with celiac disease. A recent study dispelled that notion, demonstrating that people with gluten sensitivity had increased markers for systemic immune activation, which suggests their intestinal lining is compromised.4

What does this mean for me?

A research review published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology recommended that people suffering from IBS receive genetic testing for gluten sensitivity. Researchers found that although gluten sensitivity and IBS share common symptoms, they are not the same condition.5

Another way to test for gluten sensitivity at home is to eliminate gluten from your diet for at least 3 weeks before reintroducing it, and noticing how your body responds to both the elimination and the reintroduction. I did an elimination diet 2 years ago and found that both gluten and dairy were causing significant symptoms for me, and while it’s been a process to adopt a gluten-free and dairy-free diet, I feel so much better when I don’t eat them.

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