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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.

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:

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 three weeks before reintroducing it, and noticing how your body responds to both the elimination and the reintroduction. I did an elimination diet two 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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The IrritableBowelSyndrome.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Vazquez-Roque MI, Camilleri M, Smyrk T, Murray JA, Marietta E, O’Neill J, Carlson P, Lamsam J, Janzow D, Eckert D, Burton D, Zinsmeister AR. A controlled trial of gluten-free diet in patients with irritable bowel syndrome-diarrhea: effects on bowel frequency and intestinal function. Gastroenterology. 2013 May;144(5):903-911. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2013.01.049. Epub 2013 Jan 25.
  2. University of Chicago Medicine, Celiac Disease Center. Accessed online on 8/26/16 at http://www.cureceliacdisease.org/faq/what-is-the-difference-between-gluten-intolerance-gluten-sensitivity-and-wheat-allergy/.
  3. Celiac Disease Foundation. Accessed online on 8/26/16 at https://celiac.org/celiac-disease/understanding-celiac-disease-2/non-celiac-gluten-sensitivity-2/.
  4. Uhde M, Ajamian M, Caio G, De Giorgio R, Indart A, Green PH, Verna EC, Volta U, Alaedini A. Intestinal cell damage and systemic immune activation in individuals reporting sensitivity to wheat in the absence of coeliac disease. Gut. E pub 2016 Jul. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2016-311964.
  5. Verdu EF, Armstrong D, Murray JA. Between celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome: the “no man’s land” of gluten sensitivity. Am J Gastroenterol. 2009 Jun:104(6):1587-1594. doi: 10.1038/ajg.2009.188.

Comments

  • maagkrampe
    7 months ago

    I had positive tests for Celiac about 6 years ago and avoid eating gluten, but I have been diagnosed with IBS since then. It all becomes rather confusing.

  • Chris Hall moderator
    7 months ago

    That definitely sounds like it can be confusing, @maagkrampe. What would you say is the most confusing? – Chris, IrritableBowelSyndrome.net Team

  • maagkrampe
    7 months ago

    Thanks for connecting . Most confusing is that I try to avoid too many carbs and the food I prefer eg., fruit is on the ‘bad’ list of foods on the FODMAP. It leaves me feeling there is not much to eat!

  • Nobs
    9 months ago

    I think it makes perfect sense that any time the normal functioning of your digestive system is disturbed, that foods which may be harder to digest, or which require more transit time, may present problems. But while IBS may be agravated by gluten or lactose or short-chain carbohydrates, it is not caused by those things. I think the first sentence of this article is quite telling. IBS is an eliminative diagnosis – medicine doesn’t really have a clue what it is or what causes it.

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